ARCHIVAL NEWSREEL: ...he's heavily fortified, he's got a lot of ammo....what's he got...small arms, automatic fire, grenade launcher and hand grenades...
Title Card: A Film Produced by Amanda Pollak and Stephen Ives
ARCHIVAL RADIO: ...There he goes, you hear him shout. Every man out...I can see their chutes going down now...They seem to be completely relaxed, like nothing so much as khaki dolls hanging beneath a green lampshade...
Title Card: Edited by George O'Donnell
Title Card: Written by Michelle Ferrari
ARCHIVAL NEWSREEL: ...Something is happening outside...the skies over Baghdad have been illuminated..."
Title Card: Directed by Stephen Ives
Sounds of gunfire over battle images
Title Card: Reporting America at War
MORLEY SAFER: There is this extraordinary man made spectacle for you. Life, death, valor, all those wonderful things happening for you. It's like a big cinemascope screen.
MALCOLM BROWNE: War is high drama. It's a greater experience than anything you could have in the theater, or in the opera, or in a Greek tragedy or it includes all of these things besides the horror.
BILL BUFORD: This is experience lived at it's most intensely, this is issues of justice and injustice at their most stark, this is politics at its most vivid, this is life at it's most extreme.
ARCHIVAL NEWSREEL: Hello everybody, this is Floyd Gibbons speaking from the international settlement of Shanghai...
BILL BUFORD: That's why correspondents want to be there, it has all to do with storytelling.
ANDY ROONEY: (reading) "We grew in strength as we flew, until all England seemed to be covered with bombers. Everything was quiet, almost monotonous for an hour after we left the coast. Then the trouble began."
BETSY WADE: (reads Homer Bigart) "On such a day you expect death more than on a bright day. You think that if you can only survive this day, then tomorrow will be sunny and we'll be one day nearer to the end of the war.
WALTER CRONKITE: History begins to face alteration as every second ticks by past the event itself. This is the first line of history, are the correspondents and the reporters.
ARCHIVAL (David Bloom): This force is once again on the move.
CRISTIANE AMANPOUR: The great correspondents believe that they have a role to play in the societies they operate in. We are the first eyes, the first ears, you know, the first to tell a certain story. Because with out us who? Without us who?
NARRATOR: They walked among the dead at Antietam, and followed the charge up San Juan Hill.
They were looking on when hundreds fell on the beaches of Normandy, and when the gates of Dachau swung open, and when the flag was hoisted on the island of Iwo Jima.
They were there in the mountains of Korea and in the jungles of Vietnam, and they watched as blood was spilled in America's name.
ARCHIVAL (Murrow): Anti-aircraft guns were in action along the South East coast today...
Throughout the twentieth century, American war correspondents have told us stories about ourselves.
ARCHIVAL (Cronkite): Whatever price the Communists paid for this offensive, the price to the Allied cause was high.
They have balanced their objectivity on the battlefield against their desire to support "the cause,"...
ARCHIVAL (Amanpour): The Commander says the Red Sea battle force is close to neutralizing all its targets...
...national security against the public's right to know.
ARCHIVAL (Safer): This is where the forgotten war is being fought.
They have been adventurers and patriots, mythmakers and critics.
ARCHIVAL (Ryan Chilcote): Elements of the 101st Airborne Division have moved out of...
And with each dispatch, they have echoed America's shifting attitudes toward warfare and the nation's role in the world.
Like many of their countrymen, American correspondents began the century convinced of the virtues of war. Their stories from the frontlines celebrated the heroism and nobility of the nation's struggles abroad. And in sounding the themes of freedom, honor and sacrifice, they shaped the way a half-century of warfare would be remembered and understood.
GLORIA EMERSON: It is the dream of every young man to be a foreign correspondent, is it not?
ARCHIVAL MOVIE (Joel Mcrea, Foreign Correspondent): He's lying, I talked to Van Mirren in this very room.
GLORIA EMERSON: Men think it's very dashing. Some old movie with Joel McCrea.
ARCHIVAL MOVIE (Joel Mcrea, Foreign Correspondent): One thing everybody forgets is that I'm a reporter and there's a war, I can't run out on this war.
GLORIA EMERSON: You know, the trench coat, the legendary feats, the praise. How else can you go to war and not be a soldier?
TITLE: Episode One, The Romance of War
NARRATOR: On April 25th, 1898, Americans woke to news that the nation was at war.
ARCHIVAL (Newspaper boy): Extra! Extra!
NARRATOR: The people of Cuba were fighting an ongoing battle to free their country from Spanish control and for the past two years, the leading newspapers in the United States had been trying to snare readers with sensational coverage of the conflict. Reports of Spanish atrocities, some of them entirely fictitious, had dominated the headlines for months, persuading many Americans that the United States had a duty to intervene.
Now, Congress had authorized the use of force to guarantee Cuba's independence from Spain.
The Spanish-American War had begun.
PHILLIP KNIGHTLEY: The war itself was seen as a just war, the liberation of Cuba from the dominance of Spain. Spain was seen as a far away foreign power that had no right to be within the sphere of American influence. And if the war was presented in the right way to the public, then there would be genuine public support, which there was.
NARRATOR: Hoping to boost their circulations even further, American newspapers recruited some of the country's best-known writers to cover the conflict. The New York World signed on Stephen Crane, author of the wildly popular novel Red Badge of Courage. But it was the New York Herald that managed to score the most celebrated of them all a 34-year-old short story writer named Richard Harding Davis.
Davis had been only 14 when he announced his intention to become more famous than Mark Twain. After turning out a series of stories that featured witty, well-dressed characters loosely based on himself, Davis had turned his hand to news, volunteering to cover the Greco-Turkish War in 1897.
His dispatches were colorful and romantic one compared the sound of bullets to the rustle of silk; another likened the conflict to a "duel between gentlemen." American readers couldn't get enough of them.
PHILLIP KNIGHTLEY: Richard Harding Davis didn't see war as something wrong. It was a game, it was a big adventure. People read Richard Harding Davis not just because of what he wrote, because it was Richard Harding Davis writing.
MITCHELL STEPHENS: This was a period when reporting was becoming really, I think, for the first time in its history, a dashing profession, glamorous profession, a romantic profession. And nobody exemplified that more than Richard Harding Davis.
NARRATOR: American reporters had been sending news from the front lines since the Civil War, when the telegraph had first made it possible to watch a battle in the morning and have an account in the papers by the following afternoon. To curb the press' tendency to exaggerate and criticize, some military commanders had begun requiring journalists to sign their names to their stories. By now, the by-line was commonplace, and reporters like Richard Harding Davis were stars.
For Cuba, Davis made certain he looked the part, outfitting himself with an elaborate war costume that included top boots, a canvas shooting jacket and a revolver.
He was so confident that his fame would put him in the thick of the fighting that he even made out a will. But when the American fleet anchored off the Cuban coast, the commanding general ordered him to remain on board the press boat with the other correspondents until all of the soldiers were safely ashore.
PHILIP KNIGHTLEY: Richard Harding Davis ran into the same trouble that war correspondents today run into everywhere. A lot of the military didn't want him along. Davis found himself banned from accompanying the forces, and unable to write anything. So he looked around for a Commander who would give him permission to go along with him.
NARRATOR: Davis zeroed in on the Lieutenant Colonel of the First Volunteer Cavalry, a charismatic civil servant named Theodore Roosevelt. A good reporter, Davis argued, could put Roosevelt on the pages of history. It was an offer the ambitious Lieutenant Colonel couldn't refuse.
A few weeks later, Davis watched breathlessly as Roosevelt rushed a key enemy position on Kettle Hill.
"Roosevelt, mounted high on horseback, charging the rifle pits at a gallop ... made you feel that you would like to cheer," Davis told his readers. "No one who saw Roosevelt take that ride expected he would finish it alive. It looked like foolhardiness, but he set the pace with his horse and inspired his men to follow."
PHILLIP KNIGHTLEY: All wars need a hero. In the Spanish American War, Richard Harding Davis, who had far more influence than any of the other correspondents there, chose Teddy Roosevelt And wrote a stirring story of thundering hooves, and rifle shots, with Roosevelt at the head charging along on his horse. And this was exactly the sort of stuff that the readers of the American press wanted to read.
NARRATOR: By the time Davis returned home, slightly ahead of the victorious American forces, Roosevelt was a national figure, and Davis himself had earned a reputation as the country's premiere war correspondent. He would spend the next decade and a half traipsing around the globe, covering conflicts in South Africa, Mexico and Japan captivating Americans with his tales of bravery and honour.
Then, in the summer of 1914, World War One broke out in Europe. And even though the United States remained neutral, Davis rushed to the scene, arriving just in time to witness the German invasion of Brussels.
"At the sight of the first few regiments of the enemy we were thrilled with interest," Davis wrote. "After three hours they had passed in one unbroken steel gray column and we were bored.
"But when hour after hour passed and there was no halt, no breathing time, no open spaces in the ranks, the thing became uncanny, inhuman... It held the mystery and menace of fog rolling toward you across the sea... For three days and three nights a column of gray, like a river of steel, cut Brussels in two."
PHILIP KNIGHTLEY: The brilliance of the description, the evocative nature of it. Bringing to the world the actual size of the German army and the problems that the allies were going to have in defeating it.
NARRATOR: The soldiers who went off to fight on the western front would encounter the fearsome new technology of war the rattle of machine guns, the aerial bombardments, the choking vapors of poisonous gas. Casualties would soon run into the millions.
But for the first time in his career, Davis saw little of the action. None of the countries involved in the war would allow reporters near the front, fearing that battle news would scare off military volunteers. When he tried to skirt the restrictions, he was arrested by the Germans and accused of being a spy. And even when he did manage to scrape together a story, censors held it back until its news value was lost.
After a few months, Davis packed up and headed home. "No more front for me," he grumbled to an acquaintance. "War correspondents can do nothing." He died of a heart attack on April 11th, 1916, still the most famous reporter of his generation.
Ten months later, the passenger liner Laconia left New York for the British Isles, where Germany had been conducting unrestricted submarine warfare since 1915. Three British liners had already been sunk. Now, in the frigid waters off the Irish Coast, a German U-Boat sent the Laconia and its American passengers to the bottom and after almost three years on the sidelines, the United States rushed headlong into the war.
Taking its cues from the British and the French, the American government now enlisted the press in a vigorous campaign to mobilize public opinion behind the war effort. Barred from the combat zones and subjected to heavy censorship, reporters found themselves with little choice but to echo the official propaganda.
Throughout the war, newspapers portrayed the conflict as a crusade to advance the cause of democracy, and detailed lurid atrocities the Germans had never actually committed. Meanwhile, the real horror of the Western Front went largely unreported.
COLONEL JAY PARKER: World War I coverage was in some ways reflected the traditional mythology about war and combat. So you have the press fanning a lot of the emotions of the public attitude and the public mood. You have the press hit with the horror of the war, but never really fully covering it to the level that expressed just how God-awful it was.
RICK MACARTHUR: In WWI, you had 50,000 Americans killed in just about a year, year and a half it's pretty hideous and trench warfare is hideous and I don't think the American people got any sense of what trench warfare was like from their daily newspapers. They read about it later in novels and books.
NARRATOR: The extent of the whitewash was summed up years later by a young novelist who had driven an ambulance for the Red Cross on the Italian front. "Our last war ... was the most colossal, murderous, mismanaged butchery that has ever taken place on earth" he wrote. "Any writer who said otherwise lied. So the writers either wrote propaganda, shut up, or fought."
The novelist's name was Ernest Hemingway.
NARRATOR: In the summer of 1936, nearly twenty years after the end of the war to end all wars, most Americans were concentrating on matters close to home.
Meanwhile, the prospect of bloodshed was again looming on Europe's horizon. Italy and Germany had already fallen to fascism. Now, in Spain, the fascist General Francisco Franco, was attempting to overthrow the Republican government, and the country was careening toward a bitter civil war.
PHILLIP KNIGHTLEY: You could see that the World was heading for a major confrontation of ideologies. And all this was suddenly brought to the forefront and flung into everybody's face by the confrontation in Spain.
NARRATOR: With backing from Hitler and Mussolini, Franco's forces unleashed a merciless bombing campaign on the Republican-held capitol of Madrid. And for the first time in the history of modern warfare, civilians were also being targeted.
The United States offered no assistance. After the staggering carnage of World War One, the embittered country was determined to keep out of Europe's quarrels.
But for a small group of Americans, the Republican struggle in Spain was a call to arms, a cause that again gave war meaning.
VICTORIA GLENDINNING: Young poets, young writers, people's sons went off to fight in Spain. It was the great cause. And because I think that they realized that it could lead on to something worse, that the fascist threat was real.
PHILLIP KNIGHTLEY: People felt that this was the time and the place to make a stand. To be counted for what you believed. That this was a turning point in world history.
NARRATOR: Over the next two years, a handful of American writers and journalists would journey to Spain to help publicize the Republican cause among them John Dos Passos and Lillian Hellman and Langston Hughes.
LIFE magazine photographer Robert Capa would document the trench battles in Andalusia and the fascist siege of Barcelona, capturing images later published around the world. New York Times reporter Herbert Matthews, meanwhile, would cover the bitter fighting in and around Madrid along with Ernest Hemingway, now a correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance, and his companion, a little-known 28-year-old writer named Martha Gellhorn.
Gellhorn had first met Hemingway in 1936, in a bar near his home in Key West, and after a whirlwind romance, the two had made a pact to rendezvous in Spain. That Hemingway was almost ten years her senior and married had mattered little to Martha. "We were in it together," she later wrote. "We knew, we just knew that Spain was the place to stop fascism."
MARTHA GELLHORN: I went in with a knapsack and I had, I think, fifty dollars and my idea was I would just go and join these people and do whatever I can do. From the minute one was in Madrid then one was at war. The artillery was so near that you could hear the shell leaving the gun, you could hear the cough as it left the gun. I had no intention of writing, what did I know, how could I be a war correspondent? So I used to drive a station wagon carrying blood to a battalion aid station. Never thought of writing anything until Herbert Matthews and Hemingway said to me, well, write about it, I said what can I write I don't know anything about war and they said write about Madrid and I said well why, you know, it's just daily life and they said well it isn't everybody's daily life.
VOICE (Martha Gellhorn) A shell falls across the square. An old woman with a shawl over her shoulders, holding a terrified thin little boy by the hand, runs out into the square. You know what she's thinking. She's thinking she must get the child home. You are always safer in your own place with the things you know. Somehow you don't believe you can get killed when you're sitting in your parlor, you never think that.
VICTORIA GLENDENNING: She took it from the opposite end than most reporters do. She wanted to be where the people were that were sort of suffering the brunt of this war. On the ground, the streets of the bombed cities, the women and the children, above all the children. She could have done the kind of, tenderhearted agony kind of writing but it was always hard, hard, tight as a knot you know, quite em, stern austere writing, which made the awful things she was describing much more so.
VOICE (Martha Gellhorn): She's in the middle of the square when the next one comes. A small piece of twisted steel, hot and very sharp, sprays off from the shell. It takes the little boy in the throat. The old woman stands there holding the hand of the dead child, looking at him stupidly, not saying anything, and the men run out towards her to carry the child. At their left, at the side of the square, is a huge brilliant sign which says get out of Madrid.BILL BUFORD: So much of what Martha's writing is is just detail. It's just being there, bearing witness, getting the description, knowing that she's in a privileged spot. She's seeing something that we can't see, don't know about. And her job is to make us interested in it. And, and know of it.
VICTORIA GLENDENNING: Reporting wars was, she used this word the ‘honorable course.' You had to do something, and the only thing she could do was tell it how it was.
MARTHA GELLHORN: The purpose of being someplace and seeing it and writing about it is that you hope to make people see it also, understand it and feel something. But whether you do or not how can you know?
MITCHELL STEPHENS: The Americans who went to Spain believed in the Republican cause they wanted people back in America to know what was happening, to know, in some cases it was very terrible things that were happening
NARRATOR: In their zeal, the correspondents sometimes overlooked the facts. They downplayed the strength of Franco's forces, and exaggerated the Republic's chances for victory. And when Republican commanders executed hundreds of suspected fascist spies in their own ranks, none of the Americans reported it.
PHILLIP KNIGHTLY: It was committed, journalism, probably the beginning of real committed journalism where you were involved. You couldn't write objectively because it would have been treacherous to the side in which you believed.
RICK MACARTHUR: Choosing sides in a war is not necessarily a bad thing. Gellhorn and Hemingway I think, were passionately attached to a cause. And it may have blinded them in some ways, but may have also spurred them to try harder to get the story. War correspondents need more than just the truth to get them to risk their lives.
MARTHA GELLHORN: If Fascism was not defeated there then the Second World War was inevitable. We never stopped saying it. We were totally and absolutely convinced that they had to be beaten there and then. And those of us who cared about it cared about it I suppose more than anything before or since.
NARRATOR: On March 28th, 1939, Madrid fell to Franco's forces. Four days later, the Republican Army surrendered. Spain had not been the place to stop fascism after all.
"We always opened the windows against the blasts during artillery bombardments of Madrid," Martha Gellhorn remembered years later, "and played Chopin on E's wind up gramophone. Not defiance I don't think, but a reminder of loveliness in the world. Chopin meant the death of Spain. All that bravery and suffering for nothing."
NARRATOR: "You who stroll along the Great White Way, thinking complacently how far away it all is from peaceful America," Herbert Matthews warned in 1939, "you, too, will feel a tap on your shoulder one of these days and will hear the call... War has a long, long arm and it is reaching out for all of us."
NARRATOR: Five months after the fascist triumph in Spain, Hitler's army invaded Poland and the British and French governments issued an ultimatum: pull out within forty-eight hours, or there will be war.
Two days later, CBS radio went on the air live from a bombproof shelter in the basement of the BBC's Broadcasting House in London. Behind the microphone sat a 31-year-old American, a cigarette pinched between the fingers of his left hand, his foot anxiously tapping the floor.
His name was Edward R. Murrow.
ARCHIVAL AUDIO: [Murrow, 3 Sept. 39] At 9 o'clock this morning, London time, it was announced that a two hour ultimatum had been delivered to Germany, that at the end of that time hostilities must cease or Germany and Britain would be at war. At 11:15, the Prime Minister spoke to the nation, he stated that no reply had been received to the ultimatum and that Britain and Germany were at war.
NARRATOR: Murrow had not started out as a newsman.
When CBS first sent him to London, back in 1937, his job had been to produce talks by authors, and broadcasts of special events such as children's choruses, golf tournaments and dog shows. There was almost no coverage of international news on the network at all.
But when the Third Reich annexed Austria, on March 12th, 1938, Murrow had persuaded CBS to let him cover breaking news.
ARCHIVAL NEWS (Reporter): Washington...
At a time when most radio announcers simply tore copy from a wire service ticker and read it into a microphone, Murrow sent real reporters into the streets of Europe to get the story for themselves among them, William Shirer and Charles Collingwood, Eric Severeid, Richard Hottelet and Larry Leseuer.
Together, they revolutionized the way Americans got their news.
RICHARD HOTTELET: Murrow was driven to tell people in the United States what was going on in Europe and what was going on in Europe was the growth of Hitler to the dimensions of a world threat and the onset of World War Two.
NARRATOR: Now, on the heels of Britain and France's declaration of war,
President Roosevelt issued a statement denying any intention to involve the United States in the conflict. To preserve the spirit of neutrality, NBC and Mutual Radio closed down their European bureaus.
ARCHIVAL (Murrow): Hello America, this is Ed Murrow speaking from London...
NARRATOR: For a time, CBS would be the only American network with reporters on the scene. Murrow's days now were a blur. He was on the air at all hours, reporting Hitler's invasion of Denmark and Norway, the evacuation of Dunkirk, and the fall of Paris. "This is the end of an age," he wrote his parents, "the end of things I was taught to love and respect and I must stay here and report it if it kills me."
Then, the German Luftwaffe began dropping bombs on London.
ARCHIVAL AUDIO: On a roof somewhere in London is Ed Murrow...
Murrow: For reasons of national as well as personal security, I'm unable to tell you the exact location from which I'm speaking. Off to my left, faraway in the distance I can see just a faint red angry snap of anti-aircraft bursts against a steel blue sky. Now you'll hear two bursts a little nearer in a moment. (bursts) There they are, that hard stony sound.
BETSY WADE: When you heard Murrow's voice, you somehow could believe the entire fate of the western world was weighing right there as he spoke.
LARRY LESEUER: He knew the powers of silence and he would say. "Good Evening. This is London."
ARCHIVAL AUDIO (Murrow): This is London... Where the Autumn twilight closes in much too early. Tonight's raid started a few minutes earlier than last night's. There are no words to describe the thing that is happening. The courage of the people, the flash and roar of the guns rolling down the streets, the stench of the air raid shelter...
LARRY LESEUER: He was full of admiration for the people of London. I think it grew on him. And he saw what suffering they were undertaking.
ARCHIVAL AUDIO (Murrow): ...Ooze down the darkness here along these steps and see if I can pick up the sound of people's feet as they walk along. One of the strangest sounds one can hear in London these days, or rather these dark nights, just the sound of footsteps walking along the street, like ghosts shod with steel shoes.
NARRATOR: By the time the nightly bombing of London ended, in the fall of 1940, Murrow's broadcasts had begun to change the way many Americans thought about the war.
As the poet Archibald MacLeish put it the following November, at a black-tie dinner held in Murrow's honor: "You laid the dead of London at our door and we knew that the dead were our dead ... were mankind's dead. Without rhetoric, without dramatics, without more emotion than needed be... you have destroyed the superstition that what is done beyond 3,000 miles of water is not really done at all."
NARRATOR: One week later, on December 7th, 1941, Murrow and his wife Janet were invited to dinner at the White House. Throughout the day, there had been sketchy reports that the Japanese had bombed the American military installation at Pearl Harbor. But the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, had insisted the Murrows come anyway.
The President did not make an appearance at the table that evening. But sometime around 10:30, he summoned Murrow to his study, and in a voice seething with rage, began to reel off the losses at Pearl Harbor: the destroyed ships, the downed planes, the staggering numbers of dead and wounded.
The phrase "off the record" was never spoken. "I've got the greatest story of my life," Murrow told his wife later that night. "And I don't know if I should go with it or forget it."
PHILLIP KNIGHTLEY: the President told him exactly what had occurred and how America was in grave danger while the Pacific fleet was out of action and Murrow went home after the dinner and didn't write a word. He felt it would have been unpatriotic and would have endangered the outcome of the war to have done so.
NARRATOR: For the next four days, the Navy would maintain a total information blackout at Pearl Harbor. What news there was would come from official military sources and they would insist the damage to the American fleet had been minor.
The United States declared war on Japan on December 8th; three days later, Germany declared war on the United States.
In Washington, the newly-created Office of Censorship immediately issued a plea to the American press. "War touches every individual," a spokesman said. "Newspapers... and broadcasting stations must be as actively behind the war effort as merchants or manufacturers... no one can remain aloof."
MORLEY SAFER: It really was a war with a noble goal and great sense of national purpose. Everyone was on the team. Everyone believed in the cause.
PHILIP KNIGHTLEY: This was a war if lost would have resulted in world fascist domination. I think governments rapidly realized that most war correspondents would want to be part of the war effort. I mean, why would anybody, when their own nation, and their own relatives, and their own friends and family and community, are at risk, do anything other than support the war?
NARRATOR: In the months to come, hundreds of print reporters, radio correspondents, photographers and newsreel cameramen would be given permission to cover the war.
Every one of their dispatches would have to be submitted to military censors for review. But in exchange, the correspondents would be treated as an extension of the armed services. They would be briefed regularly, made eligible for decorations, and allowed unprecedented access to the combat zones.
As General Dwight D. Eisenhower declared in early 1942: "Correspondents have a job in war as essential as the military personnel. Fundamentally, public opinion wins wars."
NARRATOR: Four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a slight, balding newspaper columnist named Ernie Pyle stopped in at a Navy recruiting office near his home and tried to enlist but he was rejected for being too short.
He toyed with the idea of joining the Army instead, and actually passed the physical, before his enthusiasm for soldiering suddenly waned. "I could do more good ... keeping the parents informed," he explained to his wife, "than by being a hundred-and-four-pound typist soldier at Ft. Bragg or someplace."
Pyle had been wandering the western hemisphere for nearly seven years now, tracking down stories to feature in his daily column for the Scripps-Howard chain. Compared to celebrity columnists like Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, Pyle was still a minor light. But his homespun, often humorous columns about ordinary people had earned him a loyal following across the country.
Now, at 41, he was determined to do something for the war effort.
By mid-June 1942, he had talked his editors into giving him a six-month assignment overseas, and he and his typewriter were bound for the British Isles.
There was no fighting to cover yet, only the training and waiting done by thousands of boys from back home. So Pyle wrote about them column after column on the G.I.'s: about the lamps they made from beer cans, and their boredom with the food, and their impressions of the Brits.
The people at Scripps-Howard thought Pyle was on to something. "Folks... are a damned sight more interested in reading the homely, every day, what do they eat and how do they live sort of stuff," one of his editors said, "than they are in reading the heavy strategic... analysis sort of stuff."
So Pyle kept at it and in November, he went to North Africa with the U.S. troops, for their first major assault against Hitler's forces.
While most of his colleagues were covering the war from headquarters in Algeria, Pyle would be living with the 80,000 men of Army II Corp in the combat zone.
WALTER CRONKITE: He assigned to himself the G.I.'s; he never spent any time with the Generals and the Colonels; he was with the G.I.'s. That immediately set him apart. He was living with them; he could tell their story.
NARRATOR: "The outstanding thing about life at the front is its magnificent simplicity," Pyle told his readers. "You don't have appointments to keep. Nobody cares how you look... You don't even wash your hands before you eat, nor afterwards either. It would be a heaven for small boys with dirty ears...".
JAMES TOBIN: In a way, Ernie's style, it has the sort of humor of Mark Twain, to some extent. It sounds a little like Hemingway, people will say. It sounds a little like Steinbeck. But, uh, the more you read Ernie, the more you just think this is distinctively this guy's style.
NARRATOR: In May 1943, Pyle joined an infantry unit as they advanced into combat. For four endless days, he followed the G.I.'s over mountainous terrain studded with German fortifications. During the first 72 hours, the unit was under fire almost continuously, with only knee-high wheat for cover.
"Now to the infantry," Pyle wrote that spring, "the God-damned infantry, as they like to call themselves. They are the mud-rain-frost-and-wind boys. They have no comforts, and they even learn to live without the necessities. And in the end they are the guys that wars can't be won without."
MORELY SAFER: Ernie Pyle felt a mission about showing that life of the grunt. The GI Joe, his spirit, uh, his stoic ability to take whatever both the enemy and the officers threw at him and still come out of it smiling.
ARCHIVAL: You've been fighting up on that hill all the time. Why don't you tell me that story told me actually about the Germans behind the rock right ahead of you.
JAMES TOBIN: Ernie liked writing about people who were enduring difficult circumstances. That to him was heroism. So, if you're going to be a writer, especially during war, you write about heroes. That's how he defined heroes.
ARCHIVAL: We ran out of grenades so we picked up large rocks and threw at them till they finally gave up then.
JAMES TOBIN: He is able to transmit something of the experience of soldiers to their relatives back at home and their friends. And at the same time he is able to help the soldiers feel that people at home understand something of what they're going through. This is very important to soldiers. They don't want to feel ignored, misunderstood, overlooked. And because they're reading Ernie's stuff themselves and they'll say, my God, this is, this is much better than I could ever put it. And, they would tell their families read Ernie Pyle, that's what life is like for us.
JIM TOBIN: The terrible responsibility of the war correspondent is that he doesn't have to be there. At any moment, he can decide, with dignity, to say, I'm not going to do this one. The soldiers don't have that opportunity. They're brave, yes, but they have no choice but to be brave. I think some correspondents really did feel that they weren't going all out.
ANDY ROONEY: So many people we got to know were shot down, taken prisoner or killed. We, on the other hand, went back to our flats in London and lived quite a comfortable life. So, there was a certain feeling of guilt that I think most reporters had. We were covering the air war every time there was a raid. The crews came back, we would interview them. And sometimes they didn't come back. And I don't know who decided to do it, but we decided we better go on a raid, a bombing raid ourselves.
WALTER CRONKITE: We were very anxious to go on one or more missions. But we hadn't gotten permission yet from the airforce. Finally they did yield, and say all right, each news organization can nominate one person.
NARRATOR: They called themselves the Writing 69th.
The group included Walter Cronkite, working for the United Press, Andy Rooney, a reporter for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, and Robert Post for the New York Times. After a week-long training course at an airbase in Bovingdon, England, they would become the first reporters ever to ride shotgun on a bombing raid.
ANDY ROONEY: The raid we went on was only the second raid into Germany. I got on my bomber and I thought to myself. "Why am I doing this? I'm scared to death." The plane was a perfect target for the gunners from underneath and that was the frightening part of it, you just had to sit there.
VOICE (Andy Rooney reading): From the nose of Lt. Bill Casey's bomber I saw American Fortresses and Liberators drop a load of destruction on Willemshaven today. Peeling out of the sun came shining silver German fighter planes diving at one bomber in the formation and disappearing below the cloud banks as quickly as they had come. The seemed tiny, hardly a machine of destruction and an impossible target for our gunners.
ANDY ROONEY: I ended up with the best story because my bomber was hit. The navigator collapsed. His oxygen tube had been pierced and he lost his oxygen at 18,000 feet and he collapsed. I took my oxygen off and got an oxygen bottle and hooked up the navigator and he regained consciousness.
BETSY WADE: The casualty rate for those planes, the loss rate, was running one out of four. Robert Post of the New York Times was killed on this mission. His plane was lost.
NARRATOR: It wasn't until the reporters were on the ground again that they
learned that one of their own had not come back.
A few days later, fearing bad publicity over Post's death, U.S. Airforce authorities grounded the Writing 69th for good.
ANDY ROONEY: It wasn't safe, except that I felt so bad for all the men who did have to risk their lives all those times, that it just seemed like we all felt that it was the honest thing for us to do.
NARRATOR: By the end of 1943, the war had claimed the lives of tens of thousands of American soldiers. At Tarawa Atoll, in the central Pacific, more than 800 Marines had been killed in just four days. The campaign through Sicily had left seventy-four hundred dead; the invasion of the Italian mainland, some six thousand more.
The numbers of wounded were much higher. They were carted into the field hospitals behind the lines by the dozens, their bodies riddled with shell fragments or ripped apart by grenades.
And though the combat zones were crawling with correspondents, little sense of the horror ever made it back to the homefront.
Every frame of newsreel, every radio broadcast and written dispatch from the frontlines was reviewed by official censors and they held back anything they thought likely to damage morale. The United States had been in the war for more than 21 months before the government allowed photos of dead American soldiers to appear in print. And though there were newsreel cameras on the front lines, much of the graphic footage they captured would not be released until after the war.
But just as often, reporters censored themselves. "The tendency was to write about what the people wanted to hear," one correspondent recalled, "[and] most people wanted to hear about the successes and the heroes."
ANDY ROONEY: We had two censors traveling with us and they read everything we wrote, but very seldom took anything out because we knew what we could write and what we couldn't write. We were all Americans and we all wanted our side to win the war. So we did not want to do anything that could possibly damage our side.
MITCHELL STEPHENS: A war correspondent has conflicting loyalties. On one side, do you have some responsibility to protecting the morale? Is there a time when criticism should be withheld because its such a delicate moment in a military campaign? On the other side, you have a tremendous responsibility to the people, the people back home, to give them a fairly clear view of what's going on.
NARRATOR: The answer, for many correspondents, was simply to give readers a general sense of the war's progress the miles covered in a day's march, the territory gained or lost, the size and strength of the enemy.
Now and then, a reporter turned out a more nuanced account, one that managed to cast the grim reality of combat in a positive light. During the long winter of the Italian campaign, that reporter was Ernie Pyle.
JAMES TOBIN: Ernie wants to write honestly. He wants to write good journalism. What that means to him, good journalism is to write about what he sees, what he feels, what he can touch. But, there was the feeling that war correspondents followed during World War Two that people were not prepared, and certainly didn't want to read graphic descriptions about bodies blown apart, soldiers dying, soldiers in great pain. Ernie felt that it was better, in a literary sense, really to write about those things by implication.
NARRATOR: "I was at the foot of the mule trail the night they brought Captain Waskow's body down," Pyle wrote in December 1943. "Dead men had been coming down the mountain all evening, lashed onto the backs of mules... I don't know who [the] first one was. You feel small in the presence of dead men and ashamed of being alive, and you don't ask silly questions..."
"Then a soldier came... and said there were some more bodies outside... Four mules stood there in the moonlight... The soldiers who led them stood there waiting. ‘This one is Captain Waskow,' one of them said quickly. Two men unlashed his body from the mule and lifted it off and laid it in the shadow below the old stone wall... The men in the road ... stood around and gradually, one by one, I could sense them moving close to Captain Waskow's body."
"One soldier came and looked down and he said out loud: "God damn it!" Another man came ... [and] looked down into the dead Captain's face and then he spoke directly to him as though he were alive: ‘I'm sorry, old man.' Then a soldier came and ... he too spoke to his dead captain, not in a whisper but awfully tenderly, and he said: ‘I sure am sorry, sir.'
"Then the first man squatted down ... and took the captain's hand, and he sat there for a full five minutes, holding the dead hand in his own, and looking intently into the dead face... Finally, he put the hand down and reached up and gently straightened the points of the captain's shirt collar... And he sort of rearranged the tattered edges of his uniform around the wound. And then he got up and walked away down the road in the moonlight all alone."
CHRIS HEDGES: Ernie Pyle had that ability to uncover that kind of human pathos it's this incredibly simple or deceivingly simple scene that captures so much about who this officer was and what good leadership is and the loss of war, its all there, its probably 800, 900 words. It's beautiful.
JIM TOBIN: I think people did see into the war better than they would have if there hadn't been an Ernie Pyle. There was also because of him, a powerful sense of relationship, even of love, between the home-front and the men fighting the war overseas. That shouldn't be underestimated when we think about how the nation became a coherent fighting force during the war. That was important and Ernie had a lot to do with that.
NARRATOR: Early on the morning of May 29th, 1944, LIFE magazine photographer Robert Capa received a call, summoning him to the U.S. Army's 16th Regiment headquarters immediately.
A veteran combat photographer who had won wide acclaim for his work during the Spanish Civil War, Capa had been selected as one of the 28 "assault correspondents" who would cover the Allies' highly-anticipated invasion of occupied Europe.
Capa and his colleagues had been warned that censorship would be tight, and that their dispatches would be shared with the more than 500 reporters who would be left behind. None of the assault correspondents had been told the exact timing or location of the invasion just that they should have their blood types clearly marked on their i.d. tags, make out their wills, and be ready to leave at a moment's notice.
Now, at headquarters, Capa found officers studying a scale model of a beach along the Normandy coast, code-named "Omaha." The men of the 16th were scheduled to storm the beach on Tuesday, June 6th, at 6:30 in the morning.
Capa elected to go ashore with the first wave.
RICHARD WHELAN: There was no real financial or even career incentive to take such risks. It was very much a matter of honor. He felt that if he was going to photograph men risking their lives, he had to risk his own life equally.
NARRATOR: At three a.m. on June 6th, Capa ate breakfast with the men of the 2nd Battalion, Company E, on board a transport ship anchored just off the Normandy coast. A little more than an hour later, he was standing on a crowded landing craft, headed for Omaha Beach.
Just before they reached the sandbar, a storm of machine gun fire broke over the beach. Scores of men were hit before the landing craft ramps even went down.
Capa carrying only three cameras and several rolls of film rushed into the water. The wounded and dead were bobbing in the waves all around him. He fell in behind two G.I.s and made a desperate run for the shore. Once he got there, he turned around to photograph the men following behind him.
RICHARD WHELAN: It's very unsettling to look at some of his photographs and realize where Capa had to be. Ahead of the first wave of troops landing, here was this unarmed man with his back to the Germans. Not a good place to be. One of Capa's most famous maxims was 'If your pictures aren't good enough, it's because you're not close enough.'
MORLEY SAFER: You must understand that a reporter as a witness in a war really sees this much of the war at any given moment. Uh, that's what you see. I'm talking about in the thick of it. When there's people dying on both sides, and you're trying to see what's happened and take a little bit of cover at the same time. Your world is very narrow. Exciting, spectacular and dangerous, but very, very narrow.
NARRATOR: Up and down the coast of Normandy, reporters watched the invasion unfold. Ernest Hemingway followed the action from a landing craft off Omaha Beach. Martha Gellhorn was on a hospital ship, having snuck aboard in defiance of the D-day ban on female correspondents. CBS radio's Richard Hottelet gathered his impressions from an airforce Marauder, flying 4500 feet above the invasion coast.
RICHARD HOTTELET: It was like covering a fire. Covering a disaster. Covering a hurricane. You did what you could to keep yourself safe. And you, you noted what it was you saw. And uh, you never generalized because you, you never knew what was happening a mile away.
ANDY ROONEY: Every reporter saw a soldier shot through the head, shot through the stomach, drown in shallow water - he saw what happened within just a few yards of him, he knew too much about it, but he had no idea what was happening - really happening.
I remember being irritated when I read what they were issuing from headquarters. They said what a success the invasion had been. And of course they were right and those of us who saw what had happened on the beaches and the death and destruction were wrong - it had been a success. It didn't look like a success if you saw the boys getting killed.
NARRATOR: Eleven bloody weeks after D-Day, Allied forces drove the German Army out of Paris. And on August 25th, 1944, after four years of Nazi rule, the City of Light erupted in delirious celebration.
"Outside the hotel [Scribe,] inundating the Army vehicles there, were hundreds of Parisians," Irwin Shaw wrote in the New Yorker. "[They were] singing, shaking hands... weeping, kissing the soldiers, kissing the correspondents, kissing each other."
Across the street, on a third-floor balcony at the Grand Hotel, Ernie Pyle, Andy Rooney and a few others stood watching the pandemonium below.
ANDY ROONEY: We were looking down at the wild scene French women mobbing American soldiers, so Ernie looked down and he says "Boy, any GI who doesn't get laid today is a sissy."
NARRATOR: As Mutual Radio correspondent Paul Manning remembered: "The city was like a champagne dream."
For Ernie Pyle, who had been following the Allies since D-Day, the celebration was bittersweet. The fighting he'd witnessed in Normandy had been some of the most savage of the war. Near St. Lô, he'd seen Allied bombers mistakenly target their own men, killing 111 G.I.'s and wounding nearly 500 more. "I really don't believe I could go through that again," Pyle told his editor, "and still keep my sanity." Now that Paris had been liberated, he decided it was time to go home.
The Allies rolled on toward Berlin without him. The going was slow, and more than once it looked as if the tide were turning in the Germans' favor. But after victory in the Battle of the Bulge, the reporting became exultant. As one Associated Press correspondent wrote: "This is the greatest armored joyride in history."
Then, in early April 1945, the Allies reached Bergen-Belsen and Buchenwald.
ANDY ROONEY: When I was in college, I thought I was a pacifist. I almost registered as a conscientious objector. Got to the war and went across Europe and I got to Buchenwald. It just made me certain of how wrong I had been in college, how young I had been when I thought we had no business in that war. I had seen a lot up till that time, but there was nothing like Buchenwald.
NARRATOR: The first reports about the gas chambers had reached the United States more than two years before. But with World War One propaganda still fresh in Americans' minds, the story had received little attention.
MITCHELL STEPHENS: We like to think of the press as this great crusading force in American life, but often in American history, it has not been that. It has been reluctant to get too far ahead of public opinion often. And the coverage of the Holocaust is an example of that. The stories they ran about the Holocaust tended to be small, few, and underplayed.
NARRATOR: Now, for the first time since the U.S. entered the war, there would be no thought of shielding Americans from reality. They would have to be convinced that, unlike the atrocity stories that had circulated during the last World War, these were true.
ARCHIVAL AUDIO: [Edward R. Murrow, 4/15/45] There were two rows of bodies, stacked up like cord-wood. They were thin and very white. Some of the bodies were terribly bruised, though there seemed to be little flesh to bruise. It appeared that most of the men and boys have died of starvation, they have not been executed, but the manner of death seemed unimportant. Murder had been done at Buchenwald. I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I have reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it I have no words.
COLONEL JAY PARKER: When the concentration camps were discovered, the press had a crucial role to play and the military understood that. The press didn't need to get briefings from the generals, the press didn't need to get background. All that needed to happen was the gates to the camp needed to be opened, and the journalists needed to go in, and the photographers needed to take the pictures, and the story spoke for itself.
NARRATOR: Dachau was one of the last camps to be liberated. Just hours later, Adolf Hitler committed suicide. Within a week, the war in Europe would be over.
But for the correspondents in Germany, the horror of the concentration camps had given new meaning to the fight against fascism.
"I was in Dachau when the German armies surrendered," Martha Gellhorn would later write. "It was a suitable place to be. For surely this war was made to abolish Dachau and all the other places like Dachau and everything that Dachau stands for. To abolish it forever... We must know now that there can never be peace if there is cruelty like this in the world. And if ever again we tolerate such cruelty we have no right to peace."
NARRATOR: While the war in Europe was winding down, Ernie Pyle was on board the Navy command ship Panamint in the Pacific, where U.S. forces were making the final push toward the Japanese Home Islands.
The shocking reports about the concentration camps rattled in over the ship's wireless on April 12th, along with the news that President Roosevelt had died. Pyle quickly drafted a column to mark the end of the war in Europe, and then put it away, thinking he would revise it when the moment actually came. "And so it is over... ," he wrote. "I am as far away from it as it is possible to get... But my heart is still in Europe."
A sense of obligation had driven Pyle to the Pacific, a feeling that he could not deprive the soldiers and sailors there of the kind of coverage he had given the boys in Europe. But deep down, he had had more than enough of war.
"Once in a while I'll get in a low spell when the... details of death and misery get too real in my mind," he confessed in a letter to his wife. "It's just that I'd like so much to be home and not personally ever see any more war ever."
CHRIS HEDGES: Once you can't make sense of the savagery of war, um, then its like all the lights are flicked out. And that's probably why he didn't want to go back. Why it was so hard for him to go back.
NARRATOR: On April 17th, Pyle went ashore at Ie Shima, a few miles northwest of Okinawa. The Army's 77th Division had taken an enemy air strip there a few hours before, and now the island was mercifully quiet. Pyle spent the afternoon and evening talking with infantrymen, bedded down in an ammunition-storage bunker for the night, and in the morning, hitched a ride in a jeep headed across the island.
At about ten o'clock, a Japanese machine gunner opened fire on the jeep. Pyle and the other men scrambled into a ditch. A moment later, just as Pyle raised his head, the gunner fired another burst, hitting him in the left temple. He died almost instantly.
He was buried with his helmet on, in a long row of soldier's graves on the island of Ie Shima. Later, a crude marker would be posted at the gravesite. "At this spot," the marker read, "The 77th Infantry Division Lost a Buddy."
Back in the States, newspaper offices were besieged by calls from readers who wanted to confirm that the story of Pyle's death was really true.
JAMES TOBIN: There was someone who said that because of Ernie Pyle, an entire nation felt the war. That's probably over-stating his influence. But he was the best interpreter of the war that America had. What he really gave people was the experience of sharing in the war through the sheer power of the, of the written word.
ARCHIVAL (Pyle to soldiers): Thanks to all of ya for talkin' to me here and I hope the folks at home see you and see that you're alright.
NARRATOR: Among the personal effects found later in Pyle's cabin on the Panamint was the handwritten draft of the column he had begun several days before.
"And so it is over," he had written. "The catastrophe on one side of the world has run its course. The day that had so long seemed would never come has come at last... . [I]n the joyousness of high spirits it is easy for us to forget the dead... Dead men by mass production in one country after another month after month and year after year. Dead men in winter and dead men in summer. Dead men in such familiar promiscuity that they become monotonous. Dead men in such monstrous infinity that you come almost to hate them.
"Those are things that you at home need not even try to understand. To you at home they are columns of figures, or he is a near one who went away and just didn't come back. You didn't see him lying so grotesque and pasty beside the gravel road in France. We saw him. Saw him by the multiple thousands. That's the difference."
JIM TOBIN: Scripps-Howard never published that column. It tells a truth about war that people at home were not really used to. It's a truth that real soldiers, combat soldiers will tell you -- which is that war, ultimately, becomes about death, if you're the one who's going through it.
CHRIS HEDGES: War correspondents they all grapple finally with the horror. They may not give it to us completely unvarnished, but they all see it for what it is, and they struggle to communicate it. I mean, I think in the end we're the last romantics. Um because we keep fighting after we recognize how dark human beings are.
BILL BUFORD: There's a very complicated mission that a war reporter's got. To write something that a reader wants to read and to write something which is actually describing the ugliness of war. Giving us the narrative of war, it's also a way of making sense of the thing we can never make sense of. the great war reporter makes a narrative out of the thing that can't be told.
NARRATOR: Six days after the atomic bomb destroyed Hiroshima, Edward R. Murrow delivered one of his last wartime broadcasts from London.
In another forty-eight hours, Japan would surrender unconditionally to the Allies, and the greatest cataclysm of the century would be at an end.
But Murrow foresaw more conflict ahead. "Communism is an item for export," he told Americans. "So is democracy. The two are bound to compete. [The triumph of Allied arms] will not bring peace, but revolutions."
For more than fifty years, American correspondents had depicted war as an honorable pursuit a gallant adventure, a noble sacrifice, a glorious crusade against the enemies of freedom. But soon, the bitter struggles of the Cold War would challenge that view; and the heroic stories that had so united the country would give way to a more disturbing and far more divisive account, one that would alter the role of the correspondent in wartime forever.