War and American Women: Heroism, Deeds, and Controversy

By William B. Breuer | Go to book overview

6 Lady Spies and a Blonde Guerrilla

In the early spring of 1944, staid old London, a city of three million people, was engulfed by an olive-drab tidal wave of American military men and women. It seemed that the young newcomers from across the Atlantic outnumbered the Londoners, whose cinemas, hotels, restaurants, dance halls, and pubs were swamped by GIs.

Londoners--indeed natives all over England, Scotland, and Wales-- were perplexed by the habits of these Americans, who scrawled on rocks, on walls, in lavatories, and on seemingly unreachable places, "Kilroy was here!" The natives never found out for sure who Kilroy was, where he came from, what he did, or why anyone would be so awed by him as to write his name all around the British Isles.

At any given time, there were some half-million military men and women from about sixty Allied and neutral countries on leave in or posted to London. Among them were three female war correspondents: petite Betty Gaskill, who worked for Liberty magazine; Dixie Tighe, an attractive lady of some years who reported for the International News Service; and Judy Barden, a young woman who was employed by the New York Sun.

Although the women correspondents were not members of the armed forces, they certainly were that in spirit. Theirs was a potentially dangerous endeavor, covering the war from up close. And their uniforms were almost identical to those worn by U.S. Army nurses and WAC officers. Gaskill, Tighe, and Barden were angry and frustrated. The mightiest military endeavor in history, the cross-Channel attack against Adolf Hitler's Europe, was about to be launched, and the authorities would not permit them to cover the event by going along with the initial assault troops.

Charged up by professional pride and an understandable desire for equal treatment for their gender, the three women buttonholed Captain Barney Oldfield, an outgoing and congenial Army public-relations officer who had been saddled with the preposterous task of keeping fifty-eight media reporters--many of them prima donnas--happy and informed. These were the men and the women who wanted, or professed to want, to be in the "first wave" of the invasion. Their lure was looming front-page byline stories and establishing reputations that would endure for all time.

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