CHAPTER 4 The Trial of William Oatis

TWENTY-THREE days after I left Prague to avoid arrest, William Nathan Oatis, a tall, astonishingly thin thirty-seven- year-old Hoosier reporter, arrived to head the Associated Press bureau which had been without an American chief since the expulsion of Nathan Polowctzky three months earlier.

This was the first time that Oatis had been on his own at the head of his own bureau, and he threw himself heart and soul into a reportorial task that was well-nigh impossible, as Russell Jones of the U.P., Bobby Bigio of Reuters and Gaston Fournier of Agence France-Presse, the only other Western newspapermen left, explained to him.

Oatis was conscientious and meant to make something of his new assignment. His early life had been hard, and he had worked his way up, step by step. When he was a year old, his brother had been scalded to death, his father, Ross Oatis, left soon for Arizona to seek work, and his mother disappeared. He was brought up by his paternal grandmother, Mrs. Charles Oatis. He was a bookish boy, but well liked. He played the piano at young people's gatherings at church and took part in discussion meetings and dramatics. Friends recall that he made a fine apothecary in Romeo and Juliet because he was so thin and "could walk as an old man would."

He went to De Pauw University on a scholarship, but quit after his freshman year, in 1933, to join the staff of the Marion Leader-Tribune. One of the stories Oatis wrote then, about the death of Sport, a dog beloved by the whole town, is still kept under glass in Marion's Plymouth Club. On the Leader-Tribune and later on the Marion Chronicle, Oatis learned to be, above all, a diligent reporter. Once he horrified his colleagues by telephoning the Indiana governor at 1 A.M. to check a minor detail in the story he was writing.

In 1937 he joined the Associated Press in Indianapolis, and stayed there until 1942, when he went into the army. His friends could never under-

-30-

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