IU Alumni Walk in Ernie Pyle’s Footsteps

The IU Travels group at the Wounded Soldier memorial on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. All photos courtesy of Mike Conway.

Bill Benner, BS’73, and his wife, Sherry (Parker) Benner, BS’74, planned to go on their first IU Travels trip two years ago, before the pandemic derailed their plans.

After two postponements, they were finally able to see London, Normandy, and Paris on the “In the Footsteps of Ernie Pyle” trip, hosted by AHI Travel.

“We waited, and we waited, and we waited, and we were worried that it would never come about, but when it did, we were delighted,” Bill Benner recalls.

The IU Travels group, which included Mike Conway, far left, and Bill Benner, pictured center in a red IU hat, visited the Palace of Versailles in France.

The Benners joined a group of 12 others on the 11-day excursion—an experience that mirrors the spring break trip Media School students take after completing the course “From London to Paris: In the Footsteps of Ernie Pyle.”

Mike Conway, BA’83, a Media School professor and journalism historian, joined the IU Travels trip to share his knowledge of Ernie Pyle, LHD’44.

Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, was known for his columns chronicling typical American soldiers. During World War II, when Americans yearned for news of loved ones serving overseas, Pyle’s heartfelt dispatches informed and sustained the country.

He filed columns about the German air attacks on London, the wreckage at the Normandy beachhead following D-Day, and the joy in Parisian streets during the city’s liberation. In 1945, Pyle was killed by Japanese gunfire while traveling with the U.S. Army.

Conway and Bill both agreed that their time spent in Normandy was the highlight of the trip.

“It’s one thing to read [Pyle’s] columns, because he’s such an amazing writer, but the ability to stand in some of the places where he was, to see what he was writing about, it can be pretty powerful,” Conway says. “Our visits to the D-Day beaches, where the invasion happened, were very emotional.”

While walking the rows of white crosses in the Normandy American Cemetery, the Benners and their fellow travelers could hear the U.S. national anthem being played at a nearby ceremony.

Bill Benner at the Normandy American Cemetery.

“At that moment, I almost fell to my knees,” says Bill Benner, whose father-in-law and uncle both served in the Pacific during World War II. “It was so moving to be there at that moment, to be standing among the graves of those who were so brave. That was a moment I will never, ever forget.”

Benner also noted that not a blade of grass was out of place among the graves and there was a distinct sense of reverence in the air.

“There was an acknowledgement that all of us who were there—strangers—were a part of a special moment at a special place” he says.

Written By
Jenna Willams
Jenna Willams, BA’22, is a freelance journalist and a writing specialist for the Urban Institute.