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Okinawa: The Ernie Pyle Connection

Yates Past - November 2008

As some people know, I am writing a book on Yates County’s World War II people. The following story was put together as a result of that effort. It should be noted up front that none of the three veterans cited below knew anything about the others until I received their stories individually over a four year period of time and in turn communicated with them. Amazing is the coincidence, to say the least, as expressed in the following stories of the three veterans, all from Yates County.

About four years ago I received the military story of Lauren Burtch from Branchport. In that account, he relates how, as an Ensign in the Navy, he commanded a LVT (Landing Vehicle,Tracked) in the invasion of Okinawa (March, 1945). His LVT was in the first wave to land troops on that Island in the Pacific.

The about eight or nine months ago, I received a call from a lady in Dundee. She had heard of my efforts to write the book and wanted to know if I received that story of Charles VerValin of Dundee. I said “No”. She said “Then you will receive it.” About three weeks later, I received the story from him. It seems that he also was an Ensign in the Navy. As his story unfolds, he also commanded a LVT in the invasion of Okinawa and he also was in the first wave of that invasion. He had in his LVT a famous person, the war correspondent Ernie Pyle. Charles VerValin landed him on the beaches of Okinawa.

I then had an “antennae vibration” in the back of my head and went back to the account submitted by Lauren Burtch four years ago. I discovered that he commented seeing Ernie Pyle on the beach. That meant that those two LVTs had to be very close to each other. Because of that possible connection, I wrote a common letter to Burtch and VerValin. About three weeks later, I received a telephone call from Lauren Burtch. He indicated that he and VerValin had talked on the phone and that they lived about 80 miles from each other in California and had gotten together once. Both agreed with my premise that their LVTs were close, but they were of the opinion that their LVTs had to have been next to each other! Wow, what a coincidence!; two men from Yates County were next to each other in LVTs in the invasion of Okinawa and they did not know that until my letter. Wow!

There is a third dimension to the above coincidence. About four months ago I received another story concerning a WWII veteran. It was the story of Ken Barden of Penn Yan. He became a Lieutenant (Senior Grade) in the Navy, but he was an Ensign who was serving on an Amphibious Assault Ship in the landing of Okinawa. His Assault Ship was to put men into the LVTs for the final approach to the beaches. As it turns out, Ernie Pyle was on board his transport. He and Ernie Pyle had several interactions and/or disagreements, therefore his story was titled “My War with Ernie Pyle”. His descriptions of their differences are interesting and sometimes humorous. The ending of that relationship is as follows: “He proffered his hand. I shook it. Good luck to you, Sir, I said. With that Ernie Pyle clambered over the LVT that was to take him to the shore. That was the last time I ever saw Ernie Pyle.”

That meant that three men from Yates County (Branchport, Dundee, Penn Yan) during the invasion of Okinawa were next to each other in boats participating in the invasion and none of them knew it until recently! Wow! Can any of you imagine the coincidence of the above or the enormity of that coincidence?

War Correspondent Ernie Pyle (center) surrounded by sailors onboard a Navy transport a few days before the Okinawa invasion.

PS: Ernie Pyle was later killed on Okinawa by a sniper and was initially buried there. Later his remains were transferred to the Punchbowl Cemetery of the Pacific on Oahu in Hawaii. Today there is an Ernie Pyle Hall at Indiana University’s School of Journalism. There is an Ernie Pyle Library in Albuquerque, NM where he lived when the war started and his boyhood home in Dana, Indiana has been restored ad is a State Historic Site.

by Bob Evan, Jerusalem Town Historian

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