Friday, August 9, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 108: Ernie Pyle, “This One Is Captain Waskow” (#74)

Ernie Pyle, “This One Is Captain Waskow” (1944) from Reporting World War II: American Journalism 1938–1944:

Ernie Pyle's report of Captain Waskow's death is very moving because it's so carefully crafted and so cannily underwritten. That is, as a wire story, Pyle doesn't lard his writing with, well, lard: there's no fatty description about the air and the night sky and the Italian landscape.

Instead Pyle starts by focusing on people's feelings about Capt. Waskow: the first section of this piece tells us that Waskow is loved and provides a few quotes to support that claim.

Only after we've established Waskow's essential good-guyness do we switch to the second section, about how the American troops brought down the dead bodies. (And OK, here's a not very useful description of the full moon--but it's just one sentence.) Before we get to Waskow's body, we hear about this somewhat pathetic parade, with dead bodies tied to mules, their rigor mortis-locked legs bouncing in time to the mules.

Only after we've got (a) Waskow was good and (b) here are some dead bodies, do we get the synthesis of this: "This one is Captain Waskow," says one of the men. And after that, since it's too late to help him, the soldiers who liked their comrade say a few final things over his body--mostly things like "Damn it" and "Sorry." Here's where the simpleness of the responses is mirrored by the prose, which again, doesn't overwrite and empurple anything. It is a very effective way that Pyle uses to get out of the way of his own topic; while at the same time, he lets his structure guide the reader.

No comments:

Post a Comment