Combat Correspondents: "The Baltimore Sun" in World War II

By Startt, James D. | Journalism History, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview
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Combat Correspondents: "The Baltimore Sun" in World War II


Startt, James D., Journalism History


Sterne, Joseph R.L. Combat Correspondents: "The Baltimore Sun" in World War II Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 2009. 281 pp. $34.

Few newspapers matched the Baltimore Suns coverage of World War IL From the time that the U.S. was drawn into the war in December 7, 1941, until the Japanese surrendered aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1 945, the paper's correspondents produced a remarkable, and often intimate, record of Americans fighting abroad during that struggle. Joseph R.L. Sterne makes their dispatches the basis fot his book. In writing it, he had a distinct advantage: during his more than forty years of association with the Sun, serving it both at home and abroad and including a record-breaking twenty-five years as editorial page editor, he came to know all ofthe correspondents featured in his book.

Between 1941 and 1954, the Sun won more Pulitzer Prizes than any newspaper othet than the New York Times. The war correspondents featured in this book - Mark S. Watson, Lee McCardell, Price Day, HoIbrook Bradley, Philip Heisler, and Howard M. Norton - contributed to the making of that reputation. Since modem communication technology and the conditions of contemporary warfare have reshaped today's war reporting, it is interesting to see how these correspondents operated in the 1 940s. Basically, they exercised good judgment as they enjoyed a freedom of movement uncommon among correspondents in today's battle zones. The Sun allowed them to pursue the stories they wished, including ones of human intetest, and they were free to express their opinions, even if they differed from the editorial positions ofthe home office. They could disappear for days at a time pursuing a scoop or a story, and they could count on the Sun to allow ample space for their longer dispatches.

The subject matter of those dispatches is compelling and richly varied. They cover every major engagement ofthe U.S. forces in Europe and some of the most hardfought amphibious campaigns of the war in the Pacific. A few examples will have to suffice. Watson's and McCardell's reports of the Italian campaign, known to some historians as "the Forgotten War," provided astute analyses of that atduous operation. Their accounts of the gtueling battles at Cassino and Anzio depicted some of the hardest and most frustrating combat of the war. Bradley's dispatches on the epic amphibious invasion at Normandy afforded his readers detailed accounts of that storied event, one impossible for anyone not there to replicate. No one could read Heisler's dispatches on the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa without appreciating the fierce determination that American forces displayed in the face of fanatical Japanese resistance.

The correspondents minced no wotds in describing the brutality of modern war. Some of theit dispatches, for example, recorded the anguish that they felt at witnessing the fate of men trapped inside a burning tank or of women and children searching for food and sheltet, their homes desttoyed by the lavages of battle. Others were of events away from the battle lines. Day, for instance, caught one ofthe war's tragic consequences in a dispatch that he filed shottly after the Allies liberated the city of Grenoble in southeastern France. It reported the execution of six young Frenchmen, put to death by a firing squad of their own countrymen while thousands of onlookers signaled their approval The men, members of the Vichy government's hated militia, had been found guilty of treachery against France. Tine scene evokes a sad "what ii" of history. Without Hitler, without the war, without the Vichy regime, what lives might those young men, and othets like them, have led?

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