The Only Correspondent Representing A Newspaper from West of the Mississippi Ever to Visit the Middle East - Tom Treanor Damon Runyon described Tom Treanor of the Los Angeles Times as "one of the four best reporters developed in this war." Treanor's story as a newspaperman was typical of most men covering battle front activity. For years in the comparable quiet of covering murder and Hollywood in Los Angeles, he had prepared to take on the biggest story in his generation -- World War II.
Immediately prior to the United State declaration of war against the Axis, Treanor had been conducting a column called The Home Front,a daily stint devoted to visits to war plants and war activities, a column that gave him his desire to view the war in its real setting.
Switching from The Home Front to Front Lines, he took with him the same zeal for accurate reporting that raised him to a top spot among newspapermen on the West Coast.
In June 1940, The Los Angeles Times sent him to Lisbon by Clipper to get a first hand picture of war. For six months he toured Portugal, Spain, Italy, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, Greece and unoccupied France. He covered 20,000 miles by airplane, steamship, automobile, and railroad to bring the first eye-witness accounts of the young war to his California readers. Tom Treanor never stopped covering the war after this indoctrination sojourn into total war.
During 1941, the critical year for the United States, Treanor covered war preparations on the West Coast and spent the final peaceful months with his wife and children. When the British were on the move in Africa, Treanor immediately made plans with his editor, L.D. Hotchkiss, to leave for the battle front. He had his passport visaed for British holdings enroute to Africa and points on the continent.
In June, 1942, Treanor took off without receiving the proper credentials from the War Department, Bureau of Public Relations, an omission which was to later serve as basis for a book on official red-tape in both the British and American armies. The commentary on Treanor's war travels reads like the blue plate special for future World War historians. He injected a wit into his writings that disguised the real danger as he covered every major engagement through North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and later the invasion of France.
Editor Hotchkiss felt that Treanor was tops among correspondents at the front. To him, Treanor was something of a journalistic paradox, ". . . an editor's dream come true -- and also a nightmare. You could always depend on him to cover his battle from Row A, Center -- the front lines, but you never are sure he won't grab Montgomery's beret or Patton's pearl-handled revolvers and start leading the fireworks himself."
Enroute to Cairo and his brush with war the first time, Treanor was "off-loaded" by America's ferry command so many times that he once complained to a public relations officer, a position of official nemesis to him, that "Rommel was moving faster than he was." When he arrived at Khartoum, within a half day's flight of Cairo, he found that no more Americans were being admitted on orders from the American ambassador.
In typical Treanor fashion, he undertook to place his pleas on top official ears and by doing so, he was loaded on an airplane being ferried to the British in Cairo. On arrival at Heliopolis Airport in Cairo, the British were so pleased with the new equipment they forgot to check his passport.
Treanor later related his first moments in Cairo in his book, One Damn Thing After Another. (16) He wrote, "I went straight to Shepheard's hotel and then I hurried to the Public Relations and made them acquainted with the stupefying fact that the Only
Correspondent Representing a Newspaper From West of the Mississippi Ever to Visit the Middle East was ready for action." "I planned to hurry right to the front. But the Public Relations was unstupefied. The Only Correspondent West of the Mississippi was given to understand that his arrival was a surprise but not a pleasure, that there were too many correspondents already; in short, that he was not welcome, would not be accredited, and could not cover the war."
The only correspondent had different ideas, however, and for the next two years, Tom Treanor considered himself an "innocent man trapped between public relations and the Axis."
Dispatches signed by Treanor while with British forces in the desert, were the most vivid to come out of that sector for American readers. He was one of the few American correspondents to go through the El Alamein set-to against Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. He went to the front lines by thumbing rides on supply trucks and many times, actually wrote his stories on a portable right under the light of battle. This method of production was not common to field correspondents since most of them waited until they returned to the safety and comfort of a theater headquarters or neutral city.
Treanor became well -versed in tank warfare as fought by British Field Marshall Montgomery. He filled his stories with witty notes about English tea-time during battle and wrote a great deal about the British outlook in the war's progress.
He explained the British love for tea when he quoted a front line soldier, ". . . it's when you gets moody that you needs it. Take when the mile (mail) comes around. You haven't had a letter in two months. They distributes the mile and everyone gets his letter but you don't. You gets moody and there's only on thing to do. You starts your fire and gets crackin' on brewin' up some tea. Then you feels better."
Along with these lighter sides of war, he managed to cover the bloody battles fought on that hot African desert. Treanor developed a soft spot in his heart for the English tank retriever. He wrote about the retriever going out in the thick of battle to bring in a tank that had been hit, but wasn't burning as yet. His stories of the dust and fire in combat indicated that he knew his subject. When all was confusion at El Alamein, he described it thusly, " . . it's probably a fable, but one tank retriever told me that sometimes the British and Jerry tank retrievers passed close enough to exchange cigarettes. They would never think of exchanging shots, as they had only deep sympathy for one another's occupation."
After covering El Alamein, he took time out at Naples to collect his views on the war to date and made his own estimate of the situation when he wrote, "The war has gotten down to a business of bloodletting. Jerry isn't trying to win any more. He's only trying to make us pay so much in blood and dollars that we'll give him some kind of standoff. That old dash has gone from the battle. No longer are there those mad, gallant, exciting races back and forth across the desert with no one getting killed but soldiers. No women, no babies, no old men. These fought-over towns in Sicily and Italy are depressing."
After these many months of wandering around Africa without official permission and bumming rides to the front with the New Zealanders and anyone else that would take him, he finally ran out of the rule book and was "expelled" by the British to India. At long last, Treanor became an accredited war correspondent in New Delhi when his path crossed that of an ex-Los Angeles Times police reporter and now a public relations officer, Major Fred Eldridge.
Treanor was at ease with the world when he found himself in a paradise for writers, even if there wasn't a war to cover. He was accredited to the British. He was accredited to the Americans. He could get half -fare on trains. There was no trouble at all for the present.
He managed to cover several skirmishes between the British-led Indian forces and the Japanese. However, the most notable story signed by Treanor to come out of India was one describing a fast by Gandhi. His story was described by his paper as 'unique" since he did it by watching the Mahatma over a wall with a pair of high-powered binoculars. During his tour of India, he was accredited to General Wavell and General Stilwell.
Following his wanderings in China, Burma, and India, he returned to Cairo and started through the miles of red-tape to become accredited in that theatre. This time he had success. With 113 other reporters, he checked in with the American public relations officer who let it be known that something big was in the wind.
It was a big air operation and only six correspondents would be permitted. UP, AP, INS, Reuters, the New York Times and Los Angeles Times would be listed on the manifest. At the last minute, the last one was cut. Then it was noted that a permit for Reuter's correspondent had not arrived and Treanor drew his spot.
The story was to be the first bombing of Rome.
Treanor rode in the last B-25 to go across the target following hundreds of B-24 Liberators and B-17 Flying Fortresses. He wrote, "I was looking at Rome in the worst agony of the great daylight raid." He wrote his story of the raid while seated on a stool in the radio compartment returning from his first major mission of American flying might.
When he landed, he filed his story with base censors for immediate transmission to his paper. His first concern was copy for the paper he represented. Probably the greatest tribute paid Treanor following his death was filed by Virgil Pinkley (17) of United Press. He wrote, "Whenever you publish anything about Tom Treanor you might like to know he everlastingly was thinking about The Times and its readers. He was a real soldier of the press, willing to go anywhere, anytime, regardless of danger or hardships."
Treanor respected his readers and took them into serious consideration judging from the many letters he received concerning his column. He labored to get a story in the same manner that a football player would do or die for his alma mater.
In eagerness to be on the spot for news, he managed to get into the thick of the fighting most of the time. He flew over Sicily and Italy with air groups on bombings to soften troop landings and then went in with the troops to mop up. He foot-slogged it with the Infantry many times. Once in Italy, he found himself in a forward position when the Cassino attack began. He also found himself alone -- the only correspondent on the front.
He would hitch rides to the front carrying his bed roll and typewriter. He stayed with an outfit at Cassino while the Germans poured their best troops into the battle which later proved to be one of the bloodiest. Every three or four days he would return to base headquarters to file his stories and then return. His accounts were the only ones to come directly from the front lines of this battle.
Lt. Gen. Willis D. Crittenberger commanded the 4th Corps which was the parent organization of the 34th Division.
Crittenberger was a fighting general and was not concerned with the antics of correspondents. Being an efficient soldier, he did not figure he should be hampered by an excess of correspondents, even though it might mean good publicity for the outfit. For this fact alone, Treanor was able to get fresh, exclusive, and authentic stories on the crossing of the Rapido River and the landings on Anzio.
The same luck that had carried him to most of his major stories managed to get him in on the Anzio landing. Treanor had a habit of grabbing the first transportation available without knowing where it was headed. He took refuge on an LST (Landing-Ship-Tank) that he thought was "bound for someplace important."
Three days later he went in on Anzio while under air attack by the Germans. He arrived in the first wave and, for awhile, was the only correspondent on the beachhead.
After Anzio, Treanor figured he had seen enough for the present and started home. He arrived in Los Angeles on March 20, 1944 and immediately was tossed into a whirl of personal appearances that go with personal fame.
In less than two months, he headed back to Europe to cover the invasion of France. He arrived a few days before the big channel jump and on June 6, 1944, reported on the spot for his paper. From that day, he moved with ground troops along the hedge rows of France. During these days in France, he worked with John MacVane to report the war from the front for the National Broadcasting Company. MacVane was closest to Treanor during those final days and reported, "Tom was where he wanted to be, at the very tip of the front."
First news of Treanor's death came from Robert C. Miller, United Press correspondent in the same area, who telegraphed: "Tom died Saturday (August 19, 1944) of injuries received Friday when the Jeep he was riding in collided with an American tank on the highway east of Chartres while enroute to the front. They (Treanor and two other correspondents) were passing a tank when it swerved into their path, overturning the Jeep.
"Tom suffered a crushed leg and internal injuries and head wounds."
Regaining consciousness before he died, Treanor managed to joke with the doctors attending his wounds. It was an ironic jest of fate that he should die in an accident with a tank. He had covered tank tactics in Africa and had a deep respect for their hard-hitting methods.
Tom Treanor made his name in The Los Angeles Times by writing about the little guys in war. When he died, both big and little guys paid final tribute to him as a man and as a credit to his profession. Gene Fowler, newspaperman and author, best summed it up when he said, "His stories made everyone feel as if he knew him." Mark Hellinger and Joe E. Brown were among his long personal list of friends who paid final tribute to this great newspaperman.
Thomas Coghill Treanor was born November 8, 1908 in Los Angeles. He attended Stanford University for two years and later graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles where he was a member of Zeta Psi fraternity. In 1944, he was elected to Sigma Delta Chi, the professional journalism society.
He married Eleanor Stimson on May 11, 1932. They had three children, Thomas Gordon, John Marshall and Cordelia. His first job with a newspaper came in 1930 when he went to work for the Los Angeles Evening Express as a reporter. In 1932, he moved to the Oakland Post-Enquirer and from there, worked for the Wisconsin News in Milwaukee. In 1938, he returned to Los Angeles as a reporter for the Examiner, the Southland's Hearst outlet.
He worked for the Los Angeles Times from November 26, 1934 as a reporter, society editor and at one time, served as associate editor on the Times Sunday Magazine. He started his daily column for the Times in 1940.