They Call Them War Correspondents
When the Japanese hit in the Pacific, wire services were better prepared for war than was the rest of the nation. The Associated Press had gradually increased its foreign staff to a point where experienced men were ready when the United States entered into actual hostilities. These foreign correspondents became our war correspondents.
In January 1942 Hancock was ordered by AP to proceedto the Dutch East Indies-if his health permitted. Hancock was atall, lean, dark-eyed veteran correspondent. But he should havecome home instead of going off to the war-ravaged tropics becausehe was afflicted with diabetes. His life depended on threeinsulin injections daily. The Associated Press took thisinto consideration when ordering him to various assignments.Hancock had been on foreign duty since 1936 and had seen theworld catch fire with all the fury of total war. He had witnessedpreparations for war in England and Russia. Up until the firstmonth in 1942, he unhappily felt that he had skirted the warareas. When the United States became a participant, he wasdestined by his own zeal to be on the spot for news.
Hancock had been accompanied by his strikingly beautifulBritish wife for the last two and one half years. She was now inCalcutta awaiting boat transportation to Australia. After Wittleft Calcutta in January 1942 for the Indies, Mrs. Hancockremained there for three weeks without word of him. Witt finallymanaged to contact her by telephoning the New York AP byway of Australia; New York then cabled her through London. Hewanted her to return to America because of the explosivesituation in the Near East.(2)
Before her departure, she learned of the bombing of Rangoonand Japanese air action throughout Asia. In February 1942 sheboarded the S.S. Manhattan (U.S.S. Wakefield) in Bombay forAmerica. She arrived in New York after 32 days at sea with nonews of the war's progress. She immediately checked with New YorkAP and learned that Witt was missing. Then began a longvigil, for her correspondent husband was not officially declareddead until four years later.
Witt Hancock drowned in the sinking of an evacuation ship offJava after it was strafed by a Japanese fighter plane. He isbelieved to have been shot before going down with the PoelauBras, a Dutch freighter. William H. McDougall, Jr. of UnitedPress was aboard with Hancock at the time.
Hancock embarked on a newspaper career during his high schooldays in Bluefield, West Virginia where he grew up with eightbrothers.
Following graduation, Hancock worked on The State, adaily newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina; the Hickory(N.C.) Record; the Henderson (N.C.) Dispatch; andin 1929 he joined the Associated Press at Raleigh, NorthCarolina. Hancock was anxious to go abroad, and after training onthe AP foreign desk in New York, he was sent to Englandin 1936. In addition to covering Great Britain's most famousaddress, No. 10 Downing Street, he managed to take a wife inLondon. In 1939 he married blond and blue-eyed Doreen Peck, aprofessional model and fashion designer.(3)
After much diplomatic maneuvering in London, New York,Washington and the Soviet capital, Witt Hancock managed to geta visa to Moscow in August 1939. He arrived on the 17th of that month,and the next day he covered the biggest assignment of hislife to date. As the youngest bureau chief in Moscow,he was on hand for the signing of the Russian-German alianceat the Kremlin. Witt had a keen sense of international newsconcepts. When the full text of the Russian pact with Hitlerwas distributed, he quickly noted that the usual "escape" clauseswere missing. He reported such in his dispatch. From Moscow on August24, 1939, after an "official delay," Hancock filed the following reportto the world:
Moscow, Aug. 24 -- (AP) Germany and Soviet Russia early todaysigned a non-agression pact binding each of them for ten yearsnot to "associate itself with any other grouping of powers which directly or indirectly is aimed at the other party."Hancock followed up with this observation: "A Europe mobilized on a virtual wartime basis with 10,000,000 men under arms looked once more last night to one man -- Adolf Hitler -- for the answer to the fateful question: Will there be war?"This was on September 1, 1939. Two days later on September 3, Germany started bombing Warsaw, and the Associated Press reported from Berlin that Hitler's infantry was moving overPoland like a steamroller. England and France declared war onSeptember 3, 1939.
In the 13 months as Moscow's AP chief, Witt Hancock managed tobe on hand for the major news breaks of the Russian"expansion" program. He brought to the outside worldnews of the Russian invasion of Finland, its march into Poland,and its "liberation" of Estonia-Latvia. Russia wasstill a deep mystery to most of the world, and the Russianscapitalized on that fact.
Hancock and his wife learned that foreign correspondents wereranked one notch above first secretaries at embassies inpriority. The Communists had learned the full impact thatfavorable publicity could have on the outside world and took careto see that newspapermen received the best of accommodations andservice while stationed in Moscow. The Russians wanted eithergood publicity or no publicity at all. Consequently, expulsion offoreign correspondents was common in those critical days.
Witt became ill while in Moscow. Russian doctors diagnosed hisailment to be diabetes. Mrs. Hancock praised the Russian medicsfor their excellent handling of her husband. She attributed theirextra precaution to the fact that they considered him a VIP.
The official blessings for entrance into Russia had taken 10weeks to obtain. When the Hancocks wanted to leave for Turkey,Soviet red tape held them up for another eight. Before leaving,Witt burned all his papers, including story carbons and records.This was done in order to relive his AP replacement from anypossible responsibility for past stories signed by Hancock. TheRussian NKVD secret police asserted and practiced the right toenter the office at any time to search.
When the exit visas appeared to be stymied, AmbassadorSteinhardt made a trade with the Russians who wanted to send aRussian choir to America for a concert tour. In a matter of hourshe was responsible for the foreign office granting the Hancocksthe right to leave.
Witt and Mrs. Hancock did not travel to Turkey together. Hewent first. She followed on a Finnish boat, and when the warbroke out, she was caught on the high seas by Germans. Becauseshe was a British subject, she was almost interned at Copenhagen,Denmark as an enemy alien. However, aboard ship the Finnishpurser hid her passport when a German official inspected theship's papers. She advisedly remained silent to conceal heraccent, and she stood among several Finnish girls who were alsoaboard topside. With a scarf over her head in latest Finishfashion, Mrs. Hancock was able to run the Nazi gauntlet and joinher husband in Istanbul.
Hancock headed the AP office in Turkey from September1940 through July 1941. From there he went to Karachi, India andwas parted from his wife at Calcutta in January 1942. FromCalcutta, he flew by KLM Dutch Airlines to Akyab, Burma and on toSumatra and Batavia.
The Japanese were stepping up bombing operations over freeChina, and they hit Rangoon hard. They were starting toconcentrate air and sea operations throughout the Dutch EastIndies. The Dutch were razing their rich holdings in Java ratherthan leave them to the enemy. American and British oil interestsmoved personnel to safer ground, essentially all that remained were Dutch personnel and certain non-combatants who only evacuated atthe last minute. Included in this latter category were the onlytwo American newspapermen in the area, William McDougall of UnitedPress and Witt Hancock.
Both men boarded the 10,000 ton Netherlands line luxuryfreighter, Poelau Bras, on March 6, 1942 at Wijnkoops Bay inSoputh Java. After a sleepless night on the Indian Sea, dawnbroke to the echo of prayers from the passengers and Dutch crew.Only time and speed could take them beyond the range of theJapanese fighter planes operating over Java and Sumatra.
At nine o'clock in the morning of March 6, a single engineJapanese reconnaissance plane circled low over the Poelau Brasand headed for the mainland. In two hours, the Poelau Bras wouldbe out of range of the land-based airplanes.
At the eleventh hour, three Japanese dive bombers came in onthe bow. Three more approached the stern, and three on the portside. In waves of three, they screamed their small bombs(4) intothe deck and superstructure. According to McDougall(5) the 14minutes that followed seemed like 200 years. The salvos were notpowerful enough to sink the ship quickly, only to cripple it.After the life-jacketed passengers had jumped into the sea, theJapanese returned to machine-gun survivors. McDougall swam forhours before the one remaining life boat fished him out of thewater. During that time McDougall saw Hancock for one fleetingmoment on the forecastle. He remembered shouting for him to jump.He didn't. Witt was hit by machine gun fire before the ship sank.Witt Hancock's death marked the first loss of an Americancorrespondent since the United States officially entered the war.
Melville Jacoby-Died April 29, 1942
In his few months with the American forces, Melville Jacobysaw more than his share of war. First, he witnessed China'splight when that nation was in a death-grip with Japan. Followinghis graduation from Stanford University in 1937, (6) he became anexchange student at Lingnan University in Canton, China.Remaining in Chungking to work for the Chinese Ministry ofInformation, he later served as commentator for NBC and ascorrespondent for United Press. In June 1941 he became TimeIncorporated's correspondent at Chungking. Timetransferred him to Manila in October 1941. The next month hemarried Annalee Whitmore. (7)
When the Japanese occupied all of the Philippines, the Jacobyswithdrew with the fighting forces and set up headquarters inAustralia. Mel later covered the MacArthur withdrawal fromCorregidor. In Australia he wrote about the defensive war andmentally prepared to see it to the end.
Melville Jacoby died at the age of 25. By then he was alreadyconsidered a veteran correspondent in the young Pacific war.
Before Manila fell, as a Philippine corespondent for Lifeand Time, Jacoby followed the army to Corregidor. Fromthere he followed General Douglas MacArthur and his troops ontothe Bataan Peninsula where he covered the last days of Americanaction in that sector. Limited wireless facilities prevented himfrom filing detailed stories, but those he did send out were themost vivid read by the American public.
This was late in January 1942. American troops wereoutnumbered six to one by the Japanese. Bataan was a mountainous,heavily wooded peninsula ill-adapted to mechanized warfare. Itwas from this vantage point that Jacoby filed the classics ofWorld War II.
In the February 9, 1942 edition of Life magazine,Jacoby signed "The Battle of Bataan" story in which hedescribed the makeshift war then being fought. He described thegradual advance of the Japanese through the jungle. Jacoby wrote:
The paramount topic is guessing when help will arrive, bettingon when they will return to Manila. The men have seen action andtell plenty of stories about the Japanese: how, across the barbedwire on the firing line, the Nipponese dead are piled high. Theysay the stench of rotting bodies is terrific, though the Japanesehave been removing their dead by the truckload, taking them toManila where they have taken over all the morgues.
Our men show light wounds from the light-caliber Japaneserifles. One sergeant who was shot through the neck, the bulletcoming out the other side, merely put Band-Aids on each side andcontinued fighting. Another tells how a shell fragment hit himsquare in the seat of the pants, knocking him face down in thedirt but not injuring him. The men like to repeat stories ofunusual nature which pass up and down the lines.
Jacoby's story abruptly ended there, possibly because oftransmission difficulties.
In telling about Melville Jacoby, it is necessary to quoteextensively from his few stories coming out of Bataan. Jacobydied a young man, but in his last few weeks of life, he producedstories considered among the finest to come out of World War II.
Taking Care of the Wounded in the Bataan Front was astory signed by Jacoby and datelined Corregidor, February 6,1942. It contained the personal warmth that he was known toincorporate into his writing.
The Herculean task of moving MacArthur's forces to Bataan isbest told in a story of the Medical Corps under Colonel Webb E.Cooper. Establishing base hospitals in the thick,malaria-infested jungles meant bulldozing through two and onehalf miles of tangled brush, blasting trees out of their path,working while dive bombers were operating overhead. It meanthaving engineers install light plants and build waterchlorinators. It even meant changing the course of the riverwhich runs through one hospital. Besides the construction workfor these base hospitals, there is the search for enough tents tocover the patients when the rainy season begins, and the problemsof transporting the limited quantities of medical supplies andtinned foods and even of milling rice by hand. I see nursessleeping, unsheltered except for trees, with foxholes by theirbeds, washing their own overalls, bathing in streams, yet verycheerful when working among patients.
Old Lucky Strike cartons, a badly battered Packard sedan and asmall radio, around the open air hospital, are remindful ofAmerica's gilded luxuries. It gives me a strange feeling ofunreality seeing wounded Americans who do not have access to ourhighly developed x-ray machines, serums and vaccines. It is evenmore unreal to calculate the number of modern stoves in Americaand then see every two wood stoves in the Bataan jungles feedingmore than one thousand twice daily.
Contained in this same story of hard-struck Bataan was areminder about those who had sold manufactured goods to theJapanese in pre-Pearl Harbor years. Jacoby described how doctorshad a habit of paying the Red Cross five dollars every time theyfailed to find a bullet when they probed wounds. He wrote,". . . they also bet on the type of shrapnel they will findin wounds. They have already found parts of Fords and variousother metal parts, including nuts and bolts, all made in the U.S.They have even extracted a Singer sewing machine screwdriver fromone soldier."
Jacoby reported that sickness became as dangerous as theenemy. Every day the men expected to see the American fleet cometo their rescue. Brief reports of successful action elsewherefiltered through to give them hope of support. For example, hewrote, ". . . everyone was cheered by the news of theMakassar naval battle." The Battle of Makassar Strait tookplace between Borneo and Celebes. It was here that the Japanesesuffered their first sea setback when American and Dutch air andnaval forces attacked from Dutch bases.
In Life magazine of March 16, 1942, Jacoby reportedthat the entire "Battle of the Philippines has been up toindividuals." He educated America about some of thenow-legendary heroes who fought there. He explained how Brig.General H. J. (Pat) Casey of New York seemed able to accomplishalmost anything asked of him. General Casey had come to thePhilippines at the personal request of General MacArthur. He wasknown to recruit civilians for demolition work when he was shortof military personnel. Jacoby wrote, "Casey's men fight,build roads and pack trails, repair barbed wire and make whiskeyfrom rice in their spare time." Casey was just one of thecharacters Jacoby helped immortalize by recording his deeds inprint.
Many of the men who fought for MacArthur were in their lateteens and had arrived in the Pacific without any training. Manyarrived during the Christmas holidays. Jacoby stayed with thesetroops, these boys who were fighting their first war and doing itwith their backs to the sea. During those early and critical dayson Bataan, Jacoby wrote that our men were fighting on couragealone.
Jacoby also wrote with praise about the Philippine Scouts. Hesaid that as far as fighting tactics were concerned, the FilipinoScouts presented the most formidable match for the Japanese.
They knew how to use their rifles and bayonets, but prefer thelatter. The Scouts' American officers are best typified by thenow-legendary "one-man army" of Captain Arthur W.Wermuth. Wermuth, credited with more than 100 snipers, is husky,tall, bow-legged from early ranch life when he used to breakhorses and hunt. Adventurous, he once got in a jam running gunsto South America, likes whiskey and has a big collection of Japtrophies. On one raid Wermuth spotted three pack horses of whichthe Scout with him said: "Sir, those are not Calesa horses,they're too fat." Wermuth ambled over, found them to becavalry horses, turned them loose and sent them running with arump slap. A few minutes later three Jap cavalrymen rose up.Wermuth, waiting, shot them and took the horses andequipment." (8)
Jacoby wrote that Wermuth was like an enthusiastic footballplayer called out of a crucial game who pleads, "Put me inagain, coach."
In the March 30, 1942 issue of Life magazine, Melville Jacobywrote his farewell to Bataan, his final report on MacArthur's menon the Philippine front. This was the first report on the fate ofDon Bell, a correspondent who had been on the Japanese blacklistfor years because of his radio blasts from Manila. Jacoby wrote,"The details of Don Bell's death that have circulatedsuggest that he was tortured by the Japs who used cigarette buttson his skin and then finished him off with a bayonet. . . .Bell had been telling the truth too long for the Japanese."
Jacoby and his wife left the "rock" of Corregidor byboat. Melville brought back to civilization initial reports ofJapanese butchers taking over Manila. Those stories will serve asuseful refreshers for men who tend to romanticize war.
In his last cable from the Philippines, Jacoby appropriatelyconcluded his story with the following impressions:
...we have seenMacArthur's men fighting. We carry a last picture of the Generalhimself, tall, determined, neat, leaping from his desk like a manof 30, clapping a fellow officer on the back who had done well,pacing incessantly, sending his men from him inspired by hisrolling flow of words spoken in a low emotional voice."
In the cold bleak dawn of April 29, 1942, Melville Jacoby waspreparing to board an American transport plane at a secretAustralian airfield. He had just completed his coverage of theBataan air force headquarters of Brig. General Harold H. George.Now he was accompanying the general on an inspection trip to thenorthern Australian front where several American units weresetting up defensive air bases.
Jacoby and General George were standing with other khaki-cladpersonnel when a fighter plane went out of control on take offand crashed into the group. Jacoby was killed instantly; Georgedied later in the field hospital.
In the War Department communique announcing Jacoby's death,General MacArthur wrote, "Melville Jacoby covered thePhilippine campaign with efficiency and devotion, and fulfilledcompletely his obligations, both to the public press and to themilitary forces. He could well have served as a model for warcorrespondents at the front."
Byron Darnton-Died October 18, 1942
Like many war correspondents, Byron Darnton of The NewYork Times trained to cover World War II with the same vigorthat many soldiers trained to fight in it.
When The Times did not have him on some rovingassignment, Darnton was writing about workers training fordefense industry jobs in 1939 and 1940. When thousands of migrantworkers headed for defense centers, Darnton was assigned by TheTimes to do a story on housing conditions there. Betweenresearch trips on this assignment, he travelled to Wilkes-Barre,Pennsylvania to cover the devastating spring flood that hit thatcommunity. He also covered the American Legion Convention inMilwaukee the following year.
When the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor, Darnton was hardly able toleave his desk. In addition to regular news duties, he was thenengrossed in preparing and promoting a radio news broadcast presentedby The Times. He is credited with doing most of the pioneerwork on this program.
During the critical months prior to the United States' entryinto the war, Darnton confided to his friends that he felt it was only a matter of time before we were also doing battle with Hitler. He had written extensively about the long debate between interventionists and isolationists in the United States. When war came, he wanted to do his part. Consequently, he requested that he be sent abroad as a warcorrespondent. The opportunity to do so came in February 1942 when he was ordered to Australia. He was among the first group of American correspondents to leave by convoy for the Pacific front. While en route, fourteen newsmen elected him their official "life boat drill leader" after a campaign and mock election. Crude signs of "Darnton for Dog Catcher" appeared aboard ship.But this was all in fun, for in truth Darnton was popular among his fellow correspondents. They nicknamed him "Barney." The unfailing wit that marked his casual conversation was also injected into his reporting.
At first opportunity he made his was from Australia to advaced bases in New Guinea. He was on of the first correspondents to hit the islands, and in July 1942 he underwent his first Japanese air raid. He wrote a characteristically amusing account of how he had jumped for a slit trench when the raiders appeared and in doing so embedded his knee in the back of a Brooklyn private. Darnton wrote other amusing anecdotes while at the New Guinea front. For instance, he once remarked upon the size of area mosquitos by quoting a gasoline truck attendant at the airdromeas saying: "I put forty gallons of gas in one the other daybefore I realized it was a mosquito, not an Airocobra."
Darnton was prepared to follow the American troops back to thePhilippines and on to Japan when he was killed accidently at anadvanced operational base in New Guinea on October 18, 1942.
Byron Darnton was born in Adrian, Michigan on November 8,1897. While in high school in that town, he once visited hisuncle's home in New York City. The uncle, Charles Darnton, wasthen drama critic for Pulitzer's Evening World. Thisexperience generated the germ of interest in a newspaper career.He saw the big city sights and paid his first visit to the insideof a newspaper office. He later told friends that he never lostthe itch for a newspaperman's life after that brief encounter.
When he finished high school in 1917, the United Statesentered World War I. Darnton immediately joined the MichiganNational Guard. He went to France in January 1918 as a member ofthe Red Arrow Division. His outfit remained at the front from Mayuntil November of that year. They all saw plenty of hardfighting. It was his Division that first set foot on German soilat Alsace in May 1918. He participated in battles of the Oise,the Aisne, the Meuse-Argonne, and the attack on theKriemhilde-Stellunlg line.
Rising from private to line sergeant, he was selected forofficers' training just before the armistice. The war's endstopped his training, but while en route to the United States,his commission as second lieutenant caught up with him.
After receiving his discharge from the service, Darntonentered the University of Michigan. There he edited the collegenewspaper and joined Sigma Phi fraternity. After two years heleft college with a friend and revisited the battlefields ofFrance and Germany on which he had fought. Upon returning to theStates, he landed his first newspaper job as a reporter on the Sandusky(Ohio) Herald.
On year later he moved on to The Baltimore Sun. Whilea staff member of that paper, he also found time to contributeseveral short stories to the old Smart Set magazine.Henry L. Mencken was an editor. Mr. Mencken thought so highly ofthe young writer that he tried to persuade Darnton to take upfiction writing as a career. The life of a reporter was inDarnton's blood, however, and he chose to remain in thatprofession.
For a short time Darnton worked for The PhiladelphiaBulletin and the Philadelphia Evening Ledger.While in the Quaker City, a prominent advertising agency offeredhim a very large salary to leave the Fourth Estate. After justthree weeks away he quit his new job in disgust and returned toreporting, determined never again to stray from his preferrednewspaper career.
Darnton began to work on the copy desk of The New YorkPost in 1925. Later he was moved to its rewrite desk wherehis ability quickly won him the admiration of his colleagues.They called him "the All-American rewrite man," and thetitle stuck. His first major assignment for The Post wasto cover both party conventions in 1928.
Darnton's familiarity with foreign news was first acquiredwhen he joined the Associated Press as day cable editorin 1930. Later he was promoted to city editor for the New Yorkbureau of AP. He joined the news staff of The NewYork Times on April 30, 1934. His thorough knowledge offoreign news developments made him a natural choice for the manwho should establish the Review of The Week section of TheTimes. However, after serving a term as an assistant Sundayeditor, he returned to local news coverage in the fall of 1939.His deep-rooted love was for straight news, not for a review of"old" news. In 1940 he started his roving assignmentsfor The Times. These were to take him all over theUnited States and on to cover the Pacific forces in battle.
Darnton was married to the former Eleanor Choate in April1938. They had two sons, Robert Choate Darnton and John TownsendDarnton.
General MacArthur had been impressed with Darnton from hisfirst meeting with The Times correspondent. Helater related how gratified he was by Darnton's comprehensivegrasp of the battle situation. Early in 1942 the two haddiscussed the approaching offensive war at a Port Moresby newsconference. When Byron Darnton died in New Guinea, GeneralMacArthur personally reported the accident to The New YorkTimes and to Mrs. Darnton.