After a few days in London, I took off by train for Prestwick airport in Scotland for transportation back to North Africa. This time I was given a place on a DC-6, a four-engine plane, not the two-engine DC-3 I had known too well previously in North Africa. The plane was equipped with interior gas tanks, which made smoking unsafe and forbidden. It took more than 20 hours on unpadded bucket seats. Among the passengers were a group of Free French characters who spent the time running up and down the plane entertaining themselves. We landed at long, long last in Casablanca. This time I knew the hotels and the procedure for getting a plane assignment for Algiers. Most of my friends from the previous visit had now moved on to Italy, following the war, so that's where I went. I rode from Algiers to Naples sitting on a load of shells too heavy for the DC-3. We jettisoned part of the load in the Mediterranean enroute and even then barely made it.
I had a dispute with The Correspondents Association about my assignment in Italy. We already had a man there (John Lardner) accredited to the Army. That, said the association, was Newsweek's quota. I would have to be accredited to the Air Corps, my unfavorite service. So I put up at a place run by the Air Corps for its correspondents—in an apartment house in Naples with about 20 other reporters. We were flown on missions, none of them of any moment, except an expedition to Fogia, a field created to accommodate bomber flights from London. With this facility, bombers could make the West-to-East run. The field was commanded by General Ira Eaker, who became a Washington friend in later years.
Naples was a mess at this point. The Germans, who had occupied it for a long time, had left time bombs concealed in all kinds of buildings. Two or three buildings blew up without warning every day. The streets were so clogged with military traffic that it was almost impossible to get around. At times I joined Lardner and Knickerbacker, a Chicago Daily News foreign correspondent, at their place in a British officers' club. John and Knick were expert scroungers. They'd interview supply sergeants, promise to get their names in dispatches home and then load their jeep with American groceries, with which they paid their rent to the British. Together we crossed the bay by launch at one point and spend a week in the luxury of Capri, an allied rest and rehabilitation retreat—white sheets, good food and no bombing. One could sit in comfort on a terrace and watch the fireworks in Naples.
Presently Newsweek ordered me to Turkey. Negotiations were then in progress to bring the Turks into the war on the side of the Allies. It didn't work out because the Turks' price in war materials was considered too steep. The deal had fallen through by the time I got to Turkey. I flew from Naples to Cairo, put up at Shepheards and negotiated for another ride in the direction I needed to go. I finally succeeded in getting a lift with the general commanding our garrison in Cairo but only as far as Aleppo in Syria. The general piloted his own plane and he was a lousy pilot, stalling in his too abrupt climbs and paying too little attention to what he was doing. I admired him, not for his flying, but for what he had done to stop Australian soldiers from beating up American soldiers on Saturday nights in Cairo. One Saturday he gave his whole garrison leave at one time and equipped the men with baseball bats. The Aussies were less belligerent after that.
In Aleppo, I bought what passed for civilian clothes because Turkey, a
neutral, allowed no uniforms. All I could get was a tweed jacket that
struck me just below the belt and a loud tie to wear with Army pants and
shirt. Thus equipped, I boarded the Orient Express
[strictly, the Taurus
Express] for the trip to Ankara, the Turkish capital, a new small
town. The Orient Express was shabby elegant and the passengers all seemed
to be dressed about as I was. They were mostly military and from both
sides. German was almost as commmon a language as French and English.
Both sides maintained large espionage organizations in Turkey. In Ankara
I found some old friends and even more in Istanbul, where I went after a
few days in the capital. Many of the Office of War Information employees
were newspaper people I had known at home. They were having a high time
propagandizing and looking after the American pilots interned by the Turks
after air raids on the
Ploesti oil field. Informal press headquarters was on the top floor
of a hotel overlooking the Bosphorus maintained by George
play boy governor of Pennsylvania and now a Naval
officer. He kept watch on the waterway through powerful telescopes while
at the same time welcoming the press. It was the cushiest war service I
had seen anywhere. We were all watched by
the terrible Turk, an
intelligence officer assigned to us by his government.
From a military field I was flown back to Cairo and then to Algiers, where I fell ill of Atabrine poisoning. Lots of others had the same thing. Atabrine was a substitute for quinine, which was in short supply. Some batches of the drug produced the symptoms of malaria, chills and fever and digestive upset. When I visited friends on the Stars and Stripes in Algiers they diagnosed my malady and sent me to a military hospital, where I spent the Christmas of 1943 feeling homesick and sorry for myself. The good ladies of the town visited the wards bearing the kind of hard candy the soldiers always passed along to Arab kids. They also sang Christmas carols in French. I was never more miserable.
Out of that, I caught a ride to Casablanca to get back to England for
D-Day. My priority for transport was so low that I had to wait a long
time in Casablanca, most of it in a military airport lounge. We who
waited passed the time playing poker with a mixture of French, Italian and
Algerian money. Also a few occupation dollars, which were at a premium.
After a few days a young pilot approached me and asked if I would fly to
England with him and his crew in a DC-3. With good luck and fair weather
that plane would go the distance but it was chancy. Again the boys wanted
the company of
an older man. They didn't know that the older man was
more chicken about flying than they were. I told the boy I'd go with him
if my passage on a DC-6 didn't come through by the time he left.
Fortunately, it did. After another seemingly endless ride I was back in
By this time, the Prestwick-to-London train was an old friend. The wait for D-Day was long but not unpleasant. We became well acquainted with our neighbors in Wilton Crescent, whom we encountered at our local pub, The Grenadier, situated at the end of a mews where Wellington's troop barracks had once been. It was frequented by employees of a nearby hospital and by many movie people, who couldn't have been less like the Hollywood celebrities. We played darts, exchanged stories about where we were when the last V-2 rocket landed. We drank weak mild and bitter and sometimes went to neighborhood parties. Once a week, when The Grenadier got its one-case quota of Worthington, England's only really good beer, the publican would close his place—“time gentlemen, please”—and admit us regulars at the back door to drink up the good stuff. The office made few demands on us, though we did work a little. At one point I went on a flying tour with a company of entertainers concerned with morale at U.S. air bases. My part was to make a little speech about the purposes of the war. In London I got to know Orwell; Douglas, the author of South Wind, one of my favorite books; and several MPs. The British were magnificently brave and friendly, all of them in the same leaky boat. A German rocket might land anywhere at any time. The Blitz with manned bombers was over by now but the V-1 buzz bombs took their place and the V-2's that came next were worse. One couldn't hear them coming. A building was wrecked or a great hole dug in the pavement as if by evil magic.
When the hospital near us was hit by a V-2 one
night, Newsweek thought it prudent to move us to a safer place.
We checked into the Savoy, a strong building. Many other correspondents,
waiting as we were, did the same thing. The result was a jovial
community centered around a 24-hour poker game. Bill Saroyan, although
a GI, lived there with us. The Army finally gave him leave to write a
book about the war. It was so critical of the Army that his book was
suppressed until after the war. By now we were all maneuvering for good
D-Day assignments and going on
dry runs to the staging areas in the
south of England. The idea was to confuse the enemy about the timing of
the invasion in case spies were watching, so we were told. I think it
was probably to keep us busy and out of mischief. Time
magazine with a bigger staff and more money outmaneuvered us at every
turn. Everybody wanted to land with General
Bradley's command but the number of places was limited and the Army
had bucked assignment decisions to the Correspondents' Association. I
pleaded our case at meetings to no avail. Finally I took my problem to
Barry Bingham, the Navy's PR officer in London. Don't worry, he said, I
could be accredited to the Navy with a good assignment. So I
with a beach master, a former Broadway actor, who would go ashore with
the fifth wave. When the time came the Navy gave us a big going-away
party in Plymouth and I was put aboard an assault transport ship manned
by the Coast Guard. I was feeling no pain and feisty.
Why not a first
wave assignment? I asked the captain.
No reason, he said.
give you a first-wave boat. He did and I woke up the next morning
slightly hung-over and regretting my chestiness of the night before. We
waited out the weather being lectured about what to expect in the
landing—burning oil on the water, perhaps, mined beach barriers,
etc. Relief maps showed us exactly what our beach was like.
We were aroused on The Day at 4 a.m. and fed. Coast Guardsmen lent me a
jumper and trenching tool. The roll of personnel was called over a loud
speaker for each landing barge. When it filled it was dropped over the
side of the transport by electrical winch. A Life photographer
named Sherman, the only other correspondent on my transport, didn't answer
the roll call. He said later that he didn't hear his name called. He
didn't land until later, if ever. The transport had been steaming through
the night to a rendezvous point, preceded by mine sweepers. The barges
also circled to rendezvous and then started the run to the beach. It was
rough and my 32 boatmates were almost all seasick and heaving their
breakfasts. Between the vomit and the salt water the deck of our barge
was awash. The sight as we approached the beach was fantastic. Patrol
boats leading the way were often hit by fire from the shore, pieces of the
artificial harbors flying. Barrage balloons towed by tugs were just behind
us. Over our heads came a barrage from ships' guns. And closer to our
heads silver streaks of torpedoes fired from small ships with torpedo
racks on their decks. Also just behind us were amphibious tanks, many
foundering before they reached shore but a few making it. I stumbled into
waist-deep water charging over the ramp at the end of the barge when it
was let down. I lost my helmet and my trenching tool but I got to the lee
of the sea wall flanking the beach without further incident. There I
joined General Roosevelt, assistant commander of the Fourth Infantry
Division, and volunteered to do some observing for him. He was trying to
make contact by walky talky with the paratroopers who had been landed in
the night on inshore targets. I also tried to help with the wounded
downed on the beach, code-designated Utah. On nearby Omaha Beach, by
contrast, our troops met with murderous fire from bluffs overlooking the
landing area. That's where most of the correspondents had been assigned
and, so far as I know, none of them got ashore early. They stayed with
their barges and returned to the transports. Served them right, I
maliciously thought. Captain Crisson, ranking officer on my barge, was
hit on the beach and invalided back to England. So, I learned years
later, was Senator Phil Hart of Michigan, then an officer on the Fourth
Division staff. Correspondents who landed later in the day at Omaha tried
to file their stories from the French side, where the Army had promised to
have wire facilities. But the facilities didn't materialize. Suspecting
that they wouldn't, I returned that evening with a barge load of wounded
to my transport and to the English side, where I caught a train to London.
I filed the next day from the Newsweek Bureau and gave CBS an
eye-witness broadcast, which Betty heard in Harbor Beach. White, the CBS
news chief, came on the radio as I finished to suggest that I come see him
about a job after the war. When I did he said:
Ken, stay where you are.
You're too old to make this kind of change. So Walter Cronkite was
Looking back on the D-Day experience, I marvelled at my luck. All I lost was the wrist watch Betty had sent me by Ernie Pyle the previous Christmas when I was in Algiers. It was supposed to be water-proof but it stopped at exactly H-hour and never recovered. Also I was full of a sense of history. The landing had been the turning point of the Second World War and the first successful military crossing of the English Channel since William the Conqueror. And I was there, Charlie. I could stand a little taller, I thought, like those who had been at Agincourt. The thought didn't last long. But the war proceeded, and my luck held.
On the Fourth of July 1944 I recrossed the Channel with a contingent of correspondents assigned to General George Patton's Third Army, not yet operational but soon to be. Our camp was set up in a Normandy apple orchard alongside Patton's headquarters. Each two of us were assigned a driver and a Jeep and turned loose. We made our own pairings. I jeeped a little with Ernest Hemingway but he was forever picking fights with our driver and, anyway, didn't stay at headquarters very long. He and Patton didn't get on. The area wasn't big enough for two such prima donnas. He took up residence with General Barton, commander of the Fourth Infantry Division, which suffered almost 80 percent casualties on the march to Cherbourg after D-Day. By July it was made up mostly of replacements. We jeeped around Normandy observing the fight through the bocage country and the futile attempt by the British to break out of the German encirclement. Finally the successful thrust was made by the Americans with Patton's tank divisions in the lead. Success owed much to a tank-mounted scoop, a battlefield invention for cutting passages through Normandy hedgerows.
The day before the attack I had gone to Fourth
Infantry Division headquarters to see if I could find Captain Crisson, my
D-Day friend, who, I had been told, was back on duty. I found Barton and
Hemingway camped near a hedgerow and lunched with them. They told me how
to find Crisson, which I did. He was in command of a rifle company
bivouacked in a wooded area.
Stick around, he advised.
This is going
to be the breakout point tomorrow morning. So I spent the night and
walked with Crisson early in the morning to a rise from which the
battlefield could be observed. The plan was to use a 3,000-plane bomb run
to soften up the Germans for a tank dash through the opening thus made.
The approach of the planes, wave on wave, was thrilling. But the thrill
presently gave way to panic. The first wave dropped a smoke screen to
mark the bomb line. The screen floated to a field just in front of us.
The first bombs dropped there. But a breeze carried the screen back over
our lines and subsequent waves of bombers dropped their loads on us.
Crisson tried to get his company under cover as the third wave hit our
hill. I tried to worm myself into a muddy rut left by farm wagons. I
could hear a stick of 500-pound bomb approaching, whoom, whoom, whoom. I
was neatly bracketed. One hit just behind me and another just in front of
me. I was saved, as many others were, by the soggy soil, which gave as
the bombs hit and cushioned the shrapnel. I took off for the rear,
running faster than I ever ran on the Beloit track team, ducking falling
bomb racks as I went. Presently I dived through the hedgerow and into the
arms of Hemingway, who was standing at an opening kicking German prisoners
in their rumps as they came through with their hands behind their necks.
You're right, I told Ernest.
The earth does move. He thought that a
knee slapper and after the war wrote a letter to Newsweek about
what a hell of a fellow I was. He, Ernie Pyle and I had been the only
correspondents with the Fourth Division that day. But a general, an AP
photographer and hundreds of soldiers with other units were killed. The
operation had been kept secret until it was over. Again I had played in
The next day Jack Beldon of Time, with whom
I had agreed to jeep, and I set out to follow a detachment of the Fourth
Armored Division through the hole in German defenses to Rennes, the
largest and presumably best defended city the Americans had yet
encountered. We were a small spearhead, the commanding general in a
personnel carrier, several truck loads of riflemen and our Jeep. The full
division was to follow. The general said he didn't want to be encumbered
for the time-being with supply services. Rennes, he said, would be
encircled and by-passed. The hazard was that the Germans would close
behind us the narrow strip between the Normandy and Brittany peninsulas
through which we had come. The Germans did mount a counter-attack there
but it was not successful. The way remained open. From then on it was an
armored and infantry dash to Paris with the Germans in more or less
disorderly retreat. We followed as best we could after putting up one
night at Mont-Saint-Michel.
Then it was Le Mans
and Chartres to the Falaise Gap, sleeping at night in bedding rolls
wherever we happened to be, scrounging for gas to keep going and living on
rations we had loaded in a trailer. The gap was left open at one narrow
end like a funnel through which the retreating Germans had to pass. They
were unmercifully beaten getting through. Teams made up of tanks and
fighter planes pounded the opening. At one point we were invited to
listen to communications between planes and armor.
Hate to shoot those
horses, said a Texas voice from a fighter plane. The Germans were
surprisingly dependent at this point on horse-drawn transport.
Eventually, after a night dash over unknown roads, Beldon and I found
ourselves in Rambouillet on the outskirts of Paris. Hemingway and several
other correspondents were already there. So was the Second French Armored
Division, which the Americans had thrust forward to bring off the
liberation of Paris.
However, the French botched it because Le Clerc, the division commander,
took his orders from DeGaulle rather than the Americans primarily
responsible for the operation. The U.S. Fourth Infantry Division had to
take over. Jack and I put up in a farm house between Rambouillet and
Paris so we'd hear it when the attack started. We heard the military
vehicles moving early one morning and joined the French column, whose
officers wanted no part of us and kept shooing us away. At a cross-roads
bistro we encountered Hemingway sitting out front with a brandy in his
hand and map on his lap. By that time he had recruited a force of French
underground fighters and they had pointed out the ways to Paris for him.
Hemingway gave us a route on his map which, he said, would get us to Paris
ahead of the crowd. We took it and presently found ourselves crossing an
abandoned airfield. But once we were committed to the clearing German
gunners opened up from two elevated clumps of trees on the edge of the
field. They were firing flattened-out anti-aircraft batteries. Great
balls of fire danced across the ground. We dived into a ditch and waited
for the German strong points to be reduced by armor. When it was all over
Hemingway drew up in a liberated German staff car.
What in the hell was
the idea, we demanded,
of sending us into this ambush?
had to find out what would happen here.
We flopped that night in a barn close to a canal. In the course of the night we were aroused by a band of youths wearing FFI arm bands and armed with rifles. They were prepared to shoot us as German stragglers unless we could prove ourselves. By now it seemed that everybody in France had a gun he wanted to shoot at something to prove that he had been a resister right along. We made it the next morning through the Port D'Orleans and to the Scribe Hotel, which was to be press headquarters in Paris. Paris liberated was more dangerous than the war. We entered with the Fourth Infantry Division. At street corners everything was stopped by jubilant mobs. Flowers and wine bottles pelted the Americans. German tanks looking for escape or for places to surrender dashed about. Gunfire went on sporadically all day and even the next day when DeGaulle marched down the Champs Elysées to Notre Dame Cathedral. There was even shooting in the Cathedral. At one point Jack and I headed down a narrow street and observed a German tank coming at us from the other end. Just then a Frenchman opened a garage door and beckoned us in. We accepted his invitation, left the Jeep and took off on foot from a back door. We never recovered the Jeep; we abandoned it without regret. But for the sanctuary of the garage there was no way out. Because of our trailer we couldn't back up. After a week in Paris at the Scribe and too much champagne laced with brandy I rejoined Third Army headquarters, now at Verdun. There the word was that the Third Army would be immobilized indefinitely in order to supply British General Montgomery, whose job it would be to move along the French coast and clear out the V-1 launching sites in order to relieve London. So I returned to Paris as emissary from the press camp to inform Hemingway, who had taken up residence at the Ritz, that he was to be court-martialled on orders from Patton for bearing arms in violation of the Geneva conventions regulating the conduct of civilian correspondents. He went around festooned in hand grenades and liked to shoot at Germans. I found him one day but Mary Welch, later Mrs. Hemingway, was draped over him so suffocatingly that I gave up. What I wanted to tell him was that he should see Harry Butcher, of Ike's staff, to get himself out of the jam. I heard later that there was a pro forma court-martial to clear him.
After that I returned to London. Newsweek thought that, at my age, I had probably had war enough. I thought so too. I was given passage on the Ile de France for the return to Boston. The Battle of the Bulge was being fought while I was en route. I could visualize the operation in Luxembourg because I had been there briefly before Paris fell. I had gone there after treating myself to a look at the Maginot Line, which by then was under attack by us. The Germans were being expelled from the bunkers by artillery moved up to the slits and fired at point-blank range. The trip to Boston was uneventful. Bill Douglas, one of my correspondent friends, was with me when I entrained for New York.
After the better part of two years at war, the U.S. seemed a little unreal. For a long time my mind turned back to scenes I had passed over or only just noticed when I was seeing them. In memory I was doing double-takes. A patrol boat turned turtle with the crew scrambling onto the slimy hull on D-Day. A bomber shot down in the break-through bombardment. An officer's leg shot off by an anti-tank slug as though severed by a knife as he sat in Barton's make-shift headquarters behind the St. Lo-Perrier road. Two soldiers run over by tanks on the road to Le Mans, flattened out like rugs. German corpses draped over the railings of a bridge on the way into Paris. Yet there is a fascination about combat the defies explanation. Perhaps it is so that life is never so much lived as when it is in jeopardy. I could say honestly when it was over that I had not been terrified except in the air. My worst moments came in what anyone else might have considered routine flights. I don't fly comfortably to this day.
Chet Shaw of Newsweek let Betty know when I would be back and made reservations for us at the St. Regis, like Newsweek, a Vincent Astor property. I had talked with her from Boston and asked her to meet me at Grand Central station. The only trouble was that we arrived at the Pennsylvania station. When we eventually got together I was trying to get a room for Douglas, who had been hurt in a Jeep accident and wasn't going out of his way to deny the general assumption that he had been wounded. He kept looking in on us at the hotel, to our annoyance. Betty had begged enough gas coupons to drive from Harbor Beach to Detroit, there to get a train for New York. We took a train from New York to Detroit and picked up the car for return to Harbor Beach.
I remember the next month as idyllic. A heavy coating of snow lay over land and harbor ice. The windows were frosted. The fireplace glowed. Bill and Gale were in school and the Bartholomews were in Florida. The Redfields were in residence across the road. Except that Bill fell through the ice while skating, there were no alarms to interrupt the cozy contentment. Bill was rescued by the presence of mind of a friend who tossed him a jacket to pull him out of the hole. Betty returned to Washington ahead of me to house hunt. At about this time Lee Miller was sent to the Pacific to succeed Ernie Pyle, who had been killed by a sniper bullet on Iwo Jima. So we moved into his apartment on 15th Street.
I had never expected to work for Newsweek after the war but Lindley asked for me and Old Man Muir, though he must have been reluctant about it, agreed to my employment in the Washington Bureau. My duties were vague. I did almost no reporting but busied myself rewriting stories for other reporters and, in effect, becoming a writing teacher for the wartime staff, which was made up largely of non-journalists. I shared an office with Teddy Weintal, a former Polish diplomat, whose command of English was not impressive. I went through his notebook every week and wrote what was worth writing. He covered the State Department and foreign embassies and turned up a lot of good stuff. I also wrote the Washington column called Trends. From that time on I did a minimum of reporting and a lot of writing on various jobs, which was all right with me.
What I wanted more than anything else at this juncture was a settled life, preferably in suburbia. So we bought a house in Belle Haven, outside Alexandria. We joined the garden club, worried about crab grass and generally conformed with the suburban way of life. We fixed a study for me on the third floor, moved in our files and told ourselves that this would be our permanent abode. Bill was entered as a day boy in Episcopal High School, which was a mistake from every point of view. After a year he reverted to public school and Gale went to St. Agnes. It was a quiet period. I had mounted the water wagon in London just before coming home and remained up there for the next 30 years. Betty joined me in due course. I established a market for pieces with the Saturday Evening Post and a few other slicks, which was good for the exchequer.
Then, out of the blue, came an invitation to become National Affairs
editor of Newsweek in New York. We sold Belle Haven at a profit
of about $6,000, which we spent decorating a New York apartment at 32 West
Tenth Street. We left Gale behind as a boarder at St. Agnes to finish
there before entering Beloit, where Bill already was, having graduated
from high school after a summer session to make up the educational lag
incurred in Harbor Beach. New York for five years was good for us. It
was a time of good musical theater—Oklahoma, Pal Joey,
Star and Garter, Pins and Needles, Call Me
Madam, Pajama Game, Can Can, New Faces,
South Pacific, etc.—and we enjoyed them all. We bought a cabin
in Putnam County overlooking Quaker Hill as a weekend retreat. But it
burned down the first day Betty and Gale were to spend there, leaving them
in their nighties and without enough money to pay tolls for return to New
York. I was at the office packed to join them for the weekend when Betty
called from a country neighbor's phone to tell me not to come and to
explain what had happened. We built a replacement for the cabin around
the existing fireplace and had a good time there for the rest of our New
York stay. We paid for the new cabin with insurance money and, as usual,
a loan on our life insurance. Gale worked as a counsellor in a girls'
camp near the cabin and Bill, after working for the Wisconsin State
Journal in Madison, came to New York job-hunting.
My working life in New York was anything but tranquil. When I walked into
my first story conference, Ray Moley, a columnist who had been an FDR
brain truster but turned very conservative, got up and walked out. I
learned later that he remembered the headline on a review of one of his
books I have written for the Nation. The headline read:
Moley, Moley, Moley, Lord God Almighty. We became friends later, much
later. Old Man Muir, a genius as an advertising salesman, was an
imbecilic editor. Yet he was the final authority in editorial as well as
business management. When we first arrived in New York, Joe Philliap, now
back from the war and again a Newsweek editor, told me:
They'll break your heart in six months. They didn't but at times they
seemed to be trying. The Old Man didn't know whether Newsweek
should be fashioned after Time or U.S. News. If, one
week, we produced an issue to compete with U.S. News, he complained that
it wouldn't meet the challenge of Time. The next week he had the
opposite complaint. My stock touched low after Lindley and I talked Muir
out of endorsing Eisenhower for President. When Ike won, the Old Man was
livid. Look how big he could have been in Washington had he been an open
Ike supporter. My stock when from low to lower and soon I was exiled to
Washington. My anti-McCarthy sentiments, expressed in a speech at the
University of Wisconsin, pushed me further into Muir's dog house. I was
disappointed not to have made top editor of the magazine, which I thought
I could have handled, but not shattered by the move back. The New York
rat race was not attractive unless it could be won. With the Old Man
holding the checkered flag I couldn't win.
This time we decided upon Georgetown as the place to live and rented an apartment at 30th and O Streets. Bill and Gale took over the New York apartment, Bill having landed a job with CBS and Gale, fortified with skills acquired at Gibbs secretarial school, also found a job in New York. Froggie, the smartest poodle I have ever known, strung along with Betty and me. Lindley didn't know what to do with me but finally decided to assign me to the White House where, having known Ike in the war, I presumably would have an inside track. It seemed to that I was back where I had started in the Coolidge Administration. I retreated from it almost at once to become assistant bureau manager and later succeeded Lindley as bureau manager while he devoted himself wholly to his weekly column.
Through all of this period I did a lot of moonlighting—television shows, magazine articles and a book for George E. Allen called Presidents Who have Known Me. Also pieces for the Saturday Evening Post and other magazines for Leon Volkov, a refugee former Soviet bomber pilot. I finally landed Leon a job on Newsweek and wrote his columns for him. I also ghosted most of General Carl Spaatz's military affairs columns when, upon his retirement as chief of the U.S. Air Force, he joined the Newsweek staff. I treasured the friendship and association of both Volkov and Spaatz and got a lot of entertainment from them. They were both, in very different ways, remarkable men. Through all of this Betty and I managed to see something of the world. Very early on we flew to Puerto Rico for the presidential inauguration of Luis Minoz Marin, whom we had known in Washington. Apparently with the Bermuda Triangle in mind, we told the kids what to do if anything should happen to us—use the insurance money for education, etc.—and they seemed a little disappointed when we got back. Our first expedition after the war was to England aboard a one-class Cunarder, a good voyage. I walked Betty's legs off seeing London and a little bit of Paris, where she suffered tourista. Later there was a flying trip to the Scandinavian countries, part of it as exchange journalistic guests of the Swedish government. Still later we shared two expeditions with Mary Hedekin—a train trip from Vancouver to Montreal through the Canadian Rockies and lake country, and a Mediterranean cruise taking in Gibraltar, Casablanca, Naples, Rome, Florence, Barcelona and Cannes. Without Betty, I made two trips to Europe on the 5th and 25th anniversaries of D-Day, both ending up on the Normandy beaches. Betty and I travelled several times to Caribbean countries and spent a number of vacations in the Virgin Islands. We also spent a month in India on a State Department–sponsored tour; I lectured working journalists and journalism schools. Betty saw the sights, including the Taj Mahal, which I missed. And finally, later than the times I have been writing about, Betty went with me via Hawaii, Japan and Hong Kong to Saigon, where the Vietnamese war was just starting in its American phase. More about that later. We stayed part of the winter of 1976 in Madeira with the Redfields, Muggs White and Lucy Barr. We got out of Lisbon on the way home just a day before the airport was bombed.
Over the years, too, we occasionally enjoyed the hospitality of the
White House. The most notable occasion was dinner with the Roosevelts,
Harry Hopkins and Admiral and Mrs. Richard Byrd, he the explorer. On
that occasion the White House telephoned Betty at St. Elizabeth's
inviting us for that same evening. She called a cleaner to take care of
my evening clothes and rushed home to get ready. We fortified ourselves
with strong drink and drove to the White House in an old Dodge coupe
given us by Bob and Ruth Allen, pulled up under the front portico and
left our ancient high boy right there. That car was so tall that it
barely made it through underpasses. The President and Hopkins had
obviously made a pact not to let Byrd hold forth on this latest
expedition to Antarctica. They were both in a playful mood, the
President coming to Betty's rescue when she spilled some soup and
discussing nylon stockings, which had just come on the market. After
dinner we went to Mrs. Roosevelt's sitting room on the second floor
where her purpose in inviting us came to light. She had received a
letter from her daughter, Anna, whose husband published a newspaper in
Seattle, complaining that the Seattle Guild was Communist-run and so
obstreperous that the paper was endangered. The trouble was that one of
the party girls I recognized was invited after dinner and I knew that
anything I said would be reported later that night to the comrades. I
said it anyway. In the Johnson Administration we were invited to large
dinners several times, LBJ having decided that he liked me when I sided
with him about Vietnam. We got there also in the Nixon Administration.
On one occasion we were invited for after dinner and I suggested to
Betty that we ignore it rather than go to the trouble of renting
full-dress clothes. She demurred before I received a telephone call from
the social secretary asking to be excused for
a terrible mistake.
The mistake was corrected when we were invited for dinner by invitation
delivered in a White House car. I sat one place away from Nixon and
helped him struggle to make small talk over the head of the silent woman
sitting between us. Just as we were getting up he said:
Ken, you were
perfectly right in that column you wrote this week. Why hadn't he
said that sooner? We would have had something to talk about. The column
argued that Nixon had made a mistake during his campaign promising to
bring us together—that the most any president can do is
bring together a coalition majority backing his policies. It is
impossible to please the whole electorate and it is futile and
self-defeating to try.
Through the war and through the post-war period I was obsessed with the
danger posed by expansive, imperialistic Russia. Even after Yalta, when
the Soviet Union violated the agreements to overrun Eastern Europe,
especially at first Poland, this country remained blind to the
depredations of our
noble wartime ally. Roosevelt was just beginning to
react to it when he died. When Truman tried to check the Soviets, he was
accused of betraying Roosevelt's policies. Finally, when the cold was at
last recognized, it was too late to stuff the genie back in the bottle.
My friend, Senator Bob LaFollette, was one of the first to understand what
was going on and made the first speech about it in the Senate.
Ironically, that speech was used by Joe McCarthy to help beat LaFollette.
Communist influence in the big Milwaukee unions was probably crucial in
the campaign. It is not drawing too long a bow to conclude that McCarthy,
the great Communist fighter, was elected by the Communists. The whole
thing infuriated me. I understood why LaFollette shot himself after his
defeat. It was a sad episode in a crazy slice of history.
We were on vacation in the Virgin Islands when I started getting telegrams from Ben Bradlee reporting that Newsweek was changing hands. It was being bought by Phil Graham, publisher of the Washington Post, from the estate of Vincent Astor, who had died. It was great news. Old Man Muir's effort to buy the magazine had been foiled. The Post would be an enlightened owner. Ben had fun with it. One message reported that Mrs. Muir, a notable anti-semite, was to be sent to Israel as U.S. ambassador. When we got home, Phil asked me to ride with him to New York to discuss changes in Newsweek. Ben was to succeed me as Washington Bureau manager and I was to write the column, written since the magazine's founding, by Lindley. Phil detested Lindley for reasons I have never known. I told Phil I felt indebted to Ernest for picking me up when I was down and didn't think that I could take the job unless Phil got his consent. He did get Ernest's consent by offering him full salary for five years. Having done this, Phil called me one evening and asked me if I would be content with the salary Ernest had been getting—about twice mine. I would be content.
During the Eisenhower and Truman Administrations I had a reliable
pipeline to the White House and it produced several good stories. My
line was George Allen about whom I had written a Saturday Evening
Post article and for whom I had ghosted a book. He was close to
both presidents and, although discreet, gave me many a useful tip. By
talking with him shore-to-ship while he was sailing home after a visit
to Ike in Versailles I learned that Ike would accept the Republican
nomination for President, then a subject of much speculation. Once I
interviewed Ike while he was president of Columbia, taking Muir along at
Muir's insistence. Allen quoted Ike later as saying:
I got along
fine with Ken but who was that little fellow with him? I also
learned from George that Ike had in effect asked Dick Nixon to quit the
vice presidency. Newsweek had the story out on Monday and there
was a press conference that afternoon. Would Ike admit it or would he
deny it? I was nervous as a witch. But the ticker brought the answer:
Ike said he had asked Nixon
to paddle his own canoe—all the
confirmation my story needed. George also was helpful as a Truman
crony. And amusing. I miss lunches and expeditions to the races with
him. However, Bill Crawford is a better handicapper.
Ben Bradlee, a Boston Brahmin by origin and an adventurer by nature, was a
close friend of Jack Kennedy when Kennedy set out to win the presidency.
They were next door neighbors in Georgetown and lived not far from us. On
occasion we dined with the Bradlees and the Kennedys in the Bradlee
garden. Once we were joined by an emissary from Adlai Stevenson's
entourage who urged Kennedy to settle for the vice presidential nomination
on a Stevenson ticket. Jackie, in her breathy, little-girl voice, said to
How can they expect Jack to be vice president when he has wanted
to be president ever since Harvard? Betty did rather too good an
imitation of this after Jack was in fact president. She thought Jack
charming, radiant and, in short, God's gift but we didn't think at the
time of the Bradlee dinner that he had any chance of becoming president.
By this time we had bought our house at 1412 30th Street, just across the
street from our Georgetown apartment. Jackie's mother lived only a block
and a half away. After Jack's election the Kennedy cat was entrusted to
Jackie's mother, who refused to keep it after it scratched up her grand
piano. So we took it. But we had to have it treated by a vet in whose
care it developed some bad habits. After the White House picked it up it
besmirched the Lincoln bedroom and was exiled.
We went to Beloit for Bill's graduation and later for Gale's, a double even for us because I was given an Litt.D. degree. I had previously received an LL.D. degree from Olivet in Michigan, having agreed to deliver the commencement address at the invitation of a fellow counsellor at Camp Lincoln for Boys in Minnesota. His name was Walt something and he was now the Olivet football coach. He explained that Olivet was a poor college specializing in the fine arts and probably couldn't pay my expenses but thought me worthy of an honorary degree. I negotiated Walt up from masters to a doctorate. My two degrees decorate a skimpy biography in Who's Who in America but I have no journalistic awards to go with them. Betty does rather better in the way of decorations. She has a gold pin for 1,000 hours of volunteer service at Columbia Hospital for Women and a certificate of accomplishment as a wartime nurses' aide.
Phil Graham, brilliant and charismatic when he was not psychotic, was good to me—too good. I think he felt a little guilty about giving my bureau job to Ben. I was delighted to get rid of it. I had never been a good manager and knew it. I was more concerned about keeping the staff happy and well-paid than about its product. I was never a company man. Phil first suggested that I do a five-a-week commentary on WTOP, the Post's television station. I was dreadful. I couldn't get through three minutes without fluffing to save me. I suffered agonies of mike fright. On a talk show without script I did well enough—on Meet the Press, Man of the Week, etc. But read from a teleprompter I couldn't. I went through it for several months in addition to writing a weekly column for Newsweek. But I was delighted with a chance to quit the broadcasts.
It came with another of Phil's brainstorms. Our correspondent in Saigon was a Frenchman named Francois Sully who fully shared the French view that if the magnificent foreign legions of France couldn't win in Vietnam, the rag-tag army of the U.S. certainly couldn't. Moreover, Sully had a personal feud going with Ngo Dinh Diem, the president. They had once, according to Diem, had a father-son relationship. Anyway, Diem not only banished Sully from his country but barred Newsweek as well. Phil thought Diem might accept me as a temporary correspondent and that I could smooth Diem's feathers enough to lift the Newsweek ban.
By this time Kennedy had dispatched a force of about 20,000 Americans to train Diem's army and help out in resistance to the Viet Cong rebels. The Americans' orders were to shoot only in self-defense. By the time I got there in 1961 they were doing quite a bit of shooting. Self-defense was a liberally interpreted order. Betty went with me. We paused in Honolulu, Tokyo and Hong Kong and settled into a room at the Caravel in Saigon. I helicoptered around the country in machines piloted by Americans but carrying mostly native troops. These gadgets were another form of aerial torture for me. But they provided the only means of transportation. The roads were already insecure. I didn't get anywhere near Diem for a solution to Newsweek's problems for about a month. Then I let it be known that I was leaving, mission unaccomplished. Suddenly I was deluged with invitations to interview Diem, his brother and his brother's wife, Madam Nhu, the dragon lady. Madam Nhu would see me in Dalat, where she had a summer residence, but at the same time that Diem would see me in his Saigon palace. I chose to see Diem, to Madam Nhu's outrage. One of her aides came around and told me what kind of written apology she would expect. I wrote it. The interview with Diem started with ceremonial tea drinking and lasted all afternoon. Once wound up, he talked on and on while my bladder became angrier and angrier. He would, he said, permit Newsweek to circulate again and accept a replacement for Sully, if the replacement were acceptable to him. Mission accomplished.
Betty, who had spent her time in Saigon hanging out at the American library and in parks, where she met all kinds of more or less interesting people, was as ready to leave as I was. We flew to Hong Kong, where we put up at the Merlin, a new hotel overlooking the harbor, and spent several days. We enjoyed it even though we were suffering a little from mal de Saigon. We then flew on to Hawaii for another few days after a pause in Japan. I wrote one long piece for Newsweek mistakenly suggesting that the Viet Cong would be no match for the American arms if the U.S. Army and Air Force were permitted to exploit their full potential. Second World War experience, it became clear later, was no guide to the fighting in Vietnam. This was something new and different to us. We underestimated the Viet Cong and its Communist backers from the beginning. And we were too squeamish, even in Johnson's time, to pulverize Hanoi and take the other brutal measures that might have changed the outcome. In retrospect, it's probably a good thing we didn't; we would now have the headache of supporting a client government in Saigon.
There were only two votes in the Senate against the original commitment of help for South Vietnam. The war in its initial stages was regarded as a logical extension of the struggle for free, non-Communist governments in other places, notably Korea. It was also fulfillment of Kennedy's promise in his inaugural address to fight any battle, make any sacrifice, etc., anywhere in the world in defense of freedom. I was naive enough to believe in all that and, I'm afraid, still am, emotionally if not intellectually. As the war proceeded with shock following shock I remained a hawk and regarded the hawks turned dove with some contempt. I don't regret that. What I do repent is misjudgment about our prospects. In hindsight, it is clear that we should never have intervened at all. But once we had, I still think we owed it to our South Vietnamese friends to stay with them to the end. The cease-fire in place negotiated by Kissinger wasn't worth a handful of confetti once Congress shut off funds for the South Vietnamese army. We should have known since Yalta that no agreement with a Communist government would be honored unless it could be enforced at gunpoint. The spectacle of our disorderly flight from Saigon is something I'd like to forget.
Back home I resumed writing the Newsweek column. Stew Alsop, a
gentleman and terrific journalist, came over to us from The Saturday
Evening Post, also as a columnist. We agreed pretty much and overlapped
in general approach if not in specific subject matter from week to week.
It made sense that one of us should be dispensed with. Since he was
younger than I and had the best sources of anybody in town, it would be
logical for him to stay and me to go. Both of us were crosswise of the
New York management by this time. The magazine had gone all-out dove.
I had other disagreements with what Ben called
the bastards in New
York having to do with their treatment of others in the Washington
Bureau, about which I sounded off. Nevertheless, it was a blow when
Kermit Lansner, whom I throughly disliked, was sent to Washington to
tell me that I was to be retired. He was later fired. By this time
Phil had committed suicide, and Ben was about to become editor of The
Post. Unbeknownst to me at that time, Stew went to Kay Graham to
complain about my treatment, though I didn't feel mistreated. I was 69,
well beyond normal retirement age, and from an institutional point of
view, I was highly dispensable. They didn't know then that Stew would
soon die of leukemia. The Post urged me to write op-ed pieces and obits
for them and I eased into retirement by doing so. Kay ordered me paid a
$10,000 a year bonus over pension for five years, at Stew's instigation,
I believe, and that was generous. Kay has consulted me occasionally
about Newsweek and took my recommendation to hire George Will
as Stew's replacement.
It occurs to me, parenthetically, that a lot of my friends have done away with themselves. Phil Graham (by shotgun), Bob LaFollette (by rifle), Nate Robertson, a PM colleague (by carbon monoxide), Duncan Aikman, another PMer (by hanging), and Ernest Hemingway (by hunting rifle). I draw no moral from this.
So I am about to be 76 as this is written. I look back with gratitude for good fortune, a few regrets for mistakes along the way, some of them traceable to alcoholic over-stimulation. I haven't accomplished anything very notable. But I've had a good life and most of my memories are pleasant. What I have to show for it is the wherewithal for a comfortable retirement (if inflation doesn't get too wild) and the blessings of family. Family endures, I find, as other values fade.
Bill and Gale have been a joy as children, as young adults and now (face it) as responsible middle-aged parents. We were delighted with their marriages and continue to be delighted with their consorts, Jean and Eddie. Between them they have brought five kids, all of them welcome and loved, into the clan. We grandparents think we have a hell of a family. Three generations of it extant and we hope we'll be around long enough to see a fourth. It has been quite a long road since that first automobile.