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Interview with Ralph Pyle [Undated]

Pat McClain:

Good morning. I'm interviewing Ralph R. Pyle, Junior, 1309 Clearview Drive, Richmond, Indiana. Date of birth, 5-23-25. My name is Pat McClain and I'm on the staff of United States Senator Richard Lugar. Mr. Pyle, thank you so much for being here this morning, we greatly appreciate you giving us the time.

Ralph Pyle:

Thank you.

Pat McClain:

Were you enlisted or were you drafted into the service?

Ralph Pyle:

I was drafted when I was 18 in New Madison, Ohio, just got out of high school.

Pat McClain:

And where were you sent after that?

Ralph Pyle:

Well, I went to Fort Thomas, Kentucky, where you were inducted. And then I took a train to Camp Haan, California and I spent about a year and a half in California in an anti-aircraft outfit. I was at the 834th anti-aircraft outfit. We had what we called 40 millimeter Bofers, anti-aircraft guns. They were small 40 millimeter guns. Later on, the outfit was changed to a half track outfit and we had half track units with four .50 caliber machine guns mounted in a turret for anti-aircraft use. Then what I started doing was teaching aircraft recognition, because in civilian life before I went in, I built models. It was a real hobby. I loved model building. So the army decided I knew aircraft, so when they put me in anti-aircraft, I started teaching. And for about, oh, a year and a half, I taught aircraft recognition. I taught about 500 guys in the Battalion how to recognize Japanese, German, American airplanes so that when we shot them, we shot the right ones rather than shooting the wrong ones.

Pat McClain:

Right.

Ralph Pyle:

But, after about five or six months, they transferred me into the 516th Battalion, which was 120 millimeter anti-aircraft guns. They were guns that would shoot a five-inch, four-and-a-half-inch shell, about 12 mile high. They were big guns used for bombers and such. And I was in that outfit. We were at Camp Irwin out in the desert in California and fired the guns for a while. Then in January of '45, I went up to Vancouver Barracks in -- across from Portland, Oregon and got on a ship and we sailed, our whole outfit, went to Oahu, Hawaii. And I was on Oahu for the -- about 13 months until the war ended. What I did mainly was teach aircraft recognition. I was in intelligence and had charge of all the confidential documents and stuff. And I had to sign them out when people wanted some confidential documents. And I learned photograhpy in the Army as a hobby. And little did I realize back then, in 1946, that it would be my life's profession. And it has been very good to me. But after -- one thing I didn't mention, when I was in California is where I really learned photography. I used to go into the USO in Hollywood at the Hollywood Canteen and photograph all the movie stars and that's what really got me interested in photographing --

Pat McClain:

Who were some of the biggest stars you --

Ralph Pyle:

Oh, I photographed Betty Grable ... can't think of ... at my age, at 76, I tend to forget some of those things.

Pat McClain:

That's okay. Go ahead.

Ralph Pyle:

All the movie stars back in that day, Clark Gable, Betty Grable, Gregory Peck. All the people that were active back then. I don't know about Gregory Peck. He may have been later on, I think that was -- June Allyson, Rod Cameron, Orson Welles. All them. They would come down and work at the Hollywood canteen and the women, you could dance with them, if you wanted to. And the guys served sandwiches and stuff. So you got to meet all the stars. And I loved that, and I got to do that quite a few weekends.

Pat McClain:

Oh, yes.

Ralph Pyle:

When we got to Hawaii, we had 16 guns set up around the island in Oahu and we had a operations center where we controlled all these guns. And fortunately we never had to fire them at any enemy airplanes because after Pearl Harbor, whenever any planes came back. But we were there strictly for protection of the islands. And we would fire the guns probably once a month, we would have a shooting range and it was kind of interesting to watch them fire. But I still taught that. And after the war was over in August of '45, we pretty much were on our own in Hawaii to do what want. I moved up to Scofield Barracks in Hawaii, was there for about -- let's see, it was about four or five months. Then I came home and came back into Camp Stoneman, California, back to Camp Atterbury and was discharged at Camp Atterbury. That's about all I did during World War II. It was an interesting time. I enjoyed it really and there was never any combat or any problems. During the war, I worked pretty hard to get staff sergeant's rating. So when the -- when I got my discharge, they asked if I wanted to stay in the reserves. I felt sure we would be in war with Russia, just the way everybody was talking at that time, so I decided to stay in the reserves and go into the reserves to save my rank if I had to go back in. Well, as it happened four years later, I did have to go in, but we were fighting Russia, but kind of in an off-handed way in korea.

Pat McClain:

Sure.

Ralph Pyle:

Really we were fighting the North Koreans. Then the -- that -- well, that four years after World War II, I came home and worked -- did photography as a part-time business and worked for a couple factories. Met my wife, Jean. We went together for four years before we were married. January of 1950, we bought a house and -- on the G.I. bill. And bought it in January and in September, I was called to go back to Korea. So we got married earlier. We were going to get married in October after the house was done, but I decided, or we decided, to get married the first of September, because I had to go down to Texas at Fort Hood for training. September 26th I had to go down there. So, actually, the four years that I stayed home between World War II and Korea, I learned to fly. Got a commercial pilot's license on the G.I. bill. So the G.I. bill helped me with a house and gave me a commercial pilot's license. Jean and I were married, honeymooned in Chicago and went down to Fort Hood, Texas and they gave us about a three-week refresher training. All of us down there were mostly staff sergeants and master sergeants. With the cadre they had, they wouldn't allow us to wear any of the stripes. The cadre were all corporals, regular army and they were teaching us how to walk the infiltration course and that kind of stuff. So that was kind of interesting. That three weeks we were told we were going to Korea, there was no doubt. And so we knew that it was just a matter of time. Well, Jean came down and spent three days with me before I shipped out. They shipped us up to Camp Stoneman from Fort Hood. And we flew Overseas National Airlines from Oakland to Hawaii to Wake Island to Tokyo. We got into Tokyo, there was about 100 of us on this airplane. But the whole Camp Drake at Tokyo was reservists coming in and being sorted out and being sent to the outfits they were going to in Korea. So I, fortunately, doing photography like I was, when I got into the area where they filled out my form 20, I said, "What am I going to be doing in Korea?" And this guy, who, fortunately, I knew from World War II, one of my breaks, said, "What do you want to do in Korea?" I said, "Well, I don't want though do anti-aircraft because I know that's probably as near the infantry. He said, "Are you doing photography now?" And I said, "Yes." And he said, "Can you handle a photographic outfit?" And I said, "Sure." So they made me Chief of Section of a photo outfit and I went directly to Korea as a staff sergeant, Chief of the 51st Signal Battalion. We went down to Sasebo by train, got on a boat and went across to Pusan. Now, this is November 1, first week of November, 1950. The Chinese -- the Chinese are not in the war yet. We're in -- just the Koreans are in it. But the Koreans have us pushed down clear down to the Pusan perimeter, which was only about a 30-mile area around Pusan, the farthest most south. Well, luckily, the first -- 16th of September, General MacArthur surprised the North Koreans and made a landing at Inch'on. So I got there just a month, a little over a month after that. And we had driven the North Koreans from the peninsula all the way back up to Seoul and all the way up to the Yalu River when I got to Korea. So I got -- when I got into the replacement depot, they said, "You're 51st signal. Your outfit is somewhere north of P'yongyang, North Korea. You'll have to find it. We think it's so and so." So they issued me a .45, a carbine, hand grenades, ammunition, and a three-quarter ton weapons carrier and said, "Sergeant Pyle, here are six guys. You are to -- you're all going to the 51st Signal Battalion." They were mechanics, linemen, switchboard operators, everything. And I was the only photographer in the group. The rest of them were all either linemen or signal corps. So we drove. It was in the middle of November, then. Well, maybe the 10th of November. Snow, cold as hell. And we were dressed pretty good. I didn't -- I wasn't too bad. But we drove this three-quarter ton weapons carrier over these icy mountain roads. And about every day, we'd stop along the road at camps and eat with some of the people that were permanently stationed. So we drove this vehicle and we got to Seoul, which is 250 mile from Pusan. Took us two or three days to do that. We got to Pusan -- or got to Seoul and when we got out of the vehicle, they were -- it was strange because we had taken an orange juice can and put sand in the bottom of it, poured gasoline in it and lit it and that's the way we kept warm. Well, we were black, this black soot all over everything. So whenever we'd get out, they weren't too sure whether we were the new black troops coming in or what. But we got to Seoul and they said, "Your outfit is way north." So we went up, we drove another 150 mile to P'yongyang, which is the capital of North Korea. And it was not hurt too bad because they had just evacuated it, the North Korean troops. So we went north of -- I don't remember how far, I would have to look at my records, but we went north of P'yongyang about, I think, 40 or 50 miles, or whenever the 51st Signal Battalion -- which was an old battalion from World War I. It is the oldest signal battalion in the Army. And they're still in existence. But they were furnishing communications for first cavalry, really for first corps, which was first cavalry division, seventh cav, 24th, 25th Army divisions. And we got there, the day we got there to this town, it was Anju, I think A-N-J-U, first sergeant came running down and he said, "Get back in your weapons carrier." I said, "Why?" He said, "The Chinese have just entered the war."

Pat McClain:

Oh, my goodness.

Ralph Pyle:

So the Chinese, over the next three days, chased all these divisions, me out in front.

Pat McClain:

Oh, goodness.

Ralph Pyle:

In the second division, all these fighting a rear action holding up and that's where we lost literally tens of thousands of men, in that retreat. The Chinese were just merciless. And that's when the marines were caught at Chosin Reservoir and were driven back to Hungnam. The only difference was, as an army photographer, I did not have a camera. They had issued no cameras to any of us. The Marines, they had their cameras. That's why there's no record, film record, of the Army retreat, but there's all kinds of pictures of the Marine retreat. But we were having it as rough as the Marines were, believe me. I was lucky, I was out in front. Never in any danger. But I saw the guys coming in after we got back south of Seoul coming in and it was a real pathetic -- a real pathetic case. We saw a lot of things along the road that disturbed me. G.I.'s beheaded, hands tied behind their back. It was a very awakening thing to what this war was like. Very disturbing. So I got back, we stopped at Yung Dong Po, which is just south of Seoul. Since we didn't have any cameras, I'm -- they said, "Pyle, you're going to be permanent Sergeant of the Guard." So for that month of November and December, I pulled permanent Sergeant of the Guard. All I did was post the guard and go around and check the guard every night. I kept saying, "Where's the cameras?" They said, "Well, they're in Tokyo, they'll be here." All that time that I could have been recording what was going on.

Pat McClain:

Sure.

Ralph Pyle:

No equipment, no cameras. In fact, if I had to do it over, I would have taken a personal camera, which I didn't think about, because I thought I was going to get a camera. So I pulled Sergeant of the Guard for about a little over a month. We moved from Yung Dong Po back to a town called Taejon, which is halfway down in the country. And I pulled permanent Sergeant of the Guard there. I caught hepatitis, which is, fortunately, not the serious kind. I had the kind you recover from. And I pulled Sergeant of the guard for about another two weeks. And they moved us because the Chinese are now south of Seoul. The Chinese had taken Seoul and they're coming down south of Seoul. So decided to move. I was with headquarters company at that time, 51st. Moved back down to Pusan again. So we loaded up and got back down to Pusan. And the first thing I said when I got down there, "I'm going to Swedish..." there's a big Swedish hospital. They were giving me A.P.C.'s, all purpose cures. Aspirin is what I was getting. And I was so dirty, none of us had showered or anything, shaved. I had a beard. We hadn't showered or shaved for a month.

Pat McClain:

Oh, goodness.

Ralph Pyle:

And I said, "I'm going to the Swedish hospital," which I knew was right down the road. And I walked into... this big Swedish doctor said, "By Jiminy, hepatitis." Clear across the road, he recognized that I was yellow, eyes and everything. So he come over and put a tag on me and said, "Air evacuation to Japan." So I said, "When is this?" He said, "Now." I said, "Well, I've got a Jeep and all my equipment and I've got to turn it in." And he said, "Well, you've got a half hour, go turn your Jeep and all your equipment in and get back here." When I got back to the outfit, all my guys said, "Where are you going?" I said, "I'm going to Japan." So they wanted to know how they could get one. I said, "Hepatitis is the only way." Well, none of them had it. So I went back, they flew me from Pusan to Kyoto and I was in the 35th Army Sation in the hospital in Kyoto for about three months, two and a half months. During that time I -- it was the G.I.'s in Korea's PX. I would go down to the army PX in the hospital and have the little carpenter there box stuff up and send it back.

Pat McClain:

Oh, my goodness, that was a good thought.

Ralph Pyle:

Yeah, so that was good. But I spent about two and a half months and about a month of that, I could go out on leave. I had a class A pass. So I go downtown Kyoto, so I got to see a lot of Japan then.

Pat McClain:

Oh.

Ralph Pyle:

The only restriction was you were not allowed to drink. Fortunately I'm a teetotaler. I don't drink anyway. So the guys would go out and they would drink and they'd come back and they'd have a relapse. A lot of them died from cirrhosis of the liver. Plus, hepatitis is not to be messed with. But I had a complete recovery, except now I can't give blood or anything.

Pat McClain:

Sure.

Ralph Pyle:

Any time I go to the hospital to give blood, they know you can't do it. So after the two and a half months in Japan, which I enjoyed very much, it was complete bed rest was the only -- and no greasy foods and bed rest. And we got back rubs and played Euchre and Pinochle and it was kind of nice. The first day I got into the hospital, the Red Cross came by and said, "We've got a call in to your wife." So that evening, I called and talked to her for about half hour. Anyway, when I finally got over this, I went back down to Sasebo and went across on a boat back to Pusan and got on a train at Pusan, they finally had the trains running, and I rode a train from Pusan up to Yung Dong Po which is just south of Seoul, and I looked out and my first sergeant was at the train waiting to pick me up. Which I was very happy about, because they were taking a lot of the guys, they got off the train, they were taking them and putting them in the infantry. Because the army infantry had been so torn up by the Chinese that they needed infantry. Well, I was glad to see the sergeant, so I went right to my outfit. So I got there and when I got over, they had cameras and Jeeps.

Pat McClain:

I was going to ask you if they had cameras.

Ralph Pyle:

Yeah, I had my own Jeep and the C.O., Captain Birch, who's a peach of a guy, he said, "I see you have a commercial pilot's license." And I said, "Yes." He said, "Well, General Milburn," who was the first corps commander, "needs a photographer. We now have a couple guys doing it, but they don't know how to fly or anything, but we're going to make you the full-time photographer to do the aerial photography." And that was, I thought, fun until I found out I had to go over and sit outside of General Milburn's office and this was at Yung Dong Po, just south of Seoul. The lines are just north of Seoul, the Chinese. He'd come out and give me a map. He'd say, "Sergeant Pyle, I need pictures of this area." And he would draw a circle. So I would go out to the airport and get an L-19 airplane with the captain and he found out I could fly, so he was real happy about that, because if he got hit, it means I could still fly.

Pat McClain:

Sure.

Ralph Pyle:

So he'd say, "Do you know where you're going?" And I'd say, "Yeah." And he would say, "Well, I'll get us off." And he would take off and turn it over to me. We'd go down to tree top level, 100 feet off the ground, fly 30 miles in behind Chinese lines, 25 miles. And at that altitude, they can't shoot at you because by the time they see you, you're gone. And they don't have -- the Chinese didn't have very good radio contact. So we'd fly tree-top level into the town. Usually it was a town or an area that the general wanted pictures of to see how much troop concentrations were in that area. We'd get in and I'd turn it over to the captain. He would fly up to about a thousand feet and I would take the K-20 Arrow camera and shoot 50 pictures as we flew around this town.

Pat McClain:

Goodness.

Ralph Pyle:

But all that time they're shooting at us. There's holes in the wings. And first time it happened, I said, "Oh shit."

Pat McClain:

I bet.

Ralph Pyle:

Yeah. Captain said, "Yeah." So then a Burke gun went. You could hear a Burke gun went "brp-brp-brp." He said, "Are you done shooting?" And I said, "Yeah." So back down on the ground and back home. This was -- I did this for about 10 flights in Yung Dong Po. And every time we'd come back, there was a hole in the wing or -- I never got hit, was very lucky. Funny thing, when you sit in an airplane like that, you think, "They're going hit me. But if you hit me, hit me in the leg, don't hit me in the rear end because it is going to go right up through you." But fortunately I never got hurt.

Pat McClain:

That was good.

Ralph Pyle:

Came back. They finally moved us. And we've got the Chinese, after this month and a half or two months, we've got the Chinese driven 30 miles north of the area. So we moved up to an area called Ui Jong Bu. You probably know about Ui Jong by from the M.A.S.H. series. That's where M.A.S.H. was.

Pat McClain:

Sure, uh-huh.

Ralph Pyle:

That was about 25 mile, I'm guessing, 20 mile north of Seoul. I made another 25 flights over North Korea from there. So one day, what I'd do is go up and take these pictures, come back and go to my photo lab. And our lab chief would process them and make prints on them, 10-by-10 prints, take them over to General Milburn that afternoon and he used these pictures to make decisions on where he's sending his troops by the fact that there's a large concentration of troops here and there's not here. That's why I was taking the pictures. So I felt really like I was doing something to help --

Pat McClain:

Well, of course.

Ralph Pyle:

-- help the war. This captain was a real nice guy. He said, "Ralph," he said, "I'm going to put you in for the air medal and flight __" because I had made 35 flights. You only had to make 30, supposedly, to get the Air Medal and flight pay. Which means I would have made another 100 dollars a month and get the Air Medal. So he came back about, oh, three or four days later. And he said, "We got problems." And I said, "What?" And he said, "You don't have to fly any more." I said, "Why?" He said, "Well, you're not supposed to be flying. Now, this whole time it was supposed to be a commissioned officer. Enlisted men are not supposed to be put in the situation you were being put in." So he said, "I do have something, though. I can get you a second lieutenant's commission if you want it. But you have to sign up for two years." And I said, "No, send me somebody. Send me somebody and I'll teach them how to take it." So you're not getting the Air Medal and you're not getting the flight pay because you're not even supposed to be flying. But he said, "But, I did get you the Bronze Star." I've got a cold that won't stop. I did get to the Bronze Star. I later found out by looking at some of these books that the Bronze Star cannot be awarded for air service. It has to be for ground service. So I got the Bronze Star for doing aerial photography. In fact, it says right on my -- let me find it here. This is a citation for the Bronze Star. It says here, "Sergeant Ralph Pyle e.r. serial number, signal corps, United States army, Headquarter Company, 51st Signal Battalion, cited for meritorious service in connection with military operations, April 20th to October the 13th. During this period, Sergeant Pyle performed -- specifically assigned to cover the actual combat operations of the United Nations troops. In performing his duties, Sergeant Pyle made many aerial photographic reconnaissance missions deep in enemy territory, repeatedly exposing himself to enemy ground fire, acted on his own initiative and with complete regard for his personal safety made photographs of great value. Sergeant Pyle's outstanding performance under extremely hazardous conditions directs great credit on himself and the military service and the Federal Service of Indiana." But that's what I got the Bronze Star from. Now, I have a book here that lists medals. I'll tell you what it says about the Bronze star, criteria for awarding, "heroic or meritorious achievement or service not involved in participating in aerial flight." So the Army really screwed up on that deal and I'm going to ask Senator Lugar if he can finally get me the Air Medal for the 35 flights I made over Korea.

Pat McClain:

Okay.

Ralph Pyle:

I'm happy with the Bronze Star, but I wanted the Air Medal because flying was kind of my __. Anyway, after I got relieved from that, why, I spent most of my time covering the actual combat operations. I'd go up and photograph some of the __ companies and such in combat. Luckily never got hit. I was in a lot of skirmishs, lot of scrapes, taking pictures of these guys. I also had the pleasure of photographing all the USO tours that came. I got to spend a week with Jack Benny. Can't get better than that.

Pat McClain:

No.

Ralph Pyle:

I photographed Jennifer Jones. Never saw Bob Hope in all the time. Bob Hope came over, but I think after I had come home. But I spent the remainder of the war, it was -- this was like July 16th. July 16th, the Korean Peace Talks were held. And I had -- I really was lucky. I have a rating here. I was rated as the top photographer in Korea, most of the time I was over there. So I got to go cover the peace talks. And I have here pictures that I'll give you of the North Korean delegation that I shot, the United Nations delegation, some pictures of me with some of the Koreans at the peace conference. But I got to cover the peace conference. And you see both these books I have, there are copies of those pictures in it that I'll show you. But I see these pictures that I shot at the Peace Talks on August -- or on July 16th, in magazines all the time and newspapers.

Pat McClain:

Do you get credit for them?

Ralph Pyle:

"U.S. Army photograph."

Pat McClain:

Oh.

Ralph Pyle:

But I have the originals which I have my name on the back of them. Says "U.S. Army photograph by Sergeant Ralph Pyle." But I know the pictures when I see them and I can pull the originals out and compare them. But I've given Warren Motts over Columbus, Ohio most of my original photographs and he has them all in his art galleries. Warren has my medals and all that, and my uniforms and such. A wonderful museum. I don't want to forget anything. The Peace Talks were interesting. We were at Kaesong and we were there for like -- we went up about 10:00 in the morning and came back late afternoon. And the local newspaper in Richmond, Indiana, I sent them pictures of it and they had an exclusive news man. And they published for three days stories and pictures of me while I was at the Peace Talks. Of course Jean enjoyed that.

Pat McClain:

Well, of course. When you were -- when did you get out now? In --

Ralph Pyle:

All right. After the Peace Talks, as I said, all I did was -- Well, I did photograph Governor Thomas Dewey, General Marshall, General Bradley, General Milburn, General Ridgway, General Van Fleet, General Marshall. All these people when they came into the outfit. As I said, I got to spend a week with Jack Benny. I guess after the Peace Talks, things slowed down a little bit. And the phone would ring by my bed. I had a little cot, we were sleeping in cots and tents. And the personnel said, "Sergeant Pyle, you and Corporal Rule," which is my lab chief, "are going home." So we went down to In'chon, got on a ship. It took us from In'chon back to Sasebo, Japan. And we waited in Sasebo for about a week and finally caught a ship. It took us two weeks to come back. It took me a day to get over and two weeks to come back. They flew me over.

Pat McClain:

Right.

Ralph Pyle:

Landed at Seattle, Washington, Fort Lewis. Then we went to Camp Carson, Colorado by train. And I was discharged from Camp Carson. And I got home the day before Thanksgiving, 1951. So I had been gone just about 14 months. And I learned a lot in Korea. It was an experience, I wouldn't want to do again, but ... lot of death. The first time that blacks had been integrated into the army and we got along very well with them, other than as Sergeant at Guard I had a guy go to sleep one night at the post and I took him in to the captain. And I said, "Captain, man was sleeping on duty." And he said, "Put him to bed and put somebody else on there. I don't want to make out the papers to get him court-martialed." I said, "Okay. That's up to you captain." A lot of things happened like that, little incidences. I know we had a guy that was a first sergeant. He was a captain in the British Army during World War II, but he came back to the United States and was a -- he was in the reserves some way. I don't know how, but, he was reduced in rank to first sergeant. And he was my first sergeant. Sergeant Coyne (ph) was his name. I remember one incident, cold as hell, I'm wearing what they called a pile jacket. It's a jacket made out of pile and you're supposed to wear it under your field jacket. Well, I was wearing it this day without my field jacket. And I thought I was right, but he chewed me out mercilessly. Said, "You're not supposed to be wearing that as an outer garment." So I said, "Okay." So I went back and put my field jacket on. And I said, "I think you're wrong, Sergeant, but I'll do it." Well, he didn't have the guts to come tell me I was right. He sent a house boy down with a little note said, "Sergeant Pyle, you may wear the pile jacket as an outer garment, but only in nice weather, not inclement weather." One of the little incidents that happened in Korea. Oh, I got to tell you another thing that was wonderful. And if it was 50 years ago they'd probably court-martial me right now. Photographers have a -- pretty much have it made. I want to tell you two things. I had a Jeep. Now I called it Fragile Lass, pronounced rapidly as "fragile ass." Well, the colonel one day saw this and he said, "Sergeant Pyle, we don't need that on there. You need to paint that out." So I painted it out. But another thing we did, we would go down to all these combat outfits that were coming in on relief and we would get a hold of the colonel or somebody and photograph him in front of his tank with all the medals and everything and give him three or four eight-by-tens. But what we -- nobody had money, so we would trade him these pictures for steak, because this colonel had charge of the __. So we would come back with 50 pounds of grade A steak. We would go to town, get charcoal and we'd have charcoal steak fries about once a week. But we were smart enough that we invited Colonel Weeks, who was the C.O., we invited the captain, we invited all the brass, and all the guys in the photo section, there would be about 20 of us. And we would have a steak fry. And another interesting story, and I'll get on with the rest of it, a guy one night came down and our house boy came down and said a G.I. threatened to beat me up. The captain goes down, and where Yammy's (ph) cooking these steaks, there's a G.I. wanting some steak from the radio section next door because they saw us down there. So the captain went down and said, "how many do you need?" And "Come ask me, don't threaten the house boy." And so they gave him three or four steaks and went back. Ended up this guy was from Richmond where I lived, good friend now. He's an attorney, but he was in the radio section. And we never knew each other until we got home.

Pat McClain:

Oh, isn't that funny.

Ralph Pyle:

As I said, we had all the brass there. I'm over sitting in Milburn's office with Colonel Weeks, who was my C.O. sitting right out in the battalion by me. I'm sitting there reading a comic book, or something, waiting for Milburn to decide whether he needs some pictures. M.P. came in, captain, went up and saluted the Colonel and said, "Colonel, I got a problem. We have 150 pounds of steak missing from the quartermaster corps and they said down there that somebody from the 51st signal battalion had it." Well, the Colonel had been to all the steak fries. So the Colonel said, "Well, I don't know," he says -- Captain said, "Have you seen anybody around here?" He said, "No, but if you do, let me know. I'd sure like to have some steak." Captain said, "Well, I guess we'll forget it" and saluted and walked out. The Colonel looked over at me and went {unseen gesture}. So we got by with murder.

Pat McClain:

Sounds like it.

Ralph Pyle:

Then we had another deal. We were scroungers, you had to to get a little pleasure in life. There was no ice cream, or at least very little ice cream. But we made friends with a guy over at first corps that made ice cream for all the officers' quarters. They got ice cream. We didn't get ice cream. We would process any film he brought to us, process the film and take it back and trade it for ice cream. So we would take back six or eight rolls of film and prints about once a week and bring back about a five-gallon cardboard tin of homemade ice cream. So we would have to pass it around because we couldn't eat it all, it was hot as hell, so we had to eat it right then.

Pat McClain:

Oh, right.

Ralph Pyle:

So we'd pass it around to all the tents and stuff, and have ice cream. But we did a lot of scrounging like that. You had to to make it interesting.

Pat McClain:

Uh-huh.

Ralph Pyle:

But we had guys that did movies. This kid that I was with, Corporal Rule, I came home with, he just died this summer. My -- one of my movie men that shot movies, he died, Bob Joseman (ph) died, for 25 years now, didn't he?

Pat McClain:

Oh.

Ralph Pyle:

He was an alcoholic, he was drunk half the time. He died. He was a reporter for the Wichita Eagle.

Pat McClain:

Oh.

Ralph Pyle:

Of all the guys in my outfit, there's only one still around that I know of. He lives in Twain Harte, California. And we still correspond and I talk to him maybe once a month.

Pat McClain:

Oh.

Ralph Pyle:

And it is very interesting. But I came home on Thanksgiving and we went down and spent about a, what, two weeks, three weeks in Florida on vacation. Came back and went to work in a factory again. Got a chance to go in to photography running a store. And I was doing photography in my home as a part-time business. So I went to this camera shop, worked for five years and one of our local photographers was killed and I opened the studio right then. From 1957 to 1987 when I retired, I run one of the, I'd say state's leading, if not country's leading photographers, leading studios. And made literally thousands and thousands of pictures. Oh, I was lucky enough during that period, we'll go back to Korea, but during that period, I photographed President Ford. This is when he was Minority Leader of the House. President Reagan when he was Governor of California running for President.

Pat McClain:

Uh-huh. I remember that.

Ralph Pyle:

And there's a picture of me and -- there's a picture of me and Ronald Reagan made by Bill Wallace.

Pat McClain:

I'll be darned.

Ralph Pyle:

And here's a picture I shot of Reagan which nobody has ever seen, which I thought was kind of funny.

Pat McClain:

Oh, my goodness.

Ralph Pyle:

And there's a picture of me and Gerry Ford when he was in the studio. But people come now and say -- the way I got to photograph these guys, they were there running campaigns for local people, like David Dennis, I don't know if you remember David Dennis, was the representative from our area. Well, that's why Reagan was there, campaigning for him.

Pat McClain:

I see.

Ralph Pyle:

And they would bring him in and I would get to photograph him.

Pat McClain:

That's great.

Ralph Pyle:

People say, "Where did you get those pictures?" I say, "I made them in the studio." I don't volunteer that they -- how they were made. I just say I photographed them. Here's -- I'm going to give you some of these to put in the archives.

Pat McClain:

Okay. Great.

Ralph Pyle:

Here's a picture of general Omar Bradley and General Ridgway. These two men were probably -- well, he was Secretary of the Army at the time, no, Chief of Staff. I don't know what he was. Secretary -- General of the Army. Bradley was. And Ridgway there was a Far East Commander. That's -- he took MacArthur's place. Now, I was very lucky to run this studio the last 30 -- I been retired 15 years now. And I think that -- I'm very happy about some of the honor I received recently about my military service. The War Memorial in down Indianapolis has a permanent display now of about 20 of my photographs and pictures of me on the wall, which I'm very proud of. The local newspaper has run many stories on me. The Indianapolis Star, which is our state's leading newspaper, ran a section on me. This is all pictures of me that I made in Korea, the whole inside section. Those are all pictures I made while I was in Korea. And about the third page back was the next one. Right there. Those are all pictures of the story of my time in Korea.

Pat McClain:

Is this something I can photocopy and send back?

Ralph Pyle:

You can keep it. I brought extras.

Pat McClain:

I can keep it? Great.

Ralph Pyle:

I brought extras of most of this stuff and you can have whatever you want.

Pat McClain:

It is whatever you would like for us to have in with your things.

Ralph Pyle:

There's a lot of things that I'd like to give you that I don't have.

Pat McClain:

Okay.

Ralph Pyle:

Because they were official army photographs that -- for instance, all the aerial photographs I made, all I have are some small four-by-fives which you can't see or anything.

Pat McClain:

Okay. Well, whatever you -- for us to make sure gets into the archives.

Ralph Pyle:

Okay.

Pat McClain:

In the Library of Congress, we will take care of that.

Ralph Pyle:

Okay. I'm going to give you -- this is the, pretty much, written copy of what I've told you.

Pat McClain:

Great. Okay.

Ralph Pyle:

This is the citation, that you can have, for the Bronze Star. This is my orders for receiving the Bronze Star. If I give you too much stuff, tell me.

Pat McClain:

Oh, no.

Ralph Pyle:

I don't want to overwhelm you. Now, here is a newspaper article that you can have. This is -- this was run during the -- let's see. This was run during the 50th anniversary of the Korean War.

Pat McClain:

Okay.

Ralph Pyle:

There's three or four whole pages on me and there's some pages on the front. You can have those.

Pat McClain:

That's wonderful, Ralph. You just married a celebrity, didn't you, Jean?

Ralph Pyle:

Now, I'm going to give you a couple of these. This is a picture of my display and you probably better write something on the back.

Pat McClain:

I was going to say, what is name of the museum?

Ralph Pyle:

Motts, M-O-T-T-S, Military Museum. That's at Grove Port, G-R-O-V-E, Port, Ohio. I was recently named into the Photography Hall of Fame here in Indiana and I'm going to give you the biography I used for that. This is the biography that all those pictures of me -- how many of those pictures do you want of the War Memorial down here in Indiana?

Pat McClain:

Whatever you can --

Ralph Pyle:

Well, I've got a whole set.

Pat McClain:

Okay. Whatever you can --

Ralph Pyle:

I think -- let see --

Pat McClain:

-- You can let me have, we would love to have --

Ralph Pyle:

I brought a whole set.

Pat McClain:

Right. Okay.

Ralph Pyle:

This is a whole set, it includes -- that's a whole set of those.

Pat McClain:

Okay.

Ralph Pyle:

And the -- I think I've got the caption that goes along with that. Or did I just hand that to you? No, there was a white sheet that says on it --

[END OF SIDE A, TAPE ONE; BEGIN SIDE B, TAPE ONE]

Ralph Pyle:

This is the way our army pictures came, and if you look on the back, that's the way that they identified them all. And every picture that I took in the army, I had a picture like this given back to me from headquarters. And most of those are in Mott's Museum, if they were not classified things, like combat pictures.

Pat McClain:

Right. Okay.

Ralph Pyle:

Here are some pictures that you can have. Here's a picture of -- you better write on the back.

Pat McClain:

I was going to say, I --

Ralph Pyle:

That's General Iron Mike O'Daniel. And General George Marshall. No, that's not Marshall.

Pat McClain:

Is that Bradley?

Ralph Pyle:

I'm turned around.

Pat McClain:

I think it's Bradley.

Ralph Pyle:

General Omar Bradley.

Pat McClain:

Right. This is a picture I sent to Jean, holding the side of the City Hall at Seoul, Korea and I'm sitting looking out the window of it. You can have that.

Pat McClain:

Now, this was in Seoul.

Ralph Pyle:

That's Seoul. Does it say "Seoul" there?

Pat McClain:

Okay. Good.

Ralph Pyle:

Of all the pictures I took of the Peace Talks, this one, they rejected it. See if you shoot a picture they don't like, they just reject it and throw the negative away. And they don't clutter up their archives. But that's a picture of the North Korean delegation coming out of the Peace Talks. You can have that if you want.

Pat McClain:

Okay.

Ralph Pyle:

There's a picture of me showing General O'Daniel our photo lab.

Pat McClain:

And that was in Korea?

Ralph Pyle:

In Korea. All those are in Korea. Now, here's where we get into ... you're going to have to help me on what you want. I'm going to hand you these and most of them you can have.

Pat McClain:

Okay.

Ralph Pyle:

This is -- I've written on the back of that.

Pat McClain:

Okay.

Ralph Pyle:

That might be of interest I think, do you?

Pat McClain:

Yes. I just want to make sure that --

Ralph Pyle:

These are all pictures that I took.

Pat McClain:

Okay. That's --

Ralph Pyle:

This is a Chinese soldier being interrogated by North Korean intelligence officers. He's being interrogated by ... here's something, probably. Here's the -- no, that's the -- I haven't shown you that yet.

Pat McClain:

No, I have this one.

Ralph Pyle:

What have we got here?

Pat McClain:

He's smoking a pipe. Huh. Okay.

Ralph Pyle:

See there. The back of it's --

Pat McClain:

Oh, good. Okay.

Ralph Pyle:

And here's one. It's a different shot than that one, but I took this one also. But here's this one.

Pat McClain:

Okay.

Ralph Pyle:

Here is an aerial photograph of the capital of Seoul, April '51, just after the Chinese left it. And it's all bombed out and such. That's one of the pictures I shot.

Pat McClain:

Oh, that's incredible.

Ralph Pyle:

Here, you can have that. You know who that is.

Pat McClain:

Okay. That's Bradley and --

Ralph Pyle:

Dewey.

Pat McClain:

That's Dewey.

Ralph Pyle:

Thomas Dewey.

Pat McClain:

Sure, the Governor and he ran for President.

Ralph Pyle:

He was running against Eisenhower in the primaries. And that's when that was taken, when he came to Korea. Eisenhower came after. He didn't -- here's a picture and I'm not going to identify it, except me. That's the outfit. That's my outfit in Korea.

Pat McClain:

Okay.

Ralph Pyle:

This is a picture of me at the Peace Talks and that's identified on the back. There's a picture of me --

Pat McClain:

This is incredible. That is -- oh, gosh. I've never gotten this much. I mean, photographs or anything. I'm just really excited because that's what we need.

Ralph Pyle:

That's Omar Bradley.

Pat McClain:

Right.

Ralph Pyle:

General Van Fleet and General Ridgeway there in the back.

Pat McClain:

Okay.

Ralph Pyle:

Here's a picture I love. This is a copy, but it looks like an original. That's my C.O., me, Jack Benny and Benet Venuta (ph) and Jack signed that. He said these are the best of all the photographs. There's a picture I made of him signing autographs.

Pat McClain:

These I can keep?

Ralph Pyle:

Yes.

Pat McClain:

Oh, neat. This is fantastic.

Ralph Pyle:

Here's a picture of me photographing Dewey. Here's a picture of Dewey. A friend of mine took it. Here's my favorite. They're all 1951. Do you remember Jennifer Jones?

Pat McClain:

Oh, yeah. Oh, my goodness.

Ralph Pyle:

You can have all those if you like.

Pat McClain:

Oh, yes, thank you. That is -- they are going to have the best time.

Ralph Pyle:

Here are two pictures of me, current.

Pat McClain:

Okay. Good.

Ralph Pyle:

I'm not going to give you this because it has my name on the back of it.

Pat McClain:

Okay.

Ralph Pyle:

And I don't have many of those.

Pat McClain:

Okay. That's fine.

Ralph Pyle:

Here's some more things I want to give you. Kids in Korea.

Pat McClain:

Yes, yes. Look at that little face.

Ralph Pyle:

That print is what won best print in show last year in Indiana.

Pat McClain:

Oh, I can see that.

Ralph Pyle:

These are all Korean kids.

Pat McClain:

Oh, goodness.

Ralph Pyle:

I made these for -- there's a guy out in Washington, somewhere out east -- out west, has a museum of children and I made these off of color slides that I have. They're all just Korean children.

Pat McClain:

Okay.

Ralph Pyle:

I don't want you to remember me in this thing as an old man, but here I am in Hawaii in 1946.

Pat McClain:

Oh, wow.

Ralph Pyle:

Here's a biography that the "Spotlight on the Arts" people wrote.

Pat McClain:

Okay.

Ralph Pyle:

You can have that.

Pat McClain:

Great.

Ralph Pyle:

I could let you have these pictures here if you want them. What do you think?

Pat McClain:

I think it would be wonderful for your grandkids and -- do you have -- okay.

Ralph Pyle:

I have copies of these.

Pat McClain:

Okay. I'll just --

Ralph Pyle:

I wouldn't give you those if I didn't have --

Pat McClain:

Well, no.

Ralph Pyle:

Here's one of me and the awards I took. And I'm about to run out of steam.

Pat McClain:

Okay. Is there anything that you can think of that you haven't told us that you want us to know?

Ralph Pyle:

Well, as I've shown you here in this book, in these books, they are constantly coming up 219 or 216. This is pictures I took of a young man using a K-20. And I shot this picture of him. We went up. And here's a picture of me that I sent to Jean. And there's one that you can have. But I don't want you to have this one because that's -- I sent that to Jeanie.

Pat McClain:

Right.

Ralph Pyle:

Now, this other picture, oh, this 260. I must have put a lot of notes in here. Yeah, here's more pictures that I took.

Pat McClain:

And I have this one, right?

Ralph Pyle:

Uh-huh.

Pat McClain:

Yes. Okay.

Ralph Pyle:

But there are always -- every time I open a book --

Pat McClain:

Pictures that you've taken.

Ralph Pyle:

Pictures popping up in there. But it's fun to see those pictures. I watch television now and then and every time I do, there's a peace talk, so I see myself. It's kind of interesting.

Pat McClain:

Well, yes.

Ralph Pyle:

But I think I've told you enough to give you a good story on me.

Pat McClain:

Absolutely. And this is going to be wonderful for the library of congress, I have.

Ralph Pyle:

Can you think of anything else, honey, that I missed? Have I told enough fibs?

Jean Pyle:

We went back in '69 to see the --

Ralph Pyle:

Oh, yes. 1969, Jean and I went back to Korea, took my son Greg, toured the area where we were. And my old 51st Signal Battalion is still sitting at Ui Jong Bu and they wouldn't let me on the base. They said no civilians are allowed.

Pat McClain:

Oh, my goodness.

Ralph Pyle:

I told this captain, I said, "I'll be home next week. You're stuck here." But the same -- except the tents weren't there and they had Quonset huts there. This was in 1969. They're not there now, because the 51st Signal Battalion is now called the 51st Signal Battalion Airborne. So now all of the guys that are in this outfit now are airborne. They fly either in helicopters or planes to their location.

Pat McClain:

Uh-huh.

Ralph Pyle:

But this -- I went to the 51st Signal Battalion reunion last year, year before last, and showed them ... I have about color slides of all of this stuff that I've shown you. And I give them a one-hour show and a lot of them would see themselves in it that they hadn't seen for 50 years. And it was fun to go back to this reunion. In the book, it's interesting --

Pat McClain:

Did you put that on a video for them?

Ralph Pyle:

No, no. This is a history of the 51st Signal Battalion. "The Battalion photographic section stayed busy with aerial intelligence and counter-fire missions using improved equipment and some daring ingenuity with photographers teamed up with observation pilots to deliver timely photos marking numerous targets of opportunity and on one occasion, alerting the command to an enemy build up for an attack. The core observation of the front line presented ample opportunity to test our infrared." So that's a little plug that I got in this history of the battalion. But it was an interesting experience. That's about all I have to tell you.

Pat McClain:

Well, thank you so very much for spending some time with me today.

Ralph Pyle:

I hope you enjoy all those pictures.

Pat McClain:

I shall. And we will make sure these all get into the Library of Congress.

[CONCLUSION OF INTERVIEW]

 
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  October 26, 2011
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