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RISKING LIFE AND LIMB TO TELL US THE FACTS

News stories this month have provided dramatic evidence - some new and some decades old - of the dangers journalists face when covering war.

On Feb. 4, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists reported that 65 newspeople were killed on the job last year, the highest number in more than a decade. Thirty-two died in Iraq.

The same day, the Associated Press released a photo of legendary World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle lying dead near Okinawa on April 18, 1945, moments after he was shot by a Japanese machine gun. - The picture had never been published, apparently out of respect for Pyle's widow.

See the death photo of Pyle and read excerpts from the AP's story on Page 4E. The 2007 edition of CPJ's Attacks on the Press is online at www.cpj.org.

Mike Wilson, Times staff writer

Here is an excerpt from the Associated Press story about the death photo of war correspondent Ernie Pyle:

. . . Ernie Pyle was not just any reporter. . . . Pyle riveted the nation with personal, straight-from-the-heart tales about hometown soldiers in history's greatest conflict. . . .

In April 1945 . . . the Army's 77th Infantry Division landed on Ie Shima, a small island off Okinawa, to capture an airfield. (On April 18) . . . a jeep carrying Pyle and three officers came under fire from a hidden machine gun. All scrambled for cover in roadside ditches, but when Pyle raised his head, a .30 caliber bullet caught him in the left temple, killing him instantly.

(Army photographer) Alexander Roberts . . . (was) at a command post 300 yards away. . . . Roberts went to the scene, and despite continuing enemy fire, crept forward - a "laborious, dirt-eating crawl," he later called it - to record the scene with his Speed Graphic camera. His risky act earned Roberts a Bronze Star medal for valor. . . .

Roberts' photograph, however, was never seen by the public. He told (a Pyle biographer) that the War Department had withheld it "out of deference" to Ernie's ailing widow, Jerry.

At least two . . . prints were kept as souvenirs by veterans who served aboard USS Panamint, a Navy communications ship in the Okinawa campaign. . . .

Retired naval officer Richard Strasser, 84, of Goshen, Ind., who recalls Pyle visiting the ship just before he was killed, said a friend named George, who ran the ship's darkroom, gave him a packet of pictures after Japan surrendered in August 1945. . . .

"At the time, Ernie's widow was still alive and I considered sending the photo to her, but had mixed feelings about it. In the end I did nothing."

It was Strasser's photo, a still-pristine contact print from the 4-by-5-inch negative, that came to the AP's attention late last year. He since has made it available to the Newseum, a $435-million news museum scheduled to open in Washington this year.

Margaret Engel, the Newseum's managing editor, says the photo is "of strong historic interest," and because Pyle died at the height of his fame, "the circumstances of his death . . . remain a compelling story for students of journalism and the war."

Ex-Petty Officer Joseph T. Bannan, who joined USS Panamint's crew in May 1945 after his own ship was damaged by a kamikaze, said his Pyle photo came from a ship's photographer he remembers only as "Joe from Philadelphia."

Bannan, 82, of Boynton Beach, Fla., said "Joe" told him he had been ordered to destroy the negative "because of the effect it would have on the morale of the American public."

Word for Word excerpts passages of interest from books, magazines, Web sites and other sources. The text may be edited for space but the original spelling, grammar and punctuation are unchanged.

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