Combat Reporter: Don Whitehead's World War II Diary and Memoirs

Combat Reporter: Don Whitehead's World War II Diary and Memoirs

Combat Reporter: Don Whitehead's World War II Diary and Memoirs

Combat Reporter: Don Whitehead's World War II Diary and Memoirs

Synopsis

Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, Don Whitehead is one of the legendary reporters of World War II. For the Associated Press he covered almost every important Allied invasion and campaign in Europe - from North Africa to landings in Sicily, Salerno, Anzio, and Normandy, and to the drive into Germany. His dispatches, published in the recent Beachhead Don, are treasures of wartime journalism. From the fall of September 1942, as a freshly minted A.P. journalist in New York, to the spring of1943 as Allied tanks closed in on the Germans in Tunisia, Whitehead kept a diary of his experiences as a rookie combat reporter. The diary stops in 1943, and it has remained unpublished until now. Back home later, Whitehead started, but never finished, a memoir of his extraordinary life in combat. John Romeiser has woven both the North African diary and Whitehead's memoir of the subsequent landings in Sicily into a vivid, unvarnished, and completely riveting story of eight months during some of the most brutal combat of the war. Here, Whitehead captures the fierce fighting in the African desert and Sicilian mountains, as well as rare insights into the daily grind of reporting from a war zone, where tedium alternated with terror. In the tradition of cartoonist Bill Mauldin's memoir Up Front, Don Whitehead's powerful self-portrait is destined to become an American classic.

Excerpt

No one bore witness better than Don Whitehead. Among World War II combat correspondents, he was one of the few whose powers of observation and literary sensibilities remain vibrant generations later. A self-effacing former advertising manager for a newspaper in Harlan, Kentucky, Whitehead possessed the priceless impulse to go to the sound of the guns. As a reporter for the Associated Press, he covered the invasions of Italy and Normandy and the campaigns across France and Germany through the end of the European war. He distinguished himself further in Korea, and he won the Pulitzer Prize twice.

When Whitehead went off to war, the professional and independent combat correspondent had been in existence less than a century. Until the Crimean War in the 1850s, those who wrote about battle tended to be either participants, like Julius Caesar and Thucydides, or fiction writers, like Stephen Crane and Leo Tolstoy. It was up to Ernie Pyle, Edward R. Murrow, John Hersey, Whitehead, and other great reporters to disprove or at least mitigate Senator Hiram Johnson’s grim 1917 aphorism that “the first casualty when war comes is truth.” The professionalism, skepticism, and courage of those World War II correspondents set the bar very high for the journalists following in their footsteps, such as David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan in Vietnam.

Whitehead put himself in harm’s way for months and then years at a time. He had an ear for irony and an eye for the telling detail—the first American gun to fire across the Messina Straits from Sicily into mainland Italy in August 1943, he tells us, was dubbed Draftee. He also possessed a knack for metaphor, describing how a battered seaside villa “trembled like a palsied old gentleman” during a heavy shelling at Anzio in 1944. We see Whitehead homesick and weary, poignantly pining for his wife, yet pressing on to do what had to be done. If at times he could be cynical and appalled by war’s waste, he had earned those moments of disgust as . . .

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