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



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Prologue


During my last days in the military service, I served as press officer for Lt. Gen. Willis D. Crittenberger, commanding general of the Caribbean Defense Command which was headquartered at Quarry Heights, Canal Zone. In January of 1946 Captain Walter R. King, chief of the War Department Bureau of Public Relations, Liaison Branch in Washington, forwarded to me the following information:

  list of war correspondents accredited
  list of war correspondents who received awards
  list of war correspondents killed in action

There was also a request for additional information to be incorporated into official records. This book is, in a measure, a belated report of the careers of the World War II correspondents who lost their lives in combat or from injuries sustained in combat. It is a full story of the men who lost their lives while accredited by the United States Government for service as reporters attached to field units of the armed forces. Such accreditation was sometimes used to give military commanders control over war reporting. In practice, it turned out to be a system whereby civilian correspondents obtained rations and quarters (and transportation) while in combat areas.

In recent years I have lectured to various groups-Sigma Delta Chi and journalism students-on this subject and very seldom have I found anyone, newspapermen included, who could recall the names of more than a half dozen correspondents who lost their lives during World War II.
...to my knowledge, this is the only complete work about the men who wrote history under pressure.
A number of anthologies have been complied including copies of their stories and letters. But to my knowledge, this is the only complete work about the men who wrote history under pressure. The most notable anthology of The Fourth Estate appeared in 1949 when two history professors, Louis L. Snyder and Richard B. Morris, compiled and edited A Treasury of Great Reporting containing classics in journalism from the sixteenth century to our time. Two of the men whom I write about in this volume, Ernie Pyle and Webb Miller, contributed to this anthology of the world's great reporting. Miller was the first to die in the span of my research; Pyle the last. Between these two writer-reporters, we have the history of war coverage of World War II. I have used the dates of their deaths as parameters in this story of news coverage of the great war. The story proceeds in near chronological order the deaths of the 54 reporters and photographers who went to the source for the story.

In order to write about these correspondents, it was necessary to contact their families whom I found scattered from Australia to Berlin. I have talked to many of the wives, mothers, fathers, and children of these men. Many of these memorialized men filed a great amount of copy that never reached print. For example, Time and Life maintained a large force of correspondents over the world, but the editors cut and edited a correspondent's copy, thus eliminating the individual credits ordinarily going to the author. I found that many of the best stories actually never reached publication; these were found in the men's personal letters to their families. Allen Chickering, San Francisco attorney and father of Bill Chickering (Life), privately published his son's letters in a volume, Letters from the Pacific. Robert L. Lewis, father of Robert E. Lewis (Red Cross Courier), allowed me to extract the story of his son from the many fine, in-depth, candid letters saved by the family.

Mrs. Raymond Clapper published the story of her husband in a collection of his columns entitled Watching the World, 1934-1944. When I wrote the chapter on this Scripps-Howard star, I felt a very close association with the subject. At the time, I was on the payroll of a Scripps-Howard newspaper. I interviewed Mrs. Clapper in-depth. She gave me a copy of her book and a copy of an earlier book by her husband, Washington Tapestry.

Friends and editors of the others also went to great lengths to aid me with this story.

Individuals gave mighty assists. Ann Ives, talking to me over a broken leg, sat in her Washington office of Newsweek and contributed many items on the names I will write about in this work. Bob Considine of Hearst Headline Service (then International News Service); Ten Link of the St. Louis Post Dispatch; Jack Falcon of Syracuse University; Oliver Gramling of the Associated Press; Miss Rita Hayman of England's National Union of Journalists, Mrs. D. Witt Hancock; Miss Connie Wallet of the University of Cincinnati classics department; Seymour Berkson of International News Service; John Lardner, former sports columnist for Newsweek; Riley H. Allen, editor of The Honolulu Star Bulletin; Miss Beryl Thorpe (London, daughter of A. A. Thorpe); Frank Brady of United Press; the staff of the Charleston (W.Va.) public library; Raymond Murphy, attorney-writer-researcher of Gulf Breeze, Fla.; and my closest associate in the detailed research, Patricia Kell McConnell of Ann Arbor, Mich., gave willingly to this volume.

I found only a few of the correspondents had served on foreign soil prior to World War II. Many were in their early twenties when war was declared. The transition from the city desk to the front lines was quick, brutal, and costly.

New names and new places came to the attention of a news-hungry public. Kwajalein, an unheard-of place in the Pacific before the war, had to be taken by force of arms, fortified, held, and spelled correctly. El Alemain, Iwo Jima and Aachen, new to all of us, had to be as familiar as Main Street, Hometown, to the men who told the story on deadline.

During World War II, the military element of our government came to recognize the value of having people at home know the full scope and vastness of war. However, this position was somewhat slow to crystallize. During the early days of World War II, serious consideration was given to the possibility of total military control over all news released to the American public.

Allied forces suffered many reverses in 1941 and during most of the second war year. Important officers and civilian chiefs in Washington honestly believed that modern warfare required abolition of independent press correspondents. They believed, and for obvious reasons, there should be a substitution in the form of an officer-reporter.

One major attempt was made by the U.S. Marine Corps. It set up a program for putting its own "combat correspondents" into the field. Marines fought the toughest battles in early days of Pacific fighting. At first it was just expedient to have men doing the fighting tell their own story.

The Marine Corps high command originally intended to subvert honest flow of information from the front. But, during World War II, it became necessary for the Corps to accept draftees like the other services. In this number were some trained newsmen. When company commanders started looking for the smart guys in their outfits, they called out the writers and the reporters from the ranks.
What they did, in fact, was act like professional newsmen and tell an honest story.
Some of these people became intelligence non-coms. Many actually wrote combat stories for both civilian press and military newspapers. What they did, in fact, was act like professional newsmen and tell an honest story. If any one individual was responsible for aborting the military control scheme, it was Arthur Krock of The New York Times. Krock was a sage in his time, and more than that, he was an advisor of sorts to presidents and policy makers. He dined one night with Franklin D. Roosevelt and told the country's leader his intention to write a column on an attempt to subvert civilian coverage of the war. Krock, it was believed, had been told rather bluntly by a Marine official to "print this like it says here . . ." Some say it took the urbane, sophisticated head of the Times' bureau in Washington about a day to regain his composure. Krock wrote:

"They (the civilian press) think it possible, however, that a barrage of attack from the press would arouse the public to view the innovation as a military gazette plan, designed to cover up error, incompetence, and defeat and as a heavy thrust at the freedom of the press."

I once asked Mr. Krock about that wartime exchange he was supposed to have had with FDR. He replied: "Every president has some thoughts about it (censorship) before he comes to his senses. He would have kept Pearl Harbor secret except that he needed for all of us to know at that particular time."

In the long run of the war, Marine writers were nothing less than reporters in uniform. Unfortunately, Army and Navy reporters, i.e. public relations writers, never attained a comparable degree of professionalism.

Civilian reporters moving with Navy units were subjected to controls set by ship commanders. Transmission facilities were held by the captains or on-board censorship officers. Most were ill-equipped for the assignment or were given the duty in addition to being line officers.

Army regulations required civilian correspondents to be accompanied by "guide dogs" or public relations officers/enlisted personnel. I am certain everyone is aware of the military's strange and idiotic reasoning when it came to personnel classification. I like the story of the late, great reporter Charles Collins of the Boston Globe. He was drafted in World War II and assigned to Galveston Army Air Base as a clerk-typist. True, Charley could type. But at the same time, a second lieutenant was made public relations officer because he had had "public appearances before large groups of people." (He had been a trombone player in a civilian band and had played before large dance groups back in Indiana.) Charley's civilian experience and training went for naught.

In the little-publicized war for the Aleutians, the Army had a former Associated Press foreign correspondent assigned to the duty of handing out rations at Fort Richardson, Alaska. Meanwhile, in that theater of operations, fighting was heavy around Attu and Kiska. All three wire services (INS, AP, and UP) fought the censor to get their stories out and back to the States. The Army had supercharged a young second lieutenant with a full dose of regulations relating to military intelligence. His background was a major in veterinary medicine. The INS and UP staffers, plus others representing individual papers, loaded aboard a landing craft at Adak Island in hopes of covering Attu action. On arrival in Attu, the correspondents were told arbitrarily they could not go ashore because they were civilians. An enlisted CNS (Camp News Service) writer acted as "runner" to relay news of the island action.

Nineteen days later at command headquarters, the same young officer was given an additional duty. He was told to edit, i.e., censor all copy files submitted by the civilian writers.

Net result of all this was that in 49 days of intense battle action on Attu where many thousands of Japanese died in blazing napalmed holes, where experienced war correspondents wrote of an American victory, not one line of news copy reached print.

North Africa, Europe and Pacific actions were getting headlines. Geography was in favor of writers in these theaters. Military controls were more difficult to enforce. Reporters (like Tom Treanor of the Los Angeles Times) merely attached themselves to some mobile unit for food. They wrote with little or no hindrance by military censorship officers. Over the weeks, the civilian writer came to know the censorship officers on a first-name basis. A working rapport developed.

In World War II in all operational theaters, there was a legitimate need for control of troop movement information and data on other logistical intelligence. Lines between friend and enemy were clearly defined. In the Vietnam action, probably the best-reported war in history, war correspondents did battle with our own (United States) censorship attempts while having to overcome political information controls imposed by the various South Vietnamese governments. The best reporting of our involvement in Southeast Asia between 1954 and 1975 came only after reporters returned home to write books on the action. (David Halberstan of The New York Times is an example. He was repeatedly blocked in attempts to transmit copy to his paper from Saigon. He got his stories out by returning to the States periodically where he could write without restrictions. Later, the Ky government attempted to restrict other Timesmen.) Political aspects of Vietnam action clouded much of the battle coverage because many reporters viewed the entire war as a questionable, almost illegal action as far as American involvement was concerned.

Battle coverage in Southeast Asia was under heavy censorship by governments of the United States, South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. However, all censorship activity was aimed at keeping the story from the American reading public, not the alleged "enemy" of the Ho government in Hanoi.

Reporters of the Vietnam action were highly skilled in political aspects of the action. This was not the case in World War II. World War II correspondents became highly skilled in military science and tactics.
Ernie Pyle was the classic contributor to this type of journalism. He wrote about individual suffering and privation.
The best moved with troops. Many injected personal vignettes of the men they covered into their stories. Ernie Pyle was the classic contributor to this type of journalism. He wrote about individual suffering and privation. He wrote about "G. I. Joe" and personalized the war to mothers and fathers back home. He walked across North Africa and watched the massive defeat of Rommel's famed Afrika Korps. He never wrote a column about George Patton's strategy against Rommel. He wrote a lot of copy about Patton's soldiers who drove trucks, repaired tanks, and carried the M-1 rifle.

Pyle, like hundreds of other pad-and-pencil reporters, adapted themselves to military censorship foolishness. They learned to live with it, mainly by reassuring censorship officers that "we're all on the same side in this thing." Some sort of common bond grew between military and civilian press. Accredited correspondents wore uniforms. They didn't carry arms, but they drank from G.I. canteens, slept under G. I. blankets, walked through the same G.I. mud and got soaked by the same G.I. rain that drenched the foot soldier.

Fifty-four accredited correspondents lost their lives while getting the story.

The United Press and the Associated Press each list five men killed in battle. The rest of the wire services and newspapers - some magazine periodicals too - covering United States forces in the field suffered proportionately. The 54 newsmen died in airplane crashes, during blackouts, in beach landings, in air raids, from tropical diseases, and by sniper bullets. Some were captured and tortured. They suffered agonies of total war and submitted themselves to all the privations created by enemies of our nation.

In studying the varied careers of the war correspondents, I found one conspicuous common thread: All died getting the accurate story first. In peacetime they had been working newspapermen; in war they literally died with their boots on. All Americans read, re-read, clipped, saved, and worshipped the greatest of all battle correspondents, Ernie Pyle. His entire life as a working newspaperman was a storybook scenario. We of the Fourth Estate revel in the pipe dream that our writings may carry a bit of the shadow of an immortal Ernie Pyle.

Ernie Pyle, although great, was actually one among many. The story of this Scripps-Howard columnist is the final chapter. The mission of this volume is to enlighten the reader as to the contributions of all 54 accredited correspondents who died getting the story to a nation at war.

Doral Chenoweth


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