At War With The Stars And Stripes

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Normally, being barless, stripeless, and in uniform had its advantages for the Stars and Stripes correspondent. The only instance in my own experience in which being an American soldier was the reason for not allowing me to cover a story occurred when the British reinvaded Greece in autumn of 1944. At the time I was covering Advanced Allied Force Headquarters (which wasn’t very advanced —it was in Rome; the regular AFHQ was still back at the palace in Caserta). From a friend on the British Eighth Army News , our allied opposite newspaper, I learned that some civilian correspondents were going to be allowed to accompany the British, but no American soldiers would be included. The given reason was that Greece was to be strictly a British “show,” on Prime Minister Churchill’s orders. No American uniforms were desired on the scene to complicate the future political leverage that the Churchill government wanted to exercise there alone. Months later we discovered that this part of the world was being made safe for the “democracy” of the restored Greek royal house.

When I requested permission to accompany the British and Parachute Brigade on the operation, I was politely refused. Then I heard that the U.S. 51st Wing would carry the chutists. I argued that they could not prevent me from covering just the American C-47’s taking part in the jump. A compromise was worked out: I would be allowed to go along but not to land in Greece. We took off from a base in southern Italy, flew across the Ionian Sea and along the Gulf of Corinth, and arrived in sunlight at the drop zone—a small airfield at Megara, west of Athens. Apparently the retreating Germans knew we were coming and had mined the field, but the Greek partisans, who included many Communists, had saved many lives by unarming the mines. The quite wonderful British “red devils” (whose berets were maroon, actually) hit the silk (not nylon, then) and fell to earth without losing a man; I had the privilege of joining them—because who would know otherwise in Megara?

After interviewing people on the ground and getting such vitally unimportant information as the fact that most of the Greek partisans I spoke to seemed to have brothers who owned restaurants in the States, I wrote my stories. Later, at Advanced AFHQ , I had to honor my end of the bargain by such devious datelines as “With the 5ist Wing over Greece”—which, curiously, included talks with Athenians on the ground. More important than the stories, however, I brought back one of the ripped silk chutes to Rome, and a seamstress there made dozens of scarves for my Stars and Stripes colleagues to wear around their olive-drab throats that winter of 1944-45 m Italy.

Nearly all staffers had come to Stars and Stripes from other outfits by hook, crook, or luck. The Mediterranean edition had begun to publish in Algiers on December 9, 1942, a month after the North African landings. It had been preceded by a London edition—the first of World War II—that started on April 18, 1942.

The British edition was Air Corps oriented, because that was the only war they had to write about for more than two years, until the second front was opened in Normandy. Our edition was, from the beginning, infantry oriented. Not being stationed in England, we were also more politically aware around the Mediterranean, because our basic story was the rise of France overseas and the fall of Italian fascism. By the time we reached Rome we were putting out a newspaper that was superior to many dailies in the United States to this day. It was eight pages long; later, twenty-four on Sunday, including a magazine, a news review, and color comics—a mechanical achievement we were proud of. All of us spent many a Saturday night folding in the comics by hand for the Sunday paper.

We were lucky to have two unusual men to guide the VV Mediterranean edition administratively and editorially—Egbert White, who had been a private first class on the First World War Stars and Stripes and, after an advertising and publishing career, had entered the Army a second time; and Robert Neville, a journalist who had specialized in foreign news as editor and correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune, Time magazine, and the adless newspaper, PM . In retrospect, what made them outstanding was that they not only knew their business but also had a high level of tolerance about the staff. Many of the young men they took on had little experience, but White and Neville were willing to take chances, defend whims, and deflect the Army brass.