Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Governor and the Publisher

In addition to showcasing such national political figures as U.S. senators Robert F. Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy, the 1968 Indiana presidential primary shone a spotlight on some fascinating Hoosier politicians, especially Governor Roger Branigin, a Harvard-educated lawyer from Franklin, Indiana, and the owner of the state’s leading newspapers, Eugene C. Pulliam.

An engaging, witty speaker with an encyclopedic knowledge of the state’s history, Branigin had initially agreed to run as a stand-in for President Lyndon Johnson in the primary. With Johnson’s announcement that he would not seek or accept his party’s nomination for president, a stunned Branigin nevertheless decided to remain in the race as a favorite-son candidate. He hoped to win some influence for Indiana’s sixty-three delegates at the Democratic convention in Chicago, slated to be held in August 1968. Time and time again during the campaign he repeated that national issues were not at stake in Indiana. “What is at stake here,” he told his supporters, “is who is going to represent the state of Indiana in Chicago.”

Branigin enjoyed several advantages over his opponents in the primary. With his tight control over patronage in the state, the governor could count on the expertise of Democratic Party regulars in each of Indiana’s ninety-two counties. To fund his campaign, Branigin could draw upon the funds raised by having several thousand patronage employees “voluntarily” kicking back to the party 2 of their salaries. Democratic officials throughout the state also feared that if Kennedy were nominated for president, his candidacy would hurt local candidates in the November election. With these factors in mind, Democratic Party chairmen in all but one of Indiana’s counties threw their support to the governor.

In addition to the support of elected officials, Branigin enjoyed the unwavering editorial assistance of Pulliam, the powerful owner and publisher of the Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis News, as well as newspapers in Muncie and Vincennes. Pulliam did all he could in his newspaper to aid Branigin and defeat Kennedy, whom the newspaper labeled as a carpetbagger ready to buy the election with unlimited cash. The newspaper gave the governor’s effort page-one coverage and even peddled him as a possible candidate for vice president. Referring to his time delivering copies of the Star as a young man, Branigin joked: “I used to carry Pulliam, and he has been carrying me ever since."

The governor noted in his daily journal that Pulliam agreed with his position to “hold the line for the Indiana delegation so as to be more effective in Chicago—and press my candidacy as far as prudence and good judgment permits.” The Democratic governor had been amazed that Pulliam, a strong supporter of Republican causes, had promoted his candidacy day after day in his newspaper, “sometimes when there was no news—or reason. You can’t purchase such support.” Although he did not know what the long-term effect might be for the primary contest, Branigin noted Democrats should remember that “Republicans can elect you!”

Born in Ulysses, Kansas, Pulliam had attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, before leaving after his junior year to work in newspapers. He quickly rose in the industry, working for the Kansas City Star and serving as editor of the Atchison Champion before buying a number of newspapers in Indiana, including the Lebanon Reporter, Franklin Evening Star, and the Indianapolis Star. According to his grandson, Pulliam was at heart “an old fashioned editor who went into political battles with both fists swinging.”

During the 1968 Indiana primary, Pulliam used his power as publisher to bolster Branigin’s efforts in Indiana, and hamper the Kennedy campaign at all costs. During John Kennedy’s administration, Pulliam, who also owned newspapers in Phoenix, Arizona, had developed a liking for the president’s wit, but never developed any such warm feelings for Robert Kennedy. In Pulliam’s mind, the younger Kennedy possessed an unattractive personality that sorted people into two distinct categories—those who were with him, and those who were against him. “You could never relax and just be with him, like you could with Jack,” Pulliam said.

Although warned by his assistant publisher, his son, Gene, and the Star’s managing editor, William Dyer, that his efforts against Kennedy might harm the newspaper’s reputation, the publisher refused to pull any punches. Longtime Star city editor Lawrence “Bo” Connor remembered receiving a memo from Pulliam that read: “I think whenever Senator [Eugene] McCarthy comes to Indiana that we should give him as full coverage as possible—but this does not apply to a man named Kennedy.”

The Star treated Kennedy and McCarthy as unwelcome outsiders. Editorial cartoons blasting Kennedy for using his fortune to buy Indiana votes appeared on news pages. One infamous cartoon on the front page of the Star’s April 24 issue under the title “Guests in the House!” had McCarthy and Kennedy wooing a worried woman labeled “Mrs. Indiana” as Branigin looked balefully down at them behind his glasses. In the drawing, McCarthy tickles the woman under the chin while Kennedy’s hand appears to be fondling her breast.

The Star also gave continued coverage to charges from St. Angelo and Branigin that Kennedy was out to buy the election with his family fortune. The newspaper ran on its front page an editorial from the New York Times titled “Is Indiana For Sale?” The editorial noted that the Kennedy campaign estimated they would spend $500,000 in the state, but nobody would be “surprised at an expenditure by them twice or three times as great.” Because Indiana had no effective law requiring reports on campaign expenditures, the Times editorial said no one would ever know the real amount. In reprinting the editorial, however, the Star edited out a mention that the Branigin campaign could draw upon for financial support what the Times called “the ancient and disreputable practice” of levying 2 percent from patronage employee’s paychecks.

By the end of the campaign, Kennedy campaign aides had called on the American Society of Newspaper Editors’s Freedom of Information Committee to investigate the Pulliam newspapers for what he called “outrageous and callous disregard for fairness.” Pulliam fired back at Kennedy, comparing him to a spoiled child. “When he doesn’t get what he wants, he bellyaches about it,” Pulliam said in a statement. “The facts are Kennedy and his entourage received more space in the Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis News than any other candidate, largely for the reason he brought his whole family, including his mother, to Indianapolis and they made news and we printed the news and the pictures.”

The Kennedy campaign attempted to counter the reach of the Pulliam newspapers by going over their heads and concentrating on television and radio advertising. In general, however, noted press secretary Frank Mankiewicz, there was not much Kennedy could do about what he saw as biased political coverage. One new technique employed by the campaign to circumvent the Indianapolis newspapers came from Jim Dunn, who had worked on Democrat Pat Brown’s gubernatorial contests in California. Dunn set up a recording machine in Kennedy campaign headquarters in Indianapolis with a phone line and notified every radio station in the state that they could call twice a day to obtain a live feed of Kennedy’s speeches to use in their news reports and programs. Dunn went to every Kennedy speech, recorded them, edited them, and also provided commentary on the size of the crowd and the location of the speech. “It was a good device,” Mankiewicz recalled. “We got a lot of good radio publicity that way.”

Kennedy attempted to joke about the rough coverage he received in the Star. During a visit to Indianapolis on May 1, Kennedy made brief remarks to an enormous crowd of approximately three thousand people that pressed around his car as it traveled on Monument Circle. Lacking the proper permit to make a speech, the senator said he did not want to say too much and risk spending the last few days of the campaign reading the Indianapolis Star while incarcerated. 

In a talk at the Christian Theological Seminary later in the day, Kennedy turned serious, noting he had always considered the Manchester Union-Leader, run by arch-conservative New Hampshire publisher William Loeb, as the country’s nastiest newspaper. “I think, really, the Indianapolis Star must run it neck and neck,” he said. “I’ve been here two weeks, and I’ve never seen a worse newspaper. . . . It’s certainly the most distorted, I think, one of the most warped.” He went on to say, in a dig at Pulliam, that it must be a great thing to “have a toy like that.” The Indianapolis Star reporter who covered the event at the seminary failed to include Kennedy’s remarks about the newspaper, noting only that the candidate made digressed from his remarks to indicate “his displeasure with some of the news coverage he encounters in Indiana.”

As the campaign neared its home stretch, Pulliam’s son had convinced his father to give equal space to all campaigns by running news briefs about their efforts along the bottom of the front page. Branigin, however, continued to be the newspaper’s main focus. The front page of the Star on primary election day, May 7, had a large headline above the fold reading: “Branigin Predicts Victory.” Later that fall, in a meeting with Indianapolis executives, Pulliam did admit: “Well, I guess we did go a little too far.”



Sunday, April 1, 2018

Robert L. Sherrod, Ernie Pyle, and the Battle of Okinawa

On April 9, 1945, while covering the American invasion of Okinawa, located only 330 miles from Japan, two war correspondents, one a veteran of the Pacific War and the other a newcomer to the theater, were busy writing stories about the battle in a room aboard the USS Panamint, a McKinley-class command ship that served as the flagship of Rear Admiral Lawrence F. Reifsnider. As the clacking of their typewriter keys slackened, the two men—Time magazine’s Robert L. Sherrod and Scripps-Howard News Service columnist Ernie Pyle, who both had been firsthand observers of fighting during the war, discussed how they had grown tired of the grind of combat and were looking forward to going home.

In fact, Sherrod planned to leave for the United States in a couple of days. “I’m getting too old to stay in combat with these kids,” Pyle told Sherrod, “and I’m going to go home, too, in about a month. I think I’ll stay back around the airfields with the Seabees and engineers in the meantime and write some stories about them.” (Pyle had written a U.S. Navy public relations officer he knew that he had a “spooky feeling that I’ve been spared once more and that it would be asking for it to tempt Fate again.”)

As he prepared to leave the Panamint, Sherrod could not find the ship’s mess treasurer, to whom he owed $2.50 for two days’ meals. Pyle agreed to pay the bill for his colleague, and asked Sherrod to see about forwarding his mail when he made it to the American base on Guam. From there, Sherrod began his long voyage home, traveling to Pearl Harbor, San Francisco, and, finally, New York.

The encounter on the Panamint marked the last time Sherrod saw Pyle alive, as the Time correspondent left Okinawa on April 11. While in Hawaii, Sherrod heard the news of Pyle’s death from Japanese gunfire on April 18 while on a mission with the U.S. Army’s Seventy-Seventh Infantry Division. “I never learned which doughboy of the Seventy-Seventh Division persuaded Ernie to change his mind and go on the Ie Shima invasion off the west coast of Okinawa,” said Sherrod. “But Ernie rarely refused a request from a doughboy, or any other friend.” The death of Pyle, who Sherrod praised as being better than anyone else at registering the feeling of the average man about the war, made national and international headlines, but he was just one of many on Okinawa, American and Japanese, who lost their lives in some of the costliest fighting of the war.

By the time major combat operations for Operation Iceberg ceased near the end of June, more than 12,000 Americans had been killed along with approximately 110,000 of the Japanese military and anywhere from 40,000 to 150,000 civilians. Offshore, the U.S. Navy had thirty-six ships sunk and 368 damaged due to relentless Japanese kamikaze attacks. The landscape on Okinawa’s southern line resembled that of a World War I–era battlefield, with more than 300,000 soldiers and civilians jammed into an area about the distance between Capitol Hill and Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., noted William Manchester, who served as a sergeant with the Marine Corps and fought on the island. “You could smell the front long before you saw it; it was one vast cesspool,” recalled Manchester. “The two great armies, squatting opposite one another in mud and smoke, were locked together in unimaginable agony.” Eugene B. Sledge of Company K, Third Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, remembered that he and his buddies fought in an “environment so degrading I believed we had been flung into hell’s own cesspool.” Sherrod could only reflect on what he had heard during a pre-invasion intelligence briefing, when an officer said U.S. soldiers and marines should “expect resistance to be most fanatical.” It was.

Sherrod’s coverage of the last battle in the Pacific war began with a sober final intelligence briefing on the Panamint, after which “nobody could have felt overconfident.” After hearing from invasion planners that the Okinawa landings were expected to be “horrendous—worse than Iwo,” according to Sherrod, Pyle said to him, “‘What I need now is a great big drink.’ We did have a drink. Many of them.” Ulithi’s jovial commander, Commodore Oliver Owen “Scrappy” Kessing, had arranged a farewell party at the officers’ club (the Black Widow) on Asor Island for the correspondents and high-ranking officers from the navy and First and Sixth Marine Divisions. The party included a band and, “miraculously,” women—about seventy nurses from the six hospital ships in the anchorage, plus two women radio operators from a Norwegian ship. “Everybody got drunk . . . as people always do the last night ashore,” Sherrod recalled.

The next morning, as the approximately forty reporters and photographers left Asor for their assigned ships, Kessing had an African American band on the dock playing its own “boogie-woogie” version of sad farewell music. Also on hand to see them off was a Seabee lieutenant whose detachment had built most of the base and a special guest, Coast Guard Commander Jack Dempsey, the former boxing champion. Someone in the crowd on the dock shouted out a warning to Pyle—famous for his columns focusing on the average GIs in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and France—to be sure to keep his head down on Okinawa. “Listen, you bastards,” Pyle joked to his colleagues, “I’ll take a drink over every one of your graves.” Then, he turned to Dempsey, who, Sherrod noted, weighed about twice as much as the rail-thin reporter, put up his fists in mock belligerence, and asked the former boxer, “Want to fight?” It all made for a pleasant trip for Sherrod who, along with Jay Eyerman, a photographer from Life magazine, had been assigned to the Coast Guard transport USS Cambria, home also to the headquarters of the Sixth Marine Division. “This is the smoothest working staff I’ve ever seen,” Commodore Herbert Knowles said of the marines on the Cambria. “They know what they want; they know how to load a ship. They don’t have to ask the general every time a decision has to be made.”

The Sixth Marines needed able commanders if they were to survive what awaited them on Okinawa, an island sixty miles long and three to ten miles wide and well within range of bases from which Japanese kamikaze planes could reach the more than 1,300 U.S. ships involved in the invasion. Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner, commander of the Tenth Army, devised a plan in which two marine divisions (the Sixth and First) and two army divisions (the Seventh and Ninety-Sixth) would land on west-central beaches near the village of Hagushi. The island’s topography, especially its mountainous regions on its southern end near the ancient castle town of Shuri, made it ideal for Japanese forces of the Thirty-Second Army under the command of Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima to construct fortifications in caves and bunkers that could rain destruction upon the advancing enemy. 

The Japanese planned on letting the Americans land unopposed, then isolate them ashore to be annihilated in a “decisive battle” once the fleet had been destroyed by kamikaze attacks from both the sea and air. After the fighting ended, U.S. troops discovered that in just one sector of the enemy’s defenses they had faced sixteen grenade launchers, eighty-three light machine guns, forty-one heavy machine guns, seven 47-mm antitank guns, six field guns, two mortars, and two 70-mm howitzers. The Japanese soldiers on Okinawa took as their motto: “One plane for one warship, one boat for one ship, one man for ten of the enemy or one tank.” Okinawa itself stood as a formidable obstacle to a successful invasion, noted Sherrod. “The island abounded in flies, mosquitoes, mites, rats, and poisonous snakes,” he said.

While awaiting the invasion on his transport, Sherrod spent several hours listening to propaganda broadcasts from Radio Tokyo, a station he had first come across while at sea with the U.S. Third Fleet before the invasion of Iwo Jima. Radio Tokyo’s broadcasts were made in English every hour on the hour, usually in the afternoon, and featured commentaries on Japanese achievements in science and newscasts slanted toward home consumption, as well as providing “aging popular music” and messages from American and British prisoners of war made under pressure. “Anyone listening exclusively to Radiotokyo could only conclude that Japan is winning the war,” said Sherrod. “Radiotoyko permits no admissions of death or of retreat such as even [Nazi propaganda minister Joseph] Goebbels must sometimes make.” 

Even before the U.S. fleet reached Okinawa, Radio Tokyo claimed that its forces had sunk an American battleship, six cruisers, seven destroyers, and a minesweeper. The broadcasters for the “Zero Hour” program Sherrod listened to on the Cambria interspersed their wild reports of success with banter and music. Before playing a song titled “Going Home,” one of the broadcasters introduced the tune as a “little juke-box music for the boys and make it hot, because the boys are going to catch hell soon, and they might as well get used to the heat.” The Japanese broadcasters failed in their attempt to strike fear into the hearts of their audience. Sherod noted that the few sailors who sat around the communication room on the transport listening to Radio Tokyo “acted as bored as men who had seen a Grade B movie three times.”

Sherrod could never have anticipated what awaited the marines and soldiers when they landed on Okinawa on April 1, Easter Sunday and April Fool’s Day. It proved to be quite an April Fool’s prank by the Japanese. Early on, it looked like the reception on the beaches would be hot, as kamikazes were active seven hours before the start of the invasion. “Many times before daylight the sky around us was pierced by anti-aircraft tracer bullets, but no enemy planes got within shooting distance of the Cambria,” said Sherrod. The suicide planes did cause some damage to the transport USS Hinsdale and two Landing Ships, Tank (LSTs) carrying troops of the Second Marine Division making a diversionary demonstration south of Okinawa. The U.S. troops who landed ashore on L-Day (Love-Day in the voice signal alphabet), however, “stepped ashore with slightly more opposition than they would have had in maneuvers off the coast of California. To say merely that they were bewildered is to gild the lily of understatement,” Sherrod observed.

Missing from the landing beaches on the west coast from north of Kadena southward halfway to Naha was the usual deadly rain of withering machine-gun fire, nine-inch rockets, and 320-mm mortars. Within three hours, the First Marine Division had taken Yontan Airfield against only a few shots from isolated snipers at a cost of two killed and nine wounded. At 10:00 a.m. Sherrod wrote in his notebook: “This is hard to believe.” The news was the same for the soldiers, with the Seventh Division stepping from their amtracs onto a seawall “as easily as if they had been on a pleasant fishing trip,” noted the correspondent. The soldiers moved on to capture Katena Airfield after disposing of a solitary machine-gun position. 

On Okinawa, Sherrod discovered half-heartedly constructed pillboxes, most of which seemed to have been abandoned long ago. “Only a few [mortar] bursts were fired at the landing amtracs, and none of them caused any casualties,” he said. A relieved Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner radioed a message to Admiral Chester Nimitz in Hawaii that read: “I may be crazy but it looks like the Japanese have quit the war, at least in this sector.” The more realistic Nimitz responded: “Delete all after ‘crazy.”

Sherrod, too, expected stiffer opposition to come, realizing that the Japanese had “given up their beaches above Naha and moved farther south.” What nobody could foresee on the invasion’s first day, or in the two weeks that followed, was that the enemy “would have the strength to fight as fiercely as they finally did—else why had they let us ashore so easily?” he asked. A marine officer proved to be prophetic when he said to Sherrod: “This is the finest Easter present we could have received. But we’ll get a bellyful of fighting before this thing is over.”

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