A Gripping Account of 54 War Correspondents K.I.A. in WWII 1940-1945 by Doral Chenoweth


Chapter XVI
Gabriel and Painton

Frederick C. Painton, war correspondent for The Reader's Digest, was standing on an air strip at Guam at three thirty in the morning after being "briefed" with the B-29 crews scheduled to strike at the Japs. He had spent a greater part of the previous day with the heavy duty crews and waited through the night to see them off.

As Painton raised his arm to wave to a departing pilot, he fell, dead of a sudden heart attack. This was 1 April 1945.

Modern air war as fought in the Pacific was to be a new journalistic operation for Painton. Dozens of articles written by him from North Africa through Sicily and Italy, and on to France, favored the tin can kids who rode the tanks.

He had described with graphic understanding the tortures of war as fought from the inside of the Shermans and Grants that went out to do battle early in the war with the experienced German Mark VI of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps.

Painton knew tank warfare.

He knew the tactics involved in getting the iron vehicles into battle position and knew how to tell the people back home about it.

In North Africa, he worked with the tankers to get the story. His sincerity and willingness to go anywhere, no matter how dangerous the mission, served as a purposeful material background. As Mrs. Painton says, "he wanted us back home to know all about it -- as it was."

In the 17 July, 1943 edition of Collier's magazine, he recorded a vivid description of tank war by writing about the five men who manned the bowels of an American M-4 or Sherman tank.

He wrote about Staff Sergeant James Fugate, commander of Gabriel, “hard-muscled lad of twenty-two with red, spiky hair.” He wrote about every member of the crew with equal tact in describing their baptism of fire on the desert of Africa.

Like Ernie Pyle, Painton possessed the ability to get names in his reports and bring the impact of war to those at home and make them understood.

He believed that by writing about Joe Bill of Small town, U. S. A., the folks at home would better understand that this war affected American boys who were more than just numbers in the ranks.

Painton had prepared for his war reporting by getting first hand experience in World War I as a sergeant in France. After a tour with the air service, he was later assigned to the Stars and Stripes, the AEF's official newspaper.

Following the peace, he had a sports assignment on the Elmira Herald and later worked for the Jamestown Morning Post, both in New York. He next studied at Columbia University working nights as a rewrite man on the New York Telegram and the New York Tribune.

In the years of peace, Fred Painton turned to fiction. He traveled to Europe and the near east and to gather material, he lived with a regiment of the French foreign legion in Africa. This was typical or Painton's method or preparing to write a story.

He later demonstrated this point by persuading the War Department to allow him to enlist in the Army for a week. This week's service as a G. I. followed the attack on Pearl Harbor and he wrote first hand articles on modern methods of training.

While in the U. S., he went on submarine patrol, flew in naval coastal bombers, and participated in practice landing operations with the Marines, and even found time to study tank maneuvers in the continental United States. From the beginning of World War II, Painton trained for his foreign duty in as strenuous and complete and detailed a method as did our doughboys.

His knowledge of men was acquired by living and training with the American soldiers that he was later to write about. While learning about men as soldiers he learned warfare in its planning stage and studied the intricacies of equipment to be used in battle.

The 16 December 1944 edition of Saturday Evening Post contains a story signed by Painton titled "This War is Down Our Alley".

This was written after he had covered four long campaigns with American combat troops. He surmised that modern warfare was tailored to the measure of the American soldier.

Yankee ingenuity coupled with our temperament, our environment, and our advanced industrial development plus our way of life made us win.

Painton surmised that boasting of our battle achievements was not "petty nationalistic boasting".

He witnessed our G. I.'s faltering tendencies before the Kasserine Pass campaign when faced with the blitz-like powerful mechanized tactics of the razor sharp Afrika Korps.

He witnessed our swift schooling in warlike skills.

He noted in this Post's story that a combination of American weapons and the guts of our magnificent fighting men could defeat the best of Nazi outfits.

Four campaigns from Africa to Southern France convinced Painton that American youth was the one big weapon the Allies possessed.

He credited a young sergeant (Curtis G. Cullin, Cranford, N. J.) of the First Armored Division with development of a plowlike attachment that permitted tanks to plow through hedgerows as a ship's cutwater thrusts through the mounting waves.

Painton credited Ordnance Battalions in the field with the quick manufacture of 500 such attachments. His line of reasoning in this matter was "when a young American is overseas and eating, thinking, talking his job, night and day, he thinks of plenty of easier ways to do a job. His mechanical know-how is always curious to figure out a better method -- and that has been the death of many Germans".

He became a war correspondent for the Readers Digest in December 1942.

From that date, Painton lived as a soldier and saw plenty of action.

Enroute from England to Algiers his ship was bombed during the Sicilian invasion. He was on Anzio beachhead during the worst, and participated in the invasion of southern France.

Painton was not pressed by deadlines as many correspondents were and therefore had the opportunity to inject his experienced perspective into his stories.

In the piece "This War Is Down Our Alley" he demonstrated this thorough knowledge of the handling of our equipment.

In the 29 May 1943 Saturday Evening Post, his story "Comeback at Kasserine Pass" shows his knowledge of strategy and understanding of the job facing men and machines. Painton went through every maneuver in this story with the Array to insure its thoroughness and accuracy.

Painton's contribution to a permanent historical record of the war is titled "Secret Mission to North Africa” appearing in the Readers Digest May 1943. This is the detailed story of how General Mark Clark landed with four commandos in North Africa months before the African D-Day for troops. It is the vivid description of the international intrigue preceding the rescue of French General Henri Giraud. Painton recorded this story by wire following a personal check for accuracy by General Clark. Note that Clark cleared the report on this risky mission less than six months after the invasion of North Africa and at a time when the political status of France was still in question.

While Painton was enroute to Africa to record this story, a submarine torpedoed the troop ship he was aboard. An escort vessel lifted him out of the drink.

In keeping with his policy of following the war news where it was hottest, Painton headed for the Pacific and suffered the hell of Iwo.

In the Pacific, he became ill in the Philippines after working and living with the B-29 crews in the area. He recovered but war had caused a strain on his heart. He was working to the last. His death on Guam and burial on the beach of Agat occurred while two of his stories were on the presses for Readers Digest.

Frederick Painton was a war casualty.

In a message tragically timed, Ernie Pyle cabled "Fred Painton and I have traveled through lots of war together … He was one of my dear friends and I'm glad he didn't have to go through the unnatural terror of dying on the battlefield".

Eighteen days later, Ernie himself was killed.

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PROTECTION: Filed with Writers Guild of America, 2003.
Renewed Copyright Pending