Monday, November 20, 2017

"Sheer Courage": The Marines, Robert L. Sherrod, and Tarawa

The men aboard the U.S. Navy’s Harris-class attack transport USS Zeilin (named for Jacob Zeilin, the seventh commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps), on its way to an operation in the Central Pacific in the fall of 1943, had few options for relaxation on their voyage. They played cards, read dog-eared magazines, watched movies, and slept, which one observer noted they could do “at any time in any position on almost any given surface,” including in their bunks, under landing boats, and on the ship’s deck. A

As they neared their combat assignment, the 1,692 enlisted men and ninety-six officers of the Second Battalion of the Second Marine Division that had called the haze-gray ship their home for nearly a week busied themselves with the necessary chores for battle. They meticulously cleaned their Garand M-1 semiautomatic rifles, M-1 carbines, shotguns, and Browning Automatic Rifles, and sharpened their bayonets. They also pared down their loads to the essential equipment they needed to carry—ammunition, canteens, entrenching tool, K-bar knife, field rations, medical kit, and poncho—for the planned November 20 assault against the bird-shaped, reef-fringed island of Betio (given the codename, Helen) in the Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands, located approximately eight miles north of the Equator.

The night before the marines of the Second Battalion were scheduled to hit their designated target—Red Beach 2—as part of what had been designated Operation Galvanic by navy officials, the enlisted men started eating their “breakfast” of steak and eggs (a traditional British meal the marines had come to enjoy while stationed in New Zealand) with fried potatoes at 10:00 p.m., while their officers ate at midnight. Thinking of the battle ahead, and the resulting casualties, a navy surgeon griped, “Jesus, that will make a nice lot of guts to have to sew up—full of steak.” In spite of the oppressive heat of the close quarters on the ship that left the men “swimming in sweat,” they washed down their meal with steaming cups of coffee. While a large group of about 500 marines knelt in the wardroom for a Catholic mass given by Father F. W. Kelly, another member of the ship’s company made his way to his junior staff officers’ bunkroom to make his own preparations for hitting the beach.

Robert L. Sherrod, a reporter covering the fighting in the Pacific for both Time and Life magazines, spent the bulk of his time on the transport studying the marines. To him, they looked just like any other “ordinary, healthy young Americans.” The Second Battalion men—most of whom were more than a decade younger than the correspondent—represented a cross-section of America. In civilian life they had been farmers, truck drivers, lawyers, and college students, and among them were both rich men’s sons and runaways from troubled homes. Although the marines came from the same places and used much of the same equipment as their GI counterparts, they had earned for themselves a reputation for excellence when it came to fighting ability, and a tendency toward bravado. When a reporter had asked a Second Marine Division rifleman if he felt afraid before the invasion of Beito, he had a simple answer: “Hell no, I’m a Marine.”

Sherrod had been impressed by what he had seen of the marines during their time together on the Zelin. Earlier in the war he had questioned whether or not young Americans had the heart to fight, but on the transport he came to understand that the marines fought almost exclusively on esprit de corps. “It was inconceivable to most Marines that they should let another Marine down,” he said, “or that they could be responsible for dimming the bright reputation of their corps.” He believed that it came down to a simple fact: The marines “didn’t know what to believe in . . . except the Marine Corps.” He added that the marines always assumed they were “the world’s best fighting men.” This confidence in their own abilities was often resented by other branches of the service, who viewed those in the Corps as arrogant. However, the marines’ brashness “paid off in battle,” said Sherrod.

A few hours before “breakfast,” Sherrod had gone to the cramped room (“a hell hole,” as he later described the accommodations) he shared with six junior officers and fellow correspondent William Hipple of the Associated Press. One of eighty Time Inc. reporters to file dispatches during the war, Sherrod found his helmet and placed inside it folded sheets of toilet paper and a jungle-green mosquito head-net. He also stuffed rations in the pockets of his green Marine Corps dungarees, filled two canteens with water, and stowed away two morphine syrettes and a two-ounce bottle of medicinal brandy supplied to him by one of the transport’s surgeons. Worried that if he were killed the Japanese might learn something valuable from the notes he had already jotted down during the voyage, he made sure to pack two fresh notebooks for his observations about the fighting on Betio. “My barracks bag, which contained all my clothing except what I wore, and my typewriter, I left to be brought ashore at some indefinite date—when the island was ours,” he recalled.

At about 8:30 p.m., Sherrod and his roommates turned out the light in their cabin and tried to get a little sleep. The correspondent could not drift off, and spent his time smoking cigarette after cigarette, hoping that lighting them did not awaken the others. He need not have worried. “When we were called at ten minutes before midnight, we all observed that we had been as wide-awake as a two-months-old baby yelling for his six-o’clock bottle,” Sherrod remembered. The excitement about the landing had been too much for most of them. They all half-believed (Sherrod nine-tenths believed) that the Japanese had evacuated Beito, as enemy forces had done on Kiska in the Aleutians after Attu had fallen to the Americans. “But there was the possibility...,” he added. Sherrod confessed in his notes at the time that if there were a large number of enemy on the island he would be “utterly unprepared psychologically.”

Nothing could have prepared Sherrod for the carnage he witnessed on November 20 on Beito, which ultimately became for him “the acme of all my personal horror.” On the morning of the invasion, the reporter stood on the Zeilin’s deck to witness the awesome bombardment coming from the sixteen-inch guns of the armada’s battleships, along with fire from the cruisers and destroyers of Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill’s Task Force 53. A Japanese soldier cowering for cover on the island marveled at the bombardment, describing it as “a frightening and horrifying experience! It went on and on, without ceasing; the shriek and rumble of heavy shells and the terrific explosions.” A score of U.S. Navy aircraft from carriers also bombed and strafed enemy positions. “The sky at times was brighter than noontime on the equator,” Sherrod observed. “The arching, glowing cinders that were high-explosive shells sailed through the air as though buckshot were being fired out of many shotguns from all sides of the island.”

Surely, Sherrod thought to himself as he viewed the spectacle unfolding before him, nothing could have survived after such an onslaught. After all, had not an American navy officer promised, “We do not intend to neutralize the island, we do not intend to destroy it, we will obliterate it.” (A more realistic assessment, however, had come from Major General Julian Smith, commander of the Second Marine Division, who noted: “Even though you navy officers do come in to about a thousand yards, I remind you that you have a little armor. I want you to know that Marines are crossing that beach with bayonets, and the only armor they will have is a khaki shirt.”)

Sherrod’s hopes of an easy battle were dashed a half hour after dawn when a shell splashed into the water near a ship only thirty feet away from his transport. The correspondent believed that American warships were firing wide, but a marine major shook him back to reality when he said, “You don’t think that’s our own guns doing that shooting, do you?” For the first time, Sherrod realized there were Japanese still alive on Betio waiting for the enemy to come ashore and fulfill their commander’s pledge that “a million Americans couldn’t take Tarawa in 100 years.”

As the marines began to carefully climb down the embarkation nets along the side of the Zeilin to the landing craft waiting below, the ship’s captain played “The Marine’s Hymn” over the transport’s public-address system and the crew cheered. Scheduled to be part of the fifth wave to land at 6:35 that morning aboard the battalion executive officer’s Higgins landing craft, Sherrod had a wet ride into the beachhead, as about a half barrel of water splashed over the boat’s high bow every minute. 

The marines crammed aboard the landing craft were thoroughly soaked before they had made it a half-mile away from the Zeilin. To help ward off the sudden chill, Sherrod drank from the small bottle of brandy he had stowed away, sharing its contents with the grateful marine standing next to him. “If there was ever an occasion for taking a drink at seven o’clock in the morning this was it,” said Sherrod. The shivering reporter added that his only memory of the first hour and a half of the ride toward the beach was of “sheer discomfort, alternating with exaltation.” His excitement quickly turned to fear as his landing craft came under a barrage of Japanese mortar and automatic-weapons fire. “I gritted my teeth and tried to smile at the scared Marine next to me,” Sherrod said.

The coral reef surrounding the island was exposed, preventing his landing craft from disgorging its load directly onto the beach. The correspondent and the fifteen men with him had to wade ashore for about 700 yards in neck-deep water with about five to six machine guns firing at them, averaging several hundred bullets per man. “It was painfully slow, wading in such deep water,” he said. Strangely, Sherrod realized as he struggled to find shelter on the beach that he was no longer afraid. “Perhaps it was when I noticed the bullets were hitting six inches to the right or six inches to the left,” he recalled. “I remember laughing inside and saying, ‘You Japs are certainly lousy shots.’” After the battle, he described this feeling to a marine officer he knew as his “hysteria period.”

Although he made it onto the beach without a scratch, Sherrod remained in peril throughout the first day of the battle—the only one in his long experience of covering the war in the Pacific that he believed U.S. forces might lose to the Japanese. Finding a semblance of safety alongside a coconut-log seawall constructed by the enemy, Sherrod watched as a Japanese artillery shell made a direct hit on a landing craft bringing many marines ashore. He could already faintly detect “the smell of death under the equator’s sun,” and watched, stunned, as a young marine about fifteen feet away from his position flinched as a bullet tore through his helmet. The marine survived; the bullet had missed his head. 

The first dead American the correspondent saw was a twenty-year-old crewman on a boat that had stalled on the beach during the first wave. “He had been shot through the head, had murmured, ‘I think I’m hit, will you look?’ and died,” Sherrod reported. The first enemy soldier he spied ran out of a coconut-log, tank-turret blockhouse into which marines had tossed in dynamite charges. “As he came out a Marine with a flame thrower was waiting for him,” Sherrod recalled. “As soon as the flame touched him the Jap flared up like a piece of celluloid. He died long before the bullets in his cartridge belt had finished exploding sixty seconds later.”
Between those two incidents, thirty minutes apart, Sherrod witnessed what he called “the most gruesome sight” he had yet seen during the war. A young marine walked briskly down the beach and turned to grin at one of his friends sitting next to Sherrod. “Again there was a shot. The Marine spun all the way around and fell to the ground, dead. From where he lay, a few feet away, he looked up at us,” the correspondent said. “Because he had been shot squarely through the temple his eyes bulged out wide, as in horrific surprise at what had happened to him, though it was impossible that he could ever have known what hit him.”

The ferocity of the fighting on Betio staggers the imagination. Flying over the battlefield in his Vought OS2U Kingfisher observation plane, Lieutenant Commander Robert A. McPherson could make out “the tiny men, their rifles held over their heads, slowly wading beachward. I wanted to cry.” A marine struggling ashore remembered the water around him colored “red or pink with a churning mass of spouting geysers; bodies were floating on the surface everywhere I looked; here a man moving along was no longer seen.” Private N. M. Baird never forgot the sight of bullets pouring at him “like a sheet of rain,” with Japanese fire “knocking out boats left and right.” The landing craft taking Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Swenceski, the commander of the operation’s tank battalion, to the beach had been destroyed by Japanese fire. Seriously wounded and knocked overboard, he struggled to keep from drowning by climbing to the top of a heap of dead marines; he survived. Lieutenant Colonel Herbert R. Amey, the Second Battalion commander, tried to inspire his marines by standing up and shouting as he waded through the water, “Come on—those bastards can’t stop us!” Japanese machine-gun fire slammed into his chest, killing him instantly.

Such scenes caused some marines to refuse to leave the safety of whatever cover they could find. A frustrated major bitterly complained to David Shoup, the barrel-chested, cigar chomping, and profane commander of the marines on Betio, that his men refused to follow him for an attack on the island’s airfield. “You’ve got to say, ‘Who will follow me?’ And if only ten follow you,” Shoup said, “that’s the best you can do, but it’s better than nothing.” Trying to get word of the dicey situation on Beito to General Smith and Admiral Hill onboard the USS Maryland, the battleship that served as the command center for the invasion (the opening bombardment had knocked out the ship’s radio communications), Shoup sent Lieutenant Colonel Evans F. Carlson with a message on what supplies were needed. “You tell the general and the admiral that we’re going to stick and fight it out,” Shoup told Carlson.

As night fell on the first day, American forces held a tenuous toehold on the island. Of the 5,000 marines who had landed on Betio, 1,500 were dead, wounded, or missing in action. The accurate Japanese fire meant that Americans could not use the island’s wooden pier to bring in heavy weapons, but had to haul them over the seawall by hand. As darkness settled on the island, Sherrod, who had miraculously found Hipple amidst the confusion, borrowed a shovel from a nearby marine and began looking for a place to dig a foxhole. He found one, located only ten feet away from a coconut-log pillbox with four dead Japanese soldiers still inside. “I was quite certain this was my last night on earth,” said Sherrod. For the first time since early that morning, he felt fear, as he did not know what might happen under cover of darkness. If the enemy counterattacked, he could see no other possibility than the marines shooting at the Japanese from behind the seawall until they were overwhelmed by superior numbers and annihilated. In spite of the growing terror welling up inside of him, Sherrod tried to joke with Hipple, whom he had been very glad to run across, convinced as he was that he was the only reporter left alive on the island. “Well, Bill,” Sherrod remembered telling his colleague, “it hasn’t been such a bad life.” Hipple responded: “Yeah, but I’m so damned young to die.”

The two correspondents survived the night, and were there for the ultimate American victory after nearly seventy-six hours of relentless fighting. It was a battle, Sherrod later observed, won “by sheer courage—when the Marines had nothing else to fall back on, they had courage.” The Second Marine Division sustained high casualties in winning the first major amphibious operation in the Pacific to be met with organized resistance on the beachhead. Approximately a thousand marines were killed and almost 2,300 were wounded; only seventeen Japanese were taken prisoner. The brutal combat, and the photographs of dead marines littering the beaches and bobbing in the surf that were eventually released for publication, shocked a complacent American public that had “never been led to expect anything but an easy war,” noted Sherrod. Nearly two years into the war, the country still, the reporter realized, found it nearly impossible to bridge the gap that separated “the pleasures of peace from the horrors of war,” a fact that frustrated Sherrod.

To awaken those on the home front to the understanding that there would be no easy way to win the war—he warned that “the road to Tokyo would be lined with the grave of many a foot soldier”—and to honor the men who had given the last full measure of devotion to their country, Sherrod, upon his return to the United States and in just six weeks, produced a book reporting in detail what he had seen while with the marines on Betio. Released on March 7, 1944, Tarawa: The Story of a Battle, remains a classic of war reporting. Julian Smith called the book “the finest account of any battle by land, sea, or air” that he had ever read. Civilian critics also praised the Sherrod’s work for its unflinching look at combat, with the often crusty Edmund Wilson of The New Yorker describing Tarawa in a 1944 review as exceptional. “His book,” Wilson said of Sherrod’s Tarawa, “has none of the vices of journalism, and it provides perhaps the best first-hand description of action that has yet come out of the war.”

Sherrod also personally lobbied President Franklin D. Roosevelt to release for public viewing authentic film footage of the fighting on Tarawa taken by marine cameramen that Roosevelt had described as gruesome. “Gruesome, yes, Mr. President,” Sherrod said to Roosevelt, “but that’s the way the war is out there, and I think the people are going to have to get used to that idea.” The documentary, With the Marines at Tarawa, went on to win the 1945 Academy Award for best documentary, short subject. (The film might have been too much of an eye-opener for some young Americans: A marine public relations officer told Sherrod that enlistments in the corps dropped 35 percent after the documentary’s release

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

On the High Seas: Robert L. Sherrod Sails to Australia

In long lines, the men moved forward, shuffling along the covered San Francisco pier at night to the ships that would take them to a destination that was, at present, a secret. Numbering in the thousands, the troops setting out on February 17, 1942, as part of convoy PW 2034 included a cross section of American society with a couple of millionaire’s sons and doctors of philosophy along with men who could not read. There were lawyers, cooks, plumbers, clerks, brokers, welders, mechanics, watchmakers, and the unemployed. Listed on the ships’ rosters were such last names as Cassini, Flanagan, Graziani, Johnston, Brooks, La Pierre, Cohen, Schlotfeldt, Wu, Paulson, Wroblewski, Economos, and Chalupniczak.

Also among their company were fourteen correspondents—the largest contingent of journalists to accompany an American expeditionary force since the American entry into World War II. The correspondents were, like their shipmates, somewhat confused about their new surroundings. Three newspapermen mistakenly boarded the wrong ship. They were fussily informed of their error by a steward, who shooed them off “with deep contempt with a diagram showing that our cabin numbers did not match his vessel and never would,” remembered John Lardner, the son of famed author Ring Lardner and a reporter for the North American Newspaper Alliance and Newsweek.

As he made his way to his berth on the SS Monterey, a former luxury ocean liner of the Matson Line converted for use as a fast transport under the auspices of the War Shipping Administration, Robert Sherrod of Time magazine noted that the soldiers boarding his ship were clad in the new M1 steel helmet meant to replace the tin-plate models worn by the doughboys of World War I. Sherrod stopped the soldiers’ commanding officer, the mustachioed Brigadier General Frank S. Clark, most recently the commander of the Coast Artillery School in Virginia and known for watching over the soldiers under his command like an “anxious mother.” Sherrod said to him, “General you don’t know how much it pleases me to see American troops finally equipped with decent helmets. Time magazine [has] been fighting for them for years.” Clark laughed and asked him if he might be hinting that he and the other correspondents, who had been issued the old-style helmets, were campaigning for their own M1s? Within fifteen minutes, Sherrod noted, the journalists received the new helmets.

There was little fanfare as the convoy pulled out of San Francisco. Hundreds of soldiers stood near the rails on the Monterey’s upper decks, craning their necks skyward to watch the seagulls screaming at them from overhead. A few shouted at troops on other ships, “See you in Tokyo.” The commonest remark among the men, noted Sherrod, was, “Boy, I’ll bet we don’t see this country again for a long time.”

It was the beginning of a six-month odyssey for Sherrod, who had been told in secret by officials in Washington, D.C., that he was on his way to Australia. During his time in the former British settlement, he traveled 40,000 miles, including 30,000 as a passenger on five types of U.S. Army Air Corps bombers and two different U.S. Navy bombers. He met every important American general stationed in Australia, as well as quite a few Australian generals and politicians, including the country’s prime minister, John Curtin, leader of the country’s Labor Party, and opposition leader Arthur Fadden. Sherrod visited every vital military base then in the area, from small air bases in the extreme north of Australia to Port Moresby in New Guinea, which suffered through its seventy-third bombing raid by the enemy during his time there. The danger of an imminent invasion of Australia by the Japanese was real, as a large portion of Australia’s best troops were fighting General Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps in the Middle East.

When Sherrod and the approximately 4,000 men scattered among the ships of the convoy sailed from San Francisco, they were leaving behind an American public gripped by an epidemic of panic fueled by the rapid advance of Japanese forces in the Pacific against possessions controlled by the British, Americans, and Dutch. U.S. forces on Guam and Wake Island (after a spirited defense by U.S. Marines) were overwhelmed, effectively isolating the Philippines, and, on January 2, 1942, Manila, the Filipino capital, fell to the enemy. Many people on the West Coast feared a possible Japanese invasion. General John L. DeWitt, in charge of the Western Defense Command, failed to calm fears when he warned the citizens of San Francisco, “death and destruction are likely to come to this city at any moment.”

Sherrod had arrived in San Francisco on February 8 and checked in with Lieutenant Colonel Truman Martin, who served as DeWitt’s “fussy public relations man.” For more than a week Sherrod waited with his fellow correspondents at the Saint Francis Hotel with no official word about where they were headed to or when or how. “It was fairly obvious to anyone who troubled to look at the map that we were going to Australia (as I had been told in Washington in deep secrecy) or to the East Indies [Southeast Asia] if they inconceivably held out,” he noted. The journalists mostly sat around in the bar of their hotel, bought “prodigious” amounts of equipment and clothing (Sherrod had most of his from his previous assignment covering army maneuvers for Time), and were vaccinated for typhoid, tetanus, yellow fever, and diphtheria. “The second typhoid shot almost killed several of us,” said Sherrod. “I saw dragons and pink elephants all night, though I hadn’t had a drink.”

From the moment he boarded the Monterey, Sherrod realized he had left behind his old civilian life for war. There were dozens of guns on every side to defend his ship from attack by sea or air, and they were manned twenty-four hours a day. He and every other passenger on the convoy had thrust into their hands a mimeographed instruction sheet that informed them they must wear a life preserver at all times and were ordered to have it within reach while they slept. Also, blackout conditions prevailed throughout the voyage and portholes had to be closed even in the hottest weather. Sherrod noted that the instructions also ominously added, “Be careful. If you fall overboard the ship will not stop to pick you up.”

In spite of the constant reminders of being in a war zone, Sherrod and his journalist colleagues were treated well, having some of the best quarters on the Monterey—all at a cost of $1.25 per day for food and board. He shared a four-room suite that had beds for eight with Jack Turcott of the New York Daily News and photographers Frank Prist of Acme and Ed Widdis of the Associated Press. “Mostly, the trip has been one meal after another, plus about twelve hours’ sleep every night, including a couple of hours before lunch and before dinner,” Sherrod wrote his wife, Betty.

Civilian waiters served peacetime menus in the wardroom—omelettes for breakfast and four-course dinners with steaks or lamb chops, a luxury Sherrod never found on another transport during the war. The fancy fare shocked the austere General Clark, who soon restricted items such as passion-fruit juice and squab. “Let’s have honest victuals in honest amounts,” Clark said.

With fresh water rationed for drinking purposes, the correspondents had to shave and bathe in gritty salt water. Outside of sleeping and eating, the only duty required of the journalists was a daily afternoon boat drill, or “abandon- ship” drill. “We’ve grown so accustomed that we go through that mechanically,” Sherrod noted. After the first few days he even stopped thinking about enemy submarines. “You awake with a start from your daydreaming sometimes and find yourself hoping that the lookouts and the convoy ships aren’t as unmindful of submarines as you have grown to be,” he said.

Sherrod estimated that no more than 2 percent of the men aboard the Monterey and its sister transports of the convoy, the SS Matsonia and SS Mormacsea, had ever been at sea before and there were a few dozen cases of seasickness before the men gained their sea legs. “There sure is a lot of water out here,” was a trite phrase he heard frequently on the ship. The endless vista of water and more water caused one soldier to vow that on his next sea voyage he planned on filling a bottle with dirt to bring with him so he could have some land to look at.

Most of the servicemen were from New England, while among officers were a slightly disproportionately large number of southerners, who later bristled at the Australian soldiers’ habit of referring to their American counterparts as “Yanks.” Also included at the last minute, to the “great surprise” of the convoy commander and staff, said Sherrod, was a complement of several hundred “husky” African American stevedore and service troops that included a few from the South, but a majority from Chicago, Saint Louis, and other Midwestern cities. They were commanded, as was usually the case in the war, by white officers. It was surprising to Sherrod that black troops were on a convoy whose destination might be Australia, as that country had long ago instituted a “White Australia” immigration policy; its War Cabinet had also tried, but failed, to keep African American soldiers from entering its shores.

In a later dispatch to his editors at Time, Sherrod reported that whites on the convoy were cautioned to never refer to the black soldiers by any derogatory racial epithet, but as “colored troops.” Although some feared trouble might occur as blacks and whites mingled on the tight confines of the transports, no clashes occurred during the voyage (it would be different once they reached their destination). All of the troops were “phenomenally healthy,” said Sherrod, in part due to daily calisthenics conducted for forty-five minutes on the ship’s upper deck. “So assiduously did General Clark exercise his troops ‘to keep their alimentary canals’ clear that there were only 13 constipation cases midvoyage,” Sherrod noted. The soldiers burst out laughing at themselves the first time they attempted to touch their toes wearing, as mandated, the bulky life preservers that “they called their wives,” he added.

The correspondents’ presence engendered plenty of comments from the troops. Lardner recalled that one private demanded to know what the large, white “C” on his green armband stood for—Canadian or Cop (it was correspondent). “He had never seen anything like it,” Lardner said. “Neither had anyone else.” The journalists ranged in age from twenty-seven to fifty, with most of them married with children, Sherrod reported. He enjoyed most of their company, writing that the only “heel” in the crowd was the Englishman, W. B. Courtenay of the London Daily Sketch, who proved to be obnoxious to his American counterparts from the voyage’s start, locking himself in the bathroom fifteen minutes before breakfast so nobody else in his quarters could shave.

Of all the luxuries of civilization, the reporters missed most of all the information they had been used to reading in daily newspapers. Sherrod called the ship’s newspaper “terrible,” as the dispatches printed in it were only a few paragraphs in length and “tell virtually nothing. Sometimes the biggest news of the day is evidently omitted.” For example, the news about the shelling of the California coast by an enemy submarine consisted of a two-day old paragraph quoting U.S. Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles saying it was a typical Japanese trick. “We never did find out what damage was done, or whether anybody was killed, or whether the submarine got away,” said Sherrod. To help matters, the correspondents contributed their own articles, including one about Australia by Kirkland, who had visited there for four months on assignment from Life, as well as sports articles from Lardner, a former sportswriter who knew boxing champion Joe Louis and loved to ruminate about baseball. In Sherrod’s estimate, Bill Courtney of Collier’s wrote the best article, one about the other troops he had traveled with—the Germans, Italians, Russians, and Japanese. The reporters also spent many evenings giving lectures before two hundred to three hundred soldiers, with Lardner and Kirkland the most in demand.

To help relieve the monotony, soldiers played cards, including poker and bridge; shot craps, especially after payday; and placed bets with Lardner on their eventual port of call. Brisbane, where they eventually landed, had 11 to 5 odds, while one captain in the quartermaster corps risked a dollar on Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (100–1 odds), telling Lardner he had never “passed up a hundred-to-one shot in my life.” Lardner, joined by Carleton Kent of the Chicago Times and Martin Barnett of Paramount Newsreel, formed a singing trio known as the High Seas Hillbillies, and the group’s renditions of “Moonlight Bay” and “Mandy Lee,” Lardner recalled, could “empty a cabin faster than the call to ‘Battle Stations.’”

The favorite shipboard pastime, however, according to Sherrod, involved rumor-mongering. “One officer delighted in starting rumors then betting on how long it would take to boomerang back,” he said. Some of the rumors included that the convoy had sunk a submarine during the night and was being pursued by five others, the Monterey had been loaded improperly and was likely to overturn, and, the most distressing of all, that Tokyo had announced sinking the convoy and the U.S. Navy had confirmed the news.

Most of the soldiers wrote an endless stream of letters, so many, in fact, Sherrod said, that extra censors had to be recruited among the officers. “One censor remarked at how many soldiers wrote midvoyage, ‘Dear Millie we have arrived Australia and like it fine,’” he recalled. Troops also relished reviewing a list of Australian colloquialisms furnished by Matson Lines’ officials: “bastard” was a term of endearment, “diggers” were Australian soldiers, “screw” meant weekly wages, and “knocked up” meant tired out. Upon hearing that Australian earthworms grew to twelve feet in length, one soldier mused, “I wonder what kind of fish they catch with those.”

The weather varied greatly on the trip, beginning in “equatorial heat,” noted Sherrod, but gradually turning cool with stiff breezes. Only a day away from its destination, Brisbane, now an “open secret” among the crew and passengers, the convoy ran into a severe storm. The troops, “weary of the wastes of water,” said Lardner, “saw more water than they had ever dreamed of.” Sherrod remembered that the preponderant noises were the straining and creaking from the Monterey, the pounding of the seas, and the screaming wind. False reports were passed from man to man that the heavy seas had torn away the ship’s rudder. Sherrod, however, later learned that the Monterey’s captain had “to give the order to heave to or lose all steering control.” Nearly half of the ship’s lifeboats were shattered, with the wooden shards punching out the glass in numerous portholes. The flying glass badly cut some civilian aviation mechanics, but most of the injuries caused by the tempest were merely cuts and bruises.

There were few signs of panic among the troops. They had been paid that day and continued their gambling in spite of the rolling seas causing poker chips to fly into neighboring compartments and dice to roll for long distances. “You suppose this thing’s going to turn over?” asked some soldiers. Sherrod questioned the Monterey’s first officer if it had been the worst storm he had ever seen, and he had responded, “No, not quite, but it’s the damndest thing this ship’s been in.”

The night after the storm featured heavy, but not violent, waves. Drama ensued when Ensign James Parks, a navy signals officer, burst into the correspondents’ suite to relay the news that the London Daily Mail had just announced that the convoy was only a couple hundred miles from the Australian coast. Sherrod noted that most of the journalist’s comments were too salty to be printed. The calmest response came from Byron Darnton of the New York Times who muttered, “Stabbed in back by [an] ally.”

The correspondents’ consternation at the slipup in secrecy was heightened by their discovery that the Monterey had become separated from the rest of the convoy. Sherrod said that a “helpless feeling and grimness” underlay the usual banter among those onboard until the Brisbane harbor finally came within view. “Australia’s green shores and trees looked mighty good,” he said. Lardner recalled that those on the Monterey had to endure the jibes from those who had arrived before them, with soldiers lining the decks on other ships to yell at them, “Hello there, also-ran! Get the lead out of your pants!”

Sherrod reported that the Australians ashore shouted and waved handkerchiefs at the new arrivals, and the Americans let out a “mighty yell” when they spied the first woman they had seen since leaving the United States. They also tossed American cigarettes and coins at the Australian stevedores and soldiers, who threw back their own coins.

Standing at the rail of the ship looking at the green Australian horizon, Sherrod asked the man next to him, Captain John Dice, a Tennessee-born graduate of West Point, what it took to win a war in addition to guns, ammunition, and planes. The captain replied: “Just guts—guts to sit under guns when you know your next breath may be your last.” When Sherrod wondered if the young men he had grown to know on the voyage had what it took for such an effort, Dice responded: “Hell Bob, these are American soldiers."

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Upcoming Book Signings

Shortly after his best-selling book Tarawa: The Story of a Battle was published in 1943, Robert L. Sherrod, a World War II correspondent for Time and Life magazine, observed, "I was naive enought to supporse that an author was finished with a book, once it was written."

As Sherrod learned, there is plenty to occupy an author's time once his or her book has been published. With that in mind, I will be available to sign copies of my new book about Sherrod's wartime experiences, Dispatches from the Pacific: The World War II Reporting of Robert L. Sherrod, at several locations over the next few months. The times and dates are as follows:

Friday, October 6, 2017

Writing in Wartime: Robert L. Sherrod and Tarawa

Late in the afternoon of March 7, 1944, Robert L. Sherrod, a reporter who had been covering the war in the Pacific for Time and Life magazines, boarded an Eastern Airlines plane for a flight from New York to Washington, D.C.

Sherrod was in a good mood because his first book, Tarawa:The Story of a Battle, detailing his experiences with the Second Marine Division battling Japanese troops on Beito Island in the Tarawa Atoll, had just been published—an event, he noted, that “lives in the memory, like the day I was married, the day my first child was born, the day I got my diploma.” That same day the book had received a glowing review in the New York Times, with the reviewer, John Chamberlain, writing that Sherrod’s work marked the first “real book-length introduction to what war can actually mean to a peace-loving people.”

As Sherrod settled happily into his seat, he turned and noticed that sitting next to him was a skinny navy lieutenant who looked too young to be a veteran of combat. Sherrod was astonished to see that the officer was carrying a copy of his new book. He took all of five minutes before he turned and asked the officer his opinion about what he was reading. “It’s O. K.,” the young veteran said, “pretty bloody but that’s the way it is out there.”

The officer, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, went on to explain that he had just been released from a naval hospital on Staten Island and was on his way to Florida to visit with his family. One thing that Kennedy forgot to mention, Sherrod recalled later, was his heroic exploits after his Patrol Torpedo boat (PT-109) had been sliced in half by a Japanese destroyer, the Amagiri, one dark night in August 1943 in the Solomon Islands. For his courage during the ordeal, Kennedy had earned the Navy and Marine Corps medal.

After Sherrod introduced himself as the book’s author, Kennedy passed his copy over to him and asked him to autograph it for his mother, Rose. It was the start of a nineteen-year acquaintance between the two men that ended at a White House luncheon President John Kennedy gave for Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia in October 1963—just a month before Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. “You were my first fan,” Sherrod reminded the president.

Sherrod’s book had its start on December 14, 1943, when he received a contract from the publishing firm of Duell, Sloan and Pearce for delivery of an approximately 40,000-word manuscript about Tarawa to its offices before February 1, 1944. As he prepared to work on the book, which was based on notes he had taken while the battle still raged around him and without the benefit of any official documents, Sherrod kept one thought in the back of his mind: To tell “wishful-thinking Americans that war is not always the romantic, smashing adventure the afternoon newspaper headlines make it; nor is it a duel that is won by swarms of high-flying airplanes. War is a cruel, desperate necessity which calls for courage and suffering. It is too bad, but it is true.”

The editor Sherrod worked with, Charles A. Pearce, had high hopes for the book’s success, writing Sherrod early in December, “The more I think about your book the more convinced I am that it is going to be a very much needed contribution and I wish we had it in hand to send off to the printer today.” Although he noted that war books had enjoyed an “uneven fate,” with some selling extremely well and others faring badly, Pearce promised Sherrod that his book would be the biggest on the publisher’s spring 1944 list and would be given “the absolute, fullest backing from the home office in advertising and promotion.”

In outlining his plans for the project, Sherrod said that although many people were trying to find someone to blame for what the heavy casualties that had occurred on Beito, the battle had been won “by sheer courage—when the Marines had nothing else to fall back on, they had courage.” The correspondent also noted that although his work would not be the best-written book of the war—he usually revised his work two or three times but would not have the time to do that with this book—he firmly believed it would be “one of the most exciting books of the war, and I believe it will be the best covered battle story of the war because I lived through every minute of it and I experienced it as thoroughly as anybody on the island did.”

Sherrod urged Pearce to be prepared to have the book printed as soon as possible, as the Marine Corps had asked him to help with a book by its own correspondents about Tarawa—an offer he had declined. Also, it might not be long before “there will be other battles perhaps bigger and bloodier than Tarawa. It seems we should strike while the name is hot.”

The reporter had received permission from his superior at Time, T. S. Matthews, to proceed with his Tarawa project, and Matthews agreed to review the manuscript when finished, making a suggestion here, turning over a paragraph there, crossing out a few words, and marking certain passages “this doesn’t make sense.” To make doubly sure of his accuracy, Sherrod brought aboard Mabel Schubert, who had served as fact checker on some of his articles for Time. He told her not to hesitate to make corrections when needed. “I’d rather have it right than come out ahead of the other books about Tarawa,” he said.  Before going to the printer, the manuscript would also have had to pass a review by the U.S. Navy’s book censor in Washington, D.C., Lieutenant Commander Harold Say.

Sherrod, who had rented a room in a downtown Washington, D.C., hotel to have the solitude necessary for writing, made sure to let Allen Grover, a vice president at Time Inc. and assistant to publisher Henry Luce, know about his new project. “I think it is a story that should be written,” Sherrod explained to Grover. “The people are wise enough to know that their own press has misled them these past two years—like their own sons overseas, they are beginning to suspect that we actually have not been knocking [the] hell out of ’em the past two years.” The manuscript should be finished by January 15, 1944, Sherrod estimated, and he expected to be back in the magazine’s New York office by February 1.

Grover gave his blessing to the project, but did express some reservations, noting that sometimes, when Time’s writers used their vacations to write books, they would “write themselves out—and return to the magazine stripped of ideas, emotion and vigor. But I know you have a hell of a supply of all three, so I’m not worried.” Sherrod wrote Glover back telling him not to worry, noting he should have the opportunity to get a couple of weeks’ rest before returning to his Time duties in early February. “You see the pressure is on me,” Sherrod said. “But I think I’ll make it.” He even anticipated being able to work on the book as he flew to Detroit, Michigan, on January 10 to make a speech before the Automotive Engineers Society.

By January 9, Sherrod had reached the halfway point in his work, and was racing madly to meet his deadline. “My wife, who is actually my severest critic,” Sherrod wrote Pearce, “thinks that first half is swell. She likes practically nothing I write, so I don’t know whether to be comforted or not.” Sherrod was less sanguine about his progress in an earlier letter to an officer friend in San Francisco, Captain C. A. Woodrum Jr. of the Fifth Amphibious Corps, admitting that the work “is killing me.” Although it seemed simple enough to write a narrative on a subject for which he had fairly complete notes, Sherrod had found it “awfully hard to put words between two hard covers.”

His publisher had high expectations for the Tarawa book, believing it would be read by more people than war correspondent Richard Tregaskis’s 1943 best-seller Guadalcanal Diary, later made into a film with the same title, or any other book yet produced about the war. As a “gloomy fellow,” however, Sherrod could not “see any reason to share their optimism.” Sherrod and his publisher did agree on one thing—a title. As he had worked on his manuscript, the correspondent had suggested “Report from Tarawa,” but later agreed with Pearce on the sales conference’s consensus, “Tarawa: The Story of a Battle,” noting, “it suits me.”

By January 19 Sherrod found himself still 4,000 to 5,000 words short in spite of working for thirty-six straight hours and finishing 144 pages. He faulted himself for repeating too many verbs, but noted there were only so many he could use to describe bombing and shelling in his dazed state of mind. “I have used the word ‘fucking,’ which my wife objects to strenuously and I don’t like overly,” he admitted to Pearce. “I have used the word ‘ass,’ which is a favorite Marine word several times. Perhaps too many times. But I’m in favor of retaining it where no other word can very well be substituted.”

Sherrod did express some confidence in the book’s chances with the public. “This is no masterpiece,” he said, “but it is factual reporting to a degree that hasn’t been done before. And the evaluation is solid, I’m sure, after talking to the smartest officers I know.” By late January, Sherrod had finished, and celebrated his achievement by traveling to Hot Springs, Virginia, for a well-earned rest, sleeping sixteen hours one night, twelve hours the night before, and fourteen hours the night before that, he wrote Matthews.

Published on March 7, 1944, with a first printing of 25,000 copies, Sherrod’s Tarawa: The Story of a Battle, proved to be a hit with the critics, the public, and the military, having to go into a second printing of 15,000 copies by the end of the month and edging into the best-seller lists of the New York Times and New York Herald Tribune—all this for a book whose last thirty-some pages listed the names of those who were killed or wounded in action on Beito.

By the first of May Sherrod could report to John E. Drewry, his old journalism teacher at the University of Georgia, that the book had done far better than he had expected, with its first three printings totaling 50,000 copies having sold out. (Later, the book appeared in a dozen languages, including Hungarian and Serbo-Croat, and sold five times as many copies when it was printed in Japanese in 1950 than it had in English, noted Sherrod.) “Booksellers generally think the public is fed up with war books, and I am frankly surprised that mine is doing as well as it is,” Sherrod wrote a friend.

The book’s initial success had been spurred in part by a positive notice from one of the country’s most respected critics, Edmund Wilson, whose reviews appeared in The New Yorker magazine. Wilson called Tarawa an “altogether exceptional book produced by a war correspondent,” as it eschewed the usual “vices of journalism, and provides perhaps the best first-hand description of action that has yet come out of the war.” The battle, he continued, had been reported by Sherrod “in all its misery, mischance, and confusion just as it was lived through by one man. Not, however, that Mr. Sherrod is particularly interested in himself; he differs from certain other reporters of wars in not being at all preoccupied with his own reactions to danger; he merely notes, along with other things, as details of the general picture, his frights or forgetfulness of bullets. He sets down what people say, what they do, how they look.”

John Chamberlain of the New York Times reiterated Wilson’s view, describing Sherrod’s effort as “the first real book-length introduction to what war can actually mean to a peace-loving people,” capturing, as it did, the sights, noise, and smell of battle."

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The General and the Reporter: George Marshall and Robert L. Sherrod

The telephone call came early in the morning on Saturday, November 15, 1941, in the Washington, D.C., home of Robert L. Sherrod. He had been expecting a busy day, as he needed to pack for a trip to cover U.S. Army maneuvers in North Carolina as part of his work as Time magazine’s military reporter. The 295,000 members of infantry and mechanized units set to clash in the region between the Catawba and Dee Rivers needed to train all they could that fall. Nazi Germany soldiers had already overrun much of Europe and were closing in on Moscow, the capital of the Soviet Union. Closer to America’s own shores, German U-boats ruled the Atlantic Ocean, daring even to sink ships from the U.S. Navy.

Sherrod had been in Washington, D.C., as correspondent for Time Inc.’s office in the nation’s capital since 1936 and had seen the staff grow from two people to twelve for the three publications in Henry Luce’s empire—Time, Life, and Fortune. Since June 1941, however, Sherrod had switched from the political beat to covering the slow buildup of American military forces. It had been a long, uphill fight to respectability for an American army that ranked seventeenth in size and combat ability, just behind Romania, when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939.

In the summer of 1941 Sherrod had traveled to the swamps of Louisiana to report on how approximately 400,000 U.S. troops fared in maneuvers—then the largest the army had ever held—that ranged over an area of 3,400 square miles under the direction of General Lesley J. McNair, chief of staff, General Headquarters, U.S. Army.

The reporters covering the maneuvers, including Sherrod, had been impressed with what they had observed of the soldiers, some of whom were equipped not with the modern weapons needed for battle, but ersatz substitutes (wooden signs marked where machine guns, antiaircraft guns, and foxholes should have been situated on the battlefield). “These maneuvers have been very good for the army,” said Sherrod. “There have been a lot of mistakes, but they have learned a lot. It’s a good thing. . . . Their morale is much better than it was two or three months ago. For one thing, they have to work so hard during maneuvers they dont have time to think about morale. Morale among the Armored Forces and Air Forces and among all the Southern troops, who are busting to get into war, is especially high.”

At his house in Washington in December preparing to cover additional army maneuvers, these in North Carolina, Sherrod was surprised to have his packing interrupted by a telephone call from Lieutenant Colonel Stanley Grogan, the War Department’s deputy chief of public relations. “Can you come to a secret conference with General [George] Marshall at 10:15?” Grogan asked. Sherrod agreed, and Grogan promptly hung up the phone, as he had calls to place to other journalists.

Including Sherrod, seven Washington correspondents—Ernest Lindley of Newsweek, Charles Hurd of the New York Times, Bert Andrews of the New York Herald Tribune, Eddie Bomar of the Associated Press, Lyle Wilson of United Press, and Harold Slater of the International News Service—gathered in Marshall’s office at the Munitions Building for what Sherrod remembered as “the most astonishing press conference” he ever attended in a journalism career that spanned more than three decades.

Filing into Marshall’s office, Sherrod observed that the general stood before a massive map of the Pacific, embellished with, as Sherrod noted, “connecting semicircles and quarter circles.” Marshall, the army’s chief of staff since 1939, impressed the Time reporter, who described him as exuding “the same sort of integrity one finds in a [Gilbert] Stuart portrait of [George] Washington.” Marshall started off by saying he was embarrassed at calling a press conference that would not produce any news, as what he had to say had to be considered top secret. Dressed in civilian clothes, as he customarily did in peacetime, the sixty-year-old Marshall told the assembled reporters that there were some things he wanted to tell them, Sherrod recalled, “in order that our interpretations of current and forthcoming events did not upset essential military strategy of the United States. In other words: Be careful what you print.”

Without raising his voice, the general said, “The United States is on the brink of war with Japan.” Sherrod was not surprised by this statement, as anyone who had been reading the newspapers knew that relations between the two countries “had gone from bad to terrible, particularly since President Roosevelt had frozen Japanese assets four months earlier, which effectually cut off Japan’s oil supply.” If war did break out, Marshall said the United States had an asset the Japanese did not know about, as the American military had “access to a leak in all the information the Japanese are receiving concerning our military preparations, especially in the Philippines,” where General Douglas MacArthur had been called back to active duty as commander of army forces in the Far East.

“In other words,” Sherrod quoted Marshall as saying, “we know what they know about us, and they don’t know that we know it.” The reporters did not know it at the time, but they had been given a hint at one of the government’s most closely guarded secrets—American cryptographers had been able to decipher Japan’s diplomatic code, an operation codenamed MAGIC, and could intercept and decode the messages sent from Tokyo to Japan’s overseas embassies (U.S. Navy cryptographers later broke the Japanese Imperial Fleet’s code, helping win the crucial Battle of Midway).

Marshall told the reporters that counter to what the Japanese believed, the United States was not only prepared to defend the Philippines, but that the American military also expected to undertake the offensive against Japan. In addition to sending a large number of advanced B-17 Flying Fortresses to MacArthur, Marshall said shipments were headed to the general that included the military’s new 75-mm gun, as well as tanks and dive-bombing units that had participated in the recent maneuvers in Louisiana.

“This information will be allowed to leak to the Japanese (it is miraculous that they haven’t learned about the Flying Fortresses, but the two attempts that have been made to publish the fact have been thwarted),” Sherrod wrote in a confidential memorandum about the meeting to his Time editor, David Hulburd. “But it must be allowed to leak privately, from the White House or the State Department directly to Japanese officials. . . . If it got out publicly, the Army fanatics in Japan would be in a position to demand war immediately, before we were better fortified.” If the leak went only to the right officials, they could, Sherrod added, say to top members of the Japanese government that the Americans meant to bomb their cities and possessed the means to do so. “In that way,” Sherrod wrote, “no public face-saving would be necessary, and war might be averted. The last thing the U.S. wants is a war with Japan which would divide our strength. The Germans are pushing the Japanese from 19 directions to get them into war with the U.S., as everybody knows.”

Marshall told the assembled reporters that if war did break out with Japan, the United States would “fight mercilessly,” intending to send B-17s on missions to set the country’s paper cities ablaze, and the Flying Fortresses would soon be joined by the new, long-range B-24 Liberator bombers. “Nothing that I am telling you today is publishable, even in hinted form,” Marshall warned the journalists.

One aspect of a war with Japan had gone without mention by the army chief of staff—the role the American navy would play in the Pacific. Given that a number of the country’s fighting ships had been diverted to the Atlantic to meet the U-boat threat, Marshall, in a comment that seems incredible in light of what was to come, stated, according to Sherrod’s account: “The grand strategy doesn’t include the use of much naval force.” (Navy men to whom Sherrod talked to expressed confidence they could “polish off the little bastards” in a matter of three or maybe six months, he recalled.) Marshall believed that U.S. bombers would be sufficient to deter Japanese naval strength, with America’s “high flying big bombers” able to wreak havoc on the enemy. Sherrod noted that army air corps officers were enthusiastic about their bombers’ ability to drop their loads “into a pickle barrel from 15,000 feet” with the aid of the top-secret Norden bombsight. The bombers did display considerable accuracy, he added, at least “on a clear day with no enemy to harass them.”

Gasoline and bombs were already in place at landing fields in Australia, New Zealand, and Borneo, Sherrod reported, as well as a half dozen other spots, and supplies were being sent to India, where the British were not yet prepared to protect shipping in the Indian Ocean. Marshall warned the reporters that the “danger period” for the United States was the first ten days of December. “If we get by that, we’re OK until February,” Sherrod wrote. “By then MacArthur will have plenty in the Philippines.”

(Unfortunately, the dive bombers never made it to the Philippines, nor did the additional B-17s. A few weeks after the December 7 Japanese attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands, and its subsequent quick dispatch of U.S. aircraft in the Philippines, Sherrod was part of another media conference with Marshall in Washington. His only recollection of that meeting is the general “shaking his head and saying: ‘It’s all clear to me now except one thing. I just don’t know how MacArthur happened to let his planes get caught on the ground.’”)

In spite of admonitions from Marshall that his remarks should be kept in confidence, news reports about the general’s assessment of the coming conflict with Japan slowly began to make their way into print. On November 19, just a few days after Marshall’s media conference, the New York Times ran an article by Arthur Krock that outlined how the long-accepted view that the United States would not defend the Philippines in case of an attack by Japan had been altered and now America had the ability “to attack any far Eastern power that strikes at the island.”

Sherrod also played a role in passing along what he had learned from Marshall, confiding in a friend, fellow reporter Ralph McGill. The two men had worked together at the Atlanta Constitution—McGill, at first, in the newspaper’s sports department and Sherrod as the “greenest cub reporter.” After finishing his assignment covering the army maneuvers in the Carolinas in early December, Sherrod had lunch in Atlanta with McGill, now editorial page editor for the Constitution. Sounding off in all of his Washington wisdom, Sherrod relayed to his friend that the United States was soon “bound to be at war with the Japs.”

On December 2, in his column “One Word More,” McGill passed along to his readers an “interesting story” he had heard—the Japanese had been told by the American government that it was determined to defend the Philippines and could launch a counter-attack on any foe in the Pacific from its bases on the archipelago. “This country is ready to go to war with Japan,” McGill wrote. “Japan now knows it. She knows what some of our plans are. She reportedly knows what we have [militarily] in the Philippines.” McGill went on to write that the Roosevelt administration preferred a course of peace, and saw “no reason to fight Japan so long as Japan does not encroach on our interests.” Still, the columnist concluded, because the Japanese government was firmly “in the grip of a military clique which must fight to survive,” Japan would likely “go to war even though the people do not want it. It looks like war and that soon.”

After his meeting with McGill, Sherrod flew to U.S. Army Air Corps command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, staying there a day or two during a bout of miserable weather waiting for the skies to clear for a flight home to Washington. He arrived in Washington about noon on December 7, immediately going to bed with a cold. “My wife woke me about 3:30 [p.m.], and announced calmly: ‘The Japs are bombing Pearl Harbor.’ I knew then I wouldn’t be in the U.S. much longer.” 

He was correct. By February 1942 Sherrod, joined by thirteen other correspondents and photographers from a variety of news agencies, was on his way to Australia on a convoy with army troops sent to bolster the meager defenses against a possible Japanese attack—a situation that correspondent John Lardner of the North American News Alliance grimly recalled as “the unready and peace-loving [the United States] against the swift, hungry, and prepared [Japan].”

Sherrod and his compatriots survived a rumored near-collision with an enemy submarine and a violent storm that delayed their arrival at Brisbane. Standing at the rail of the ship looking at the green Australian horizon, Sherrod asked the man next to him, Captain John Dice, a Tennessee-born graduate of West Point, what it took to win a war in addition to guns, ammunition, and planes. The captain replied: “Just guts—guts to sit under guns when you know your next breath may be your last.” When Sherrod wondered if the young men he had grown to know on the voyage had what it took for such an effort, Dice responded: “Hell Bob, these are American soldiers."

Monday, August 14, 2017

Book Signings for Robert Sherrod Book

I will be signing copies of my new book Dispatches from the Pacific: The World War II Reporting of Robert L. Sherrod, recently published by Indiana University Press, at a few locations in Indiana.

From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, October 14, I will be part of the 2017 Indy Author Fair at the Indianapolis Public Library, 40 East St. Clair Street, Indianapolis. Approximately forty authors represented a variety of genres will be at the fair. Also, authors and book lovers are invited to participate in free writing and publishing workshops presented by the Indiana Writers Center immediately following the fair. For a listing of activities, go to Meet An Author, Be An Author.

From noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, December 2, I will be one of the numerous authors at the Indiana Historical Society's fifteenth annual Holiday Author Fair. The free event will be held at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, 450 West Ohio Street, Indianapolis, Indiana.

In addition, I will be talking about the book on Nelson Price's radio program "Hoosier History Live!" at noon on Saturday, November 11. Also appearing on the program with me will be Allen D. Boyer, author of the book Rocky Boyer's War. That book examines Allen's father's service in the Pacific with the Fifth Air Force, an account based on the diary kept by First Lieutenant Roscoe "Rocky" Boyer.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Book on WWII Correspondent Robert L. Sherrod Now Available

According to the Washington Post, Robert L. Sherrod’s stories of the Pacific theater of World War II were “some of the most vivid accounts of men at war ever produced by an American journalist.” Now, for the first time, award-winning author Ray E. Boomhower tells the story of the journalist in Dispatches from the Pacific:The World War II Reporting of Robert L. Sherrod, an intimate account of the war and the journalists who risked their lives to cover it, recently published by Indiana University Press.

In the fall of 1943, armed with only his notebooks and pencils, Time and Life correspondent Robert L. Sherrod leapt from the safety of a landing craft and waded through neck-deep water and a hail of bullets to reach the shores of the Tarawa Atoll with the US Marine Corps. Living shoulder to shoulder with the marines, Sherrod chronicled combat and the marines’ day-to-day struggles as they leapfrogged across the Central Pacific, battling the Japanese on Tarawa, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. While the marines courageously and doggedly confronted an enemy that at times seemed invincible, those left behind on the American home front desperately scanned Sherrod’s columns for news of their loved ones.

“Sherrod’s dispatches to Time and Life magazines brought America’s bloodiest war to a sometimes unknowing and complacent home front,” explains James H. Madison, author of Slinging Doughnuts for the Boys,“Ray Boomhower’s deeply researched and superbly written book makes clear why Sherrod was one of American’s greatest reporters and why his work rings true today.

“Boomhower explores World War II through the light of an extraordinary individual with fresh, sobering insights. Boomhower succeeds again with the saga of Time correspondent Robert Sherrod,” writes Dan Carpenter, freelance writer and former columnist at the Indianapolis Star.