The Dean of Correspondents Like the story of Ernie Pyle, I found it extremely hard to write a comprehensive account of the life and writings of Raymond Clapper. Without hesitation, I express my personal opinion that Mr. Clapper was the most esteemed newspaperman to die in World War II. He was a newspaperman's correspondent. His gift of simplicity appealed to the "literary genius" as well as the men he wrote for--his "milkman of Omaha." Raymond Clapper was a war correspondent, pure and simple. Most of America's
reading public may consider him primarily a political writer as his wife, Mrs. Olive Clapper, does. Mr. Clapper wrote only one book during his life, although his personal papers and note scribblings went into two volumes edited by his wife following his fatal crash. His book, Racketeering In Washington, published in 1932, was a collection of United States dispatches disclosing nepotism and petty rackets in Washington among the politicians. Mrs. Clapper produced Watching The World in 1944 and Washington Tapestry in 1946. Both contained material from his columns, broadcasts, and magazine writings. Both had a political flavor. He became a war correspondent because the United States government wanted him to write about the war for the people back home--illustrating a nation's faith in one man's reporting. Therefore, as the self-reported historian for the members of "the most important profession in the world" quoting Raymond Clapper, I find it hard to impart to my readers the full impact of effect the man, Raymond Clapper, had on this nation. I take the liberty of merely repeating in some sort of chronological order, the works (14) of this great war correspondent and his wife, Olive.
"Twice within our generation we have had pointed out to us that events in foreign countries thousands of miles away eventually reach out and take men out of their homes and jobs and put them behind a gun in some foreign country. If the American people are going to be smart enough to get along in this kind of a world they will have to take an active part in dealing with these affairs, which, although far away, bounce back into our face." Raymond Clapper wrote this in his daily column one day in May, 1942 and went on to charge the American press with the responsibility of keeping this country a nation of "fast and clear thinkers and extremely well-informed people. . ."
Clapper followed this line of reasoning in all his writings as a reporter and later as a columnist. When offered the opportunity to write a column and get away from straight news by Eugene Meyer, publisher of The Washington Post, he discussed it pro and con with his wife and associates. Reasoning that a writer could get more background in his stories if they were in column form, he ventured forth when the future of columnists in Washington was doubtful.
The Washington Post announced on September 28, 1934, that a new daily feature called Between You and Me, by Raymond Clapper, would take readers backstage in the day's news. The announcement stated that Clapper "reveals how and why things happen as they do."
He did this every day until his death in the Pacific.
His observations on Washington politics are one story; his writings as a war correspondent, another.
Clapper became more than a Washington correspondent when in January, 1930, he went to cover the London Naval Conference for United Press. He opined on his return that its failure "might ultimately lead to another conflict."
In the years that followed, his columns, in between his political writings, were interspersed with events that eventually produced total war. In 1934 he wrote about the unpreparedness in America and questioned the sale of scrap iron to Japan.
In 1937, he visited Germany with Mrs. Clapper to witness the German people worshipping at the shrine of Adolf Hitler. When he returned, he wrote about Russia with the same descriptive power he used for writing of Germany. "In Germany as in Russia, whole peoples have been thrown back into the age of despotism. They have lost all semblance of control over their own destinies. . . " He continued to ride the despots of the Axis -- Russia included.
In June 1939, Clapper abruptly informed the nation that "we might as well face the situation cold." (15) These are our alternatives: First we can say that Japan is determined to dominate the Orient and the adjacent raw-material supplies, as we dominate the Western Hemisphere and as Hitler dominates the continent of Europe. That means, in time, that we shall be able to sell goods in Eastern Asia subject to Japanese conditions and against the preferential conditions which Japan will impose in favor of her own nationals." For the next two and one half years, he continued to prophesy our steps into the war.
Clapper supported Great Britain's role as defender of the democratic world. As a result, he and his family were deluged with abuse by vicious die-hards that continued to support Hitler's Germany. His life was threatened. A senator accused him of being a British agent because he wrote a series of articles for the The London Daily Main.
Exactly 10 months to the day before Great Britain and France declared war on Germany, he wrote, "Britain, under whose protection we have been so secure throughout our whole national history, now is struggling to keep afloat, no longer the arbiter of Europe, no longer the policeman of the world, no longer able to stand as the first line of defense for our Monroe Doctrine. That is the new world."
When he noted increased troop movements by the Japanese in Indo-China, he columned nine days before the Pearl Harbor attack, "There can be no purpose in this other than further aggression." ". . . this Government (the U.S.) has given every indication that it does not want war in the Pacific . . . we have welcomed every opportunity to talk peace with Japan . . ." On that black Monday after Pearl Harbor, Raymond Clapper became a war correspondent when he wrote, "Americans can be proud today. We can be proud that we tried to the bitter end to avoid war."
For the months to follow, Clapper chided lagging war-production and public apathy toward the war. At the war's peak, many Americans were still fighting the nation of Russia even though it was an ally. In March 1943, he columned, "Can't we get across the idea in America that you don't have to love Communism to be in favor of helping Russia? Why do some of our people try to sell aid to Russia on the questionable argument that Communism is changing in Russia, that Russia is going capitalist, that there is freedom of religion in Russia, and in short, that Russian Communism is practically just the same as the American way?"
He wrote that our people do not believe in propaganda. On this point, it is noticed throughout his writing that he could step on official toes anytime he felt that such toes were not acting in the people's interest."Why can't our Government somehow, Elmer Davis and his 4,000 employees and a good many millions of dollars, get across to the American people that it isn't a matter of perfuming Communism at all--but a matter of helping an ally that is fighting to smash the same enemy that we are fighting?" Carrying his war correspondent credentials, W.D., A.G.O. identification card No. 90, Clapper went back to the front lines during the summer of 1943. At that time, the move was on to crush Italy. Clapper arrived in time to participate in the first American bombing of Rome. From North Africa, he filed his description of the initial bombing of Rome, ". . . at 10:10 we put on our parachutes. Not the first feeling of excitement appears. We have just started to climb. We adjust our oxygen masks and will wear them for the next two hours.
"We should pick up our initial point -- that is the beginning of the home stretch to the target -- in about an hour, the navigator says. You sit down on the parachute and find it makes a good seat and you relax again. The weather is still perfect. Nobody can talk much now with the masks on but the crew members talk with a throat microphone that fits around the neck." "The bombardier is studying his charts closely now. He must be able to recognize instantly the pin-point aiming point as it comes into his bomb sight. If he misses, then it has all been in vain."
"Within a few minutes the first wave will come over Rome. You wonder what a shock that will be -- in broad daylight -- just before noon. It is warm in our nose compartment, in spite of the altitude."
"You think how wonderful these boys are -- doing this job the way they do and good-natured, not surly, not militarists. Most of them don't think of themselves as military men and are waiting to get back to civilian life, yet they love this being around airplanes. At 11:05 our bombardier begins adjusting his bomb sight in earnest. He is notified what his ground speed over the target will be. We are still climbing hard to get up around 25,000 feet. The coast of Italy shows up very clearly now. We see Lake Bracciano. We reached the coast of Italy at the appointed time and place. We went in so as to come down on Rome from the north. The bombardier turned around and held his thumb and forefinger in a circle to indicate a perfect landfall." "When the bomb doors were opened and you could hear the rush of air which that caused. The bombardier was now shouting to the interphone guiding the pilot over the target. Out through the right window I would see the Vatican and St. Peter's clearly -- and very wide of our path. We could not have hit them except by turning and going over that way. The railroad yards of San Lorenzo were coming up fast now. At 11:39 we dropped our bombs and the bombardier gave the traditional call -- bombs away."
"We could see flak ahead -- a barrage of it. But it was breaking well ahead of us. The ship rocked slightly but nothing hit us. Part of the flak was breaking below us. But two enemy fighters roared past us -- and all our Fortress guns threw a barrage of 50-calibre machine-gun fire after the fighters but they got away. They made no effort to attack. None of the flak hit. By 11:45 we were heading out to sea. The whole thing lasted only about fifteen minutes and the critical part of it only five minutes." Like Ernie Pyle, Clapper had the ability to take his reader right with him in his travels. He toured the war-torn beaches and cities of Africa and Sicily to report on the war at that moment. He also injected his own thoughts into his columns that most of us talked about in those hectic days, but did nothing more.
He advised that Germany must be defeated so convincingly that the German people will cease to glorify war as a means of national salvation. When he saw the RAF pounding Germany and gave proper credit to the British, he turned his writings to our war against Japan.
Raymond Clapper was one war correspondent that was returned to the front by popular request--a little known fact. Officials in Washington felt that his accounts of war could be accepted by the people at home in complete faith.
During the last days of December 1943, Clapper took off to report the Pacific war while traveling with the Navy this time. It was to be his last assignment. In January 1944, his columns were datelined Honolulu, Australia. With the Marines at Cape Gloucester (New Britain), New Guinea, Guadalcanal and his final copy just came from Somewhere in the Pacific.
Aboard an aircraft carrier, he prepared columns to carry him through any period that could come about by his location during a battle operation.
Early on the day of February 2, 1944, he was moving in to attack the Japanese with a Navy task force. He chose to fly with a Navy bombing plane which was softening up the Marshall Islands for invasion. The squadron commander, in order to give him a better view of the operation, flew in close and out of formation. The craft collided in mid-air with another airplane. Raymond Clapper died getting his story. His final column described preparations for the invasion of the Marshall Islands. The column was about two-thirds complete; the second page of the manuscript carried the slug "More."