Reported Dead Early in 1943 the United States fought a defensive war against the Japanese while it marshalled strength in the European theater. The British Mediterranean fleet was engaged in maintaining its lines of communication in the southern sector. Mop-up operations were in progress in North Africa. Rommel was no longer a threat, and the offensive war against the Axis was beginning.
The United States Air Force, outnumbered in Great Britain, was beginning its strategic bombing into the heart of Germany's war machine. The big league Eighth Air Force also gathered momentum. Each phase of the new offensive added another correspondent to the list of accredited dead. Edward H. Crockett of the Associated Press was killed when the Axis torpedoed a British minelayer in the Mediterranean on February 5, 1943. Robert Perkins Post of The New York Times London bureau was reported missing on February 27, 1943 after a United States raid on Wilhelmshaven. Post flew as an observer on that mission. Both deaths were reported but not confirmed for several months.
Edward H. Crockett, 31 year old AP correspondent, received his formal newspaper training on the Boston AP desk. He succeeded Larry Allen (then a prisoner of war in Italian hands) (9) as a roving reporter with the British fleet based in Alexandria.
Crockett got his baptism of fire in the desert when the British routed Rommel from Egypt. A fellow correspondent tells this story about Harry:
On a hot July day in the fury of the early fighting at El Alamein, I noticed that Crockett actually jumped every time a gun was fired or a shell exploded nearby.
"If that is the way it gets you, Harry, why don't you get the hell out of the desert," I tacklessly suggested.
"No," countered Harry, "It scares hell out of me, but I'm not going to let it scare me out of this hell!" Crockett left New York for Egypt on April 12, 1942. Flying to Cairo by Clipper, he reached the battlefront in time to witness the opening of Field Marshall General Erwin Rommel's last Egyptian offensive at Bir Hacheim in early May. Before attaching himself to the British fleet in Alexandria, Crockett supplied AP with a volume of background copy for the roundup editor. Harry Crockett had first established his daring as an AP reporter while covering the sinking of the submarine Squalus off Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1939. He had rushed to Portsmouth from Boston's AP bureau to help steal a march on hundreds of other reporters. With two other newsmen he set out in a small lobster boat. They ventured 15 miles out into the open ocean to where Navy men were frantically trying to hurl a rescue line onto the sunken sub. The sea was rough. At break of day the reporters managed to reach a sister submarine of the Squalus from which the admiral in charge was directing rescue operations. It was from him that Crockett directly obtained the fact that 26 men had been trapped in the flooded after-compartments and were given up for lost. Not until 12 hours later did the Navy officially confirm the news item that Crockett had reported much earlier.
Crockett was born at Lowell, Massachusetts and was educated in the local high school. He joined the Boston bureau of AP in 1937 after nine years with the Lowell Evening Citizen and Evening Leader. Although his name was Henry, he was known as Harry to his friends and associates. He even signed his newspaper copy that way.
Following Crockett's death, sympathy was extended to the family through the Associated Press by Lt. Gen. Frank M. Andrews, then Commander in Chief of American Forces in the European Theater of Operation. He had known Crockett in Egypt. Commander R. S. Kenderdine of the Royal Navy broke the news to the London bureau. Crockett was survived by his widow, Sally; a daughter, Sally Ann, age six; and a son, Harry Baxter, age two at the time of Harry's death.
A ship was later named in Harry's honor. The 10,500-ton Liberty ship Edward H. Crockett slid down the ways at the New England Shipbuilding Corporation at South Portland, Maine on January 25, 1944. The christening by Harry's widow, Sally, was witnessed by his father and stepmother, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Baxter Crockett of Lowell, Massachusetts, and by Mrs. Crockett's parents, Mr. and Mrs. R.E. Dexter, also of Lowell. Three of Mrs. Crockett's sisters were present as were many of Harry's friends and relatives.
We on The Times saw him develop from a fledgling into a brilliant journalist. He was not too proud to take a job as office boy when that position was the only one available, and he had the initiative and native ability to seize the wider opportunity when it opened. Last summer, at the age of 31, he wanted to join the army. He was with difficulty persuaded that he could do more by remaining in his chosen profession. A veteran of the worst days of the London blitz, he was, in spirit, indeed a soldier. We do not yet know whether he was one of the men seen parachuting from the disabled plane, or whether in some other way his life may have been spared. We do know that, like Byron Darnton, also of The Times, killed in October 1942, in the New Guinea fighting, he faced danger as part of a duty eagerly assumed. Every member of this newspaper's staff is proud to be associated with such men, hopes for their safety and mourns and misses them when they are taken away. Post had not gone on the Wilmhelmshave mission as a journalistic stunt. He undertook it as a necessary part of his training as The New York Times correspondent with the Eighth Air Force. Several correspondents participated in this particular mission. All except Post returned safely.
Post was the only man in The Times London bureau young enough to meet the physical requirements for the job. At 32 he entered upon his new assignment eagerly. In preparation Post and several other correspondents took physical examinations and were put through a course of training in how to operate a parachute, how to get in and out of rubber boats, how to manage an oxygen mask, and how to do about everything except fly Liberators and Flying Fortresses. The correspondents, scattered at various stations, had been waiting for 10 days to be airborne. Their first chance came on the morning of February 27, 1943. It was on this mission that Post died.
A gunner in the plane behind Post's said that it was impossible to determine exactly how many men jumped from that plane. He said that the altitude, distance, and clouds hampered the view. If Post did jump to safety it was from an altitude of some 27,000 feet.
The colonel who was commanding the squadron had urged Post not to make the run because it was over one of the most heavily defended targets in Germany. But Post said all the correspondents had agreed to make a mission the first time the opportunity presented itself, and he did not intend to drop out because of the danger. In this way, he essentially volunteered for the assignment.
Robert Perkins Post was a newspaperman during the last 10 of his 32 years. He had worked with uncommon courage through the Battle of Britain. He had reported land and sea battles, aerial conflicts, political twists and changes, and the fall of nations. He set out on his last assignment with full awareness of what might lay ahead. He had reported on countless air raids while with The New York Times London bureau. In June 1942 he had cabled New York the details of 1,000 bomber raids on Essen and Cologne. In January 1942 he had described how four-ton bombs had battered Hamburg and how the flight had returned with "five British aircraft missing." In December 1941 he had cabled, "RAF sears Duisburg, 11 British bombers lost." Two days later, on December 22, he wrote of "six American bombers lost" at Romilly-Sur-Seine, France.
In the few stories he filed in February of 1943, Post described the training that American reporters received to condition them for high altitude flying. They learned how to report what they saw through oxygen masks from four or five miles up in minus 45 and 50 degree temperatures.
"Other parts of our course were grimmer," he had written home. "They taught us elements of 'ditching' which means what the well dressed young man will wear and do if his plane had to come down in the sea, and they are going to teach us how to sling a parachute."
Post had been in London since January 1938. He had witnessed and survived the London blitz. Some of his finest reporting came in May of 1940.
May 3 - Post reported on the serious deficiency of the British merchant fleet. However, he noted that Britain had maintained her sea power against all German attacks.
May 11 - from the British Air Ministry he described an RAF attack on Nazi aircraft in the Netherlands.
May 17 - Post described the flight of the Netherlands' royal family (along with a million pounds worth of diamonds and securities) to England. He told of Queen Juliana's sea journey through German minelayers.
May 18 - from the air ministry he wrote about RAF heavy bomber raids on fuel tanks in Bremen and Hamburg.
May 22 - from London Post wrote, "Red eyed from lack of sleep and tense from hour after hour of flying and fighting, British pilots today pressed home their attacks on German mechanized columns in the teeth of superior air forces."
And finally May 24 - he reported that Captain Franz von Rintelen had been captured by the British. This man had been in charge of German spying operations in Europe during World War I and was the author of Dark Invader.
Post was born at Bayport, Long Island, New York on September 8, 1910. His parents were Waldron Kintzing Post and Mary Lawrence Post, born Mary Lawrence Perkins. His father was a New York lawyer and the author of Harvard Stories. Post was the youngest of six children. His brothers included Charles Kintzing Post; Langdon Ward Post, former Tenement House Commissioner and the first chairman of the New York City Housing Authority; and Waldron Post. His sisters were Mary Post How of London, the former Viscountess Lymington, and Elizabeth Post Van Rensselaer of New York.
Post was named after his uncle, the late Robert Patterson Perkins, who at one time was president of the New York Harvard Club. Post attended Bayport Public School and Lawrence School in Hewlett, Long Island, New York. He graduated cum laude from St. Paul's in 1928. He was an associate editor of the school paper, the Horse Scholasticae. Post graduated from Harvard with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1932. While at college, he was a member of the Hastypudding-Institute of 1770, DKE, and Iroquois and Fly clubs. Upon graduation he worked as a general reporter on the Boston American, occasionally substituting as night city editor and assistant city editor.
In 1933 Post went to the Washington bureau of The New York Times as office boy. That summer he was also one of the junior correspondents of the bureau. In the fall he assisted in the Fusion Campaign of Mayor LaGuardia. His brother was an unsuccessful candidate for Manhattan Borough president in that same election. In January, 1934 Post returned to Washington as a permanent employee of The New York Times. In the spring he was transferred to New York, but he rejoined the Washington bureau in December.
While in Washington, Post covered nearly every department at one time or another. He was closely connected with the National Recovery Administration as a junior correspondent. For a time he was second man on the House of Representatives and for a brief period the House man. He left this job to become White House correspondent, a post he held for almost a year. He was the first correspondent to ask President Roosevelt if he would accept a third term nomination. The President told him to put on a dunce cap and stand in the corner.
On October 5, 1938 Post married Miss Margaret Lapsley of Pomfret Centre, Connecticut. The ceremony was performed in Brooklyn, Connecticut.
On February 27, 1943 he was reported missing in action when he failed to return from an Air Force raid over Wilhelmshaven, Germany.