In the Pipeline: Reminder of a great American journalist

Whenever I see an email from Bob Chatt, I never pause before opening because I know it will be something interesting.

I've written about Chatt before. He's the antique military collector in Huntington Beach who had his own reality show and boasts a warehouse in town that's as much a museum as it is a shop. Thousands of old uniforms, helmets, weapons and other articles related to the military are stacked on racks and in cases as far as the eye can see.

Chatt is a fascinating guy. He travels the world in search of military treasures, and I'm glad that he and I have become friends over the years. He wrote me about something last week that I could not wait to make you aware of.

Within his dense and storied collection are certain prize pieces, including items from Gen. George Patton and other noted American heroes. But he came upon something recently that is truly a prized piece of American cultural history.

It has to do with the writer Ernie Pyle.

Pyle was a stunningly talented American journalist who, in the 1920s, began a series of American road trips that ultimately led to a national newspaper column based on the places he saw and the people he met.

As someone who has also written many road-trip columns and books, I have always looked up to Pyle as a genuine source of inspiration. The empathy with which he wrote, for me, remains a marvelous model of how to capture the country and its characters in the most human and compelling way.

In the late 1920s, Pyle became this country's first aviation columnist while he continued to write his human-interest columns. In the early 1940s, he became a war correspondent. (Pyle had served in the Navy during World War I, after joining the Reserve at age 17).

It was while covering the war that Pyle truly carved out his reputation as a writer exceptionally equipped to capture the perspective of the common soldier. He won the Pulitzer Prize and his dispatches from the field found an audience all around the world.

On April 18, 1945, Pyle was killed after being hit by Japanese machine gun fire while he was visiting Legime island (then known as le Shima), just northwest of Okinawa. Today at the site, a marker identifies the precise location where Pyle was hit.

But back to Chatt. His latest discovery is the iconic raincoat that Pyle wore his last several years in the theater of war. In fact he wore it just days before he was killed. Inside the worn and well-oiled coat, the old journalist's name is there, written in his own hand.

Chatt told me that the soldier who had been keeping the jacket over the years said the words "war correspondent" were later added under Pyle's name by Pyle's wife, so people would never forget what her husband did.

In the next few weeks, Chatt's warehouse will be moving a couple of blocks over on Gothard Street near Edinger Avenue. Once he is settled in, Chatt told me, he is going to create a glass case so that he can display the raincoat in all its proper glory.

The west central Indiana town of Dana, Pyle's birthplace, pays tribute to the great writer. But I know that whenever I drive by Chatt's warehouse, I will feel good about the fact that something attached to one of our country's greatest journalists and prolific wanderers is right here.

Shortly after Pyle's death, a collection of his columns titled "Home Country" was published. As author Kevin Coyne wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review last year:

"'Home Country' was Pyle's boot camp. It was across those years of travel — years when, as he wrote, 'I have no home…. America is my home' — that he sharpened his eye as a reporter and his voice as a writer; that he proved big audiences would read small stories about ordinary people; that he came to know so well the country that the soldiers he met later were fighting for. Overseas, in the war, he always asked those soldiers where they came from, and it was often someplace he had once been."

It's fairly easy to find a copy. And it is highly recommended, especially for any young writers out there.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at

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