The couch moved aside, lights went up, and a camera was readied Wednesday at World War II veteran Redge Ranyard’s Roseburg home.
Producer/Director Todd Gould, with WTIU, the PBS station at Indiana University, was there to interview Ranyard about a unique experience he had in 1943 while serving aboard a ship in the Mediterranean.
That’s the year Ranyard met and briefly worked with Pulitzer prize-winning war correspondent Ernie Pyle. Famous for his unique, folksy style of reporting the war from the perspective of the troops, Pyle’s columns appeared in hundreds of newspapers across the country.
Gould’s station is producing a documentary called “Ernie Pyle: Life in the Trenches” to run along with a series of PBS World War II documentaries next year. The 90-minute documentary is expected to be released nationwide in May 2020 as part of the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, when the Nazis surrendered to the Allied forces.
Ranyard’s recollections are valuable because for a short time he worked directly with Pyle, a rare claim to fame among the nation’s remaining World War II veterans.
“There are very few people who actually worked with Pyle and are still around to talk about it,” Gould said.
And at 96, Ranyard’s memory of that time seems not to have dimmed one jot.
While Gould and freelance videographer Boyd Anderson of Beaverton prepared for the shoot, Ranyard spoke with The News-Review about his wartime experience and his encounter with Pyle.
Ranyard was 17 when he joined the Navy in 1940. Had he known war would break out in 1941, he said, he probably wouldn’t have signed up.
He served as a storekeeper second class, which meant he was responsible for food and other supplies. But he was often called upon to fill other roles. He filled in as a radar and sonar operator and he told his superiors he could type because that would get him out of swabbing the deck — though it also meant he had to learn to type.
At one point he even manned a gun he used to shoot down a German plane. As it went down over the other side of a hill, he said he realized it was probably a young man with maybe a wife or a sister, and certainly a mother and father.
“I had been responsible for his death so I didn’t feel particularly joyful about what I had done. I accepted that it was necessary, but I didn’t like having to do it myself,” he said.
Gen. George Patton came on board the ship Ranyard was serving on in 1943, accompanied by Pyle.
Ranyard was a 20-year-old high school dropout who looked 14 at the time, and to this day he has no idea why he was chosen to help Pyle with his work, he said.
Pyle typed with two fingers and didn’t punctuate or capitalize, so Ranyard was called on to edit the work before it was sent to America. The stories Ranyard helped with were about the fighting in Sicily in 1943. They eventually became the first eight chapters of Pyle’s book “Brave Men,” published in 1944.
“Ernie took up headquarters at a mess table in the crew spaces because he was most interested in the enlisted people who would gather at the table. He would just talk with them. He didn’t interview people, he just talked with them,” Ranyard said.
Pyle spoke about eating cold food and sleeping on the ground while he’d covered the fight in Sicily, and said it was wonderful to be on a ship eating hot food and sleeping in a real bed.
“He paused for a moment and he said, ‘You know I don’t really expect to come out of this war alive,’” Ranyard said.
Later, Pyle went to France, where his writing painted a grim, heart-wrenching picture of the deadly cost of the D-Day invasion.
“Now that the fighting has moved inland, human litter extends in a thin little line, just like a high water mark, for miles along the beach. This is the strewn personal gear, gear that will never be needed again, of those who fought and died to give us our entrance into Europe.
“Here in a jumbled row for mile on mile are soldiers’ packs. Here are socks and shoe polish, sewing kits, diaries, Bibles and hand grenades. Here are the latest letters from home, with the address on each one neatly razored out — one of the security precautions enforced before the boys embarked,” Pyle wrote in a story that became part of the book “Ernie’s War: The Best of Ernie Pyle’s World War II Dispatches.”
Pyle died by sniper fire while reporting from the Pacific Theater in 1945.
Ranyard served until 1946.
After that, he met and married his wife, Janet.
It’s a marriage that’s lasted more than 70 years. Their relationship started with a double date at which each of them was paired with someone else. It turned out Janet and Redge were more interested in each other than in their dates that evening.
Redge Ranyard went on to college after the war thanks to the G.I. Bill. Janet worked as an occupational therapist. The former high school dropout went on to obtain a doctorate and teach at a number of colleges and universities, including Whitman College in Walla Walla.
The couple moved to Roseburg 27 years ago and live in the historic Wainscott House.