Thursday, May 13, 2021

Death on a Cold Island: Robert L. Sherrod on Attu

Since arriving on the island of Attu, located in the Aleutians off the coast of the Alaskan Territory, on May 25, 1943, to cover the American army’s attempt to capture it from its Japanese defenders, Time magazine correspondent Robert L. Sherrod had been battling brutal conditions to report on combat operations.

The approximately 11,000 American troops of the Seventh Infantry Division, originally designated for motorized service in the deserts of North Africa, were hampered in their attempt to win back the treeless, volcanic island by inadequate clothing, perpetual pea-soup fog, icy rain, blinding snow, sudden gale-force winds (called williwaws), and boggy terrain. A sergeant with the Seventh Division remembered that while fighting in Attu’s mountainous terrain, conditions were so severe that, even when unconscious, wounded men’s bodies “trembled violently from the cold.” Poor weather restricted visibility at times to a hundred feet, Sherrod noted, and “air support was out of the question during nearly all the first ten days of fighting.” The boggy soil meant that vehicles sank to their axles in the mire and supplies either had to be carried by hand or pulled by sled up steep mountain slopes by groups of six to eight men.

In contrast to the Americans, Japanese soldiers had the advantage of fighting from prepared positions on high ground. “Their foxholes were large and dry, and were well supplied with food, clothing, bedding and ammunition,” said Russell Annabel, one of Sherrod’s colleagues. “In some cases they had dug underground chambers large enough for a dozen or more men.” In addition, each Japanese machine-gun nest was “a master of camouflage,” reported Sherrod, “well protected on all sides by individual snipers who protect the machine gunners.” The enemy, he estimated, expected to stay on Attu for a long time.

On the afternoon of May 28 Sherrod correspondent had trudged down from the mountains, where he had been watching an attack made by Company G of the Thirty-Second Infantry, to the Massacre Bay plateau, where the bulk of American forces were positioned. He looked forward to climbing into a sleeping bag for rest. He shared the improvised shelter with Lieutenant Colonel James Fish, executive officer of the Seventeenth Infantry, along with four other officers and two sergeants of the Seventeenth.

Before he could fall into a well-earned sleep, Sherrod was disturbed by Captain Harold Rosenthal, a surgeon who had recently come ashore from the USS David W. Branch, an army transport. Rosenthal asked Sherrod to return with him to the transport, tempting him with the offer of a hot bath, a steak meal, a warm place to sleep, and, most enticing, a few nips from a bottle of whiskey. Sherrod agreed to accompany Rosenthal to the ship and stayed there overnight.

Sherrod was writing his story about Company G when he heard the news of a desperate banzai charge the previous evening by the Japanese that had only been stopped by determined resistance from non-infantry forces, including cooks, bulldozer operators, band members, medical personnel, and engineers. Colonel Fish and everyone else in the tent Sherrod had stayed in had been killed in the attack. “I was lucky on Attu,” said Sherrod.

The carnage left behind after the failed charge, compared by Radio Tokyo to the hopeless Charge of the Light Brigade by British cavalry against Russian forces during the Crimean War, stunned Sherrod. He reported that the “violence of the scene is incomprehensible to the western mind.” Japanese colonel Yasuyo Yamazaki had planned for the approximately 1,000 men still left under his command to surprise the U.S. forces, cut through them, and capture, if all went well, the American artillery and supplies situated in Massacre Valley. Those Japanese troops too badly injured to join the banzai charge were either poisoned by shots of morphine or dispatched with pistol shots to the head or blown to pieces by grenades. “We are planning a successful annihilation of the enemy,” Yamazaki boasted in the last radio message he sent to his superiors in Japan. Many of his soldiers made last entries in their diaries claiming that they awaited death “with a smile.”

To fuel their courage, the Japanese downed forty-ounce bottles of sake and grabbed whatever weapons they could get their hands on, including rifles, grenades, and even bayonets tied to sticks. (Although later the Americans believed the Japanese had been doped before making their attack, examination of the vials some of them brought with them revealed no traces of narcotics. “The Jap dope was apparently sheer fanaticism,” said Sherrod.)

At 3:30 a.m. on May 29, just as the first hints of daylight could be seen peaking between Attu’s vertical peaks, the Japanese attacked, screaming as they ran, with some shouting “Japanese boys kill American boys” and “Japanese drink blood like wine.” Company B of the Thirty-second Infantry had been ordered to the rear to enjoy a hot breakfast before seeing action that day and were stunned to see the enemy springing on their rear guard.

As many Americans scampered for shelter on higher ground, the Japanese charged ahead, bayoneting or shooting men still encased in their sleeping bags and slaughtering wounded soldiers in aid stations and the chaplains who were there to offer them spiritual comfort. More than a 100 Americans were killed and 200 more were wounded, with some of them “horribly mangled by bayonets,” Sherrod reported, as fighting often degenerated into desperate hand-to-hand struggles. If not for the enemy’s “wild, weird screams,” he added, they “might have killed many more Americans in their sleep.”

Captain Ritchie Clark, commanding officer of the Seventeenth Infantry’s headquarters company, told Sherrod that he was asleep in his tent when he heard someone cry out, “the Japs are coming.” Clark dressed quickly, ran outside his tent, and saw his defense company streaming downhill. “We all grabbed guns,” he said. “Our noncombatant troops fought like real soldiers. The cooks and wire men and even the band gave a wonderful account of themselves.” A grizzled drummer sergeant told Sherrod he had been in the army for twenty-two years and never expected to be under fire, as he had been told that bands were not even going to be sent overseas, “and here I get into the damndest fight in history.”

Unlike Clark, some U.S. soldiers did not have time to fully dress before they went into battle. As one private, Casper Alligood, headed for the safety of a foxhole, one of his fellow soldiers ran past him, wearing nothing but his underwear. “I said, ‘Buddy, you’d better go back and get your pants,’” Alligood recalled. “But he wasn’t interested. He said, ‘The hell with the pants. If the Japs want them, they can have them.’”

Soldiers who found themselves trapped in their tents were sometimes still able to fight back. Captain Marvin Chernow and his men used their trench knives to cut slits in the walls of their tent, shoved their gun muzzles through the openings, and started shooting at the Japanese running by. When a Japanese bayonet pinned Chernow to the ground by his face, his tentmate, Captain Eugene McGee, grabbed the enemy by his shirt, pulled him inside the tent, and beat him to death with his rifle.

The stiffest opposition came when the Japanese faced off against the Fiftieth Engineer Regiment. Men from that regiment were able to set up a machine gun “which mowed down dozens,” Sherrod said. “Others took up rifles and fired round after round.” A sergeant with the engineers single-handedly rushed the Japanese, who were huddled in ditches below Engineer Hill, and killed at least twenty of them by standing on top of the ditch and firing at point-blank range until he was killed. “The 50th Engineers saved us all,” Sherrod quoted many soldiers as saying.

The strangest experience in a series of weird escapes happened to Company B of the Seventh Medical Regiment, housed in a double tent in Sarana Valley, alone except for a few pup tents surrounding it. Inside the double tent were two medial officers, Captains George Buehler and James Bryce; five patients on litters; five walking wounded; and two enlisted medics. When the Japanese ran through the valley, more than a hundred of the enemy swarmed nearby and killed the soldiers sleeping in the pup tents. The men in the double tent were completely surrounded for thirty-six hours but survived. “Whenever a wounded man would groan one of the medical officers would give him a shot of morphine to quiet him,” said Sherrod. “When one would snore someone would shake him or muffle the noise.”

Company B attributed its great luck to one thing. In the doorway of the tent a dead man lay on a litter, Sherrod reported, and apparently the Japanese believed everyone else inside was also dead. When American troops had finally disposed of the enemy around Company B’s tent, one of the U.S. soldiers, wanting to make sure, said to one of his friends that they should throw a grenade in the tent. “No, no,” shouted Captain Buehler, “we’re Americans.” One of the infantryman said it was just another Japanese trick, prompting Buehler to emerge from the tent to come face to face with fifteen bayonet-wielding soldiers. “All I can say,” Buehler told Sherrod, “is that I really believe in Providence now.”

As the attack waned, the Japanese, instead of continuing to kill as many Americans as possible, did something that flabbergasted Sherrod. They took the grenades issued to them and committed suicide by holding them against their stomachs, chests, or heads and blowing themselves up. “They could have kept on fighting,” he said. “They had plenty of ammunition left. They had raided American supply dumps for food. But so eager for death were they that they could not wait. The grenades they could have thrown against Americans were pressed against their bowels in honorable hara-kiri fashion.”

On the afternoon of May 31, Sherrod started walking from Massacre Bay to Chichagof Harbor—a six-mile, five-hour walk—to witness the horrors dotting the landscape; on a two-mile stretch he counted 450 Japanese dead before he stopped counting. He saw one Japanese sitting impaled on a bayonet stuck through his back, evidently by a friend, but most of the dead were killed by grenades. “Sometimes the grenade split the heads in half,” said Sherrod, “leaving the right face on one side, the left face on the other.” The suicides were obviously an act of frustration. “When the Jap knows he is beaten hopelessly he tries to kill himself, with the idea of killing as many of us as he can,” he noted. “But in his anxiety to kill himself, he presses the grenade to his stomach before his plotted time.”

Sherrod could find no meaning to these mass deaths of the Japanese, who suffered four times as many casualties on Attu as did the Americans. He could not believe that the United States would have to lose 2.5 million men to kill 10 million Japanese to win the war. “But the Jap is ignorant. He has not conception of what goes on in the world,” Sherrod said. “In all the documents we have captured there is nothing to indicate that these medieval minds have received any news of the world since they arrived a year ago. . . Perhaps the Jap is human. Nothing on Attu indicates it.” Looking upon what Sherrod described as “the grotesque masses of exploded bodies,” an American officer was moved to comment to the correspondent: “That just ain’t good soldiering.”

With the Japanese banzai charge on Attu repulsed, most organized resistance on the island ended. All that was left was to count the cost and bury the dead. The enemy had suffered most, with 2,351 dead to 549 lost for the Americans and another 1,148 wounded—ranking, in proportion to the troops engaged, as one of the costliest battles waged in the Pacific theater, second only to Iwo Jima.

Sherrod shared the human cost of the Aleutian battle with readers of Time in an article on how those who fell were laid to rest. For most of a night, caterpillar tractors towed trailers over the valleys and plateaus between Attu’s high peaks, bringing 125 dead Americans to be buried in the Little Falls Cemetery—named for a nearby waterfall and one of two graveyards on the island. Most of the dead had been killed in the Japanese banzai charge and had been “horribly mangled by bayonets and rifle butts.” (The Americans who collected their dead with “tight-lipped calm,” later vomited as they gathered for burial the approximately 1,000 Japanese who died in the attack, noted Sherrod).

The sudden influx of bodies had overwhelmed the graves registration company, which augmented its numbers by dragooning clerks and truck drivers for burial duty. “Their reactions are sober,” said Sherrod. “There is no excitement at this scene of wholesale death.” He described the ceremony for readers of Time:

“No nation handles its casualties as carefully as we do. The 125 who lie in rows at the edge of the crude cemetery were examined meticulously. A medical officer (Captain Louvera B. Schmidt of Salem, Ore.) recorded the cause of death and the number and type of wounds as each body was unclothed. Members of the graves registration company cut open each pocket and placed the personal effects of the dead in clean wool socks for dispatch to the quartermaster depot at Kansas City. One identification tag has been left on each body, the other nailed to the cross which will be placed above the grave until a larger metal plate can be stamped. The graves are laid out in perfect geometrical pattern; they have been charted so that no mistake can be made in locating any body.

Three sets of fingerprints were made from the hands of each dead man. One set stays with the man’s military unit, two will be sent to the Adjutant General in Washington [D.C.]. (If a soldier’s “dog tags” are missing and his personal effects carry no absolute identification, his body is not buried until some men from his unti have made positive identification.

After fingerprinting, the bodies were carried through the identification tent and wrapped in khaki blankets tied at three places: around the neck, the waist and the feet.”

Soldiers used bulldozers to dig the graves because there was no time nor labor available to dig them with shovels. “The bulldozers plow back & forth until a space seven feet deep has been scooped out,” he said, “which is long enough to place eight bodies 18 inches apart. Then into the collective grave small one-foot deep individual graves are scooped out by shovel. Thus, each man lies with seven of his comrades.”

Three chaplains conducted the burial service, singing verses of “Rock of Ages” over the clanking and chuffing of dozens of tractors working on the muddy roads and beaches a few hundred yards away. Sherrod noted that Lieutenant Colonel Reuben E. Curtis, a Mormon from Salt Lake City, Utah, opened his khaki-colored Bible and read: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. . . . O God, great and omnipotent judge of the living and the dead, before whom we all are to appear after this short life to render an account of our works, lift our hearts, we pray Thee.”

Close by the graves, two buglers closed the service by playing “Taps.” The chaplains placed their caps back on their heads, Sherrod reported, and the graveyard bulldozer “huff puffs again, pushing mounds of cold Attu earth over the khaki-clad bodies of eight U.S. soldiers.” Grief mixed with anger at the graveyard. A young lieutenant from Mississippi, just out of Officer Candidate School, spoke for many on Attu when he said, after looking at the bodies lined up for burial at the cemetery’s edge, “I wonder if those sons of bitches holding up war production back home wouldn’t change their minds if they could look at this.”

Friday, April 30, 2021

Richard Tregaskis Biography Available for Preorder

Now available for preorder from the University of New Mexico Press, Richard Tregaskis: Reporting under Fire from Guadalcanal to Vietnam highlights what Tregaskis experienced as he reported on U.S. soldiers in harm’s way on distant battlefields. One of only two reporters to land with U.S. Marines on Guadalcanal, Tregaskis, despite suffering from diabetes, set down in his notebook the daily and nightly terrors faced by the men on the island in an action that became one of the most renowned of World War II.

As Tregaskis later recalled, “Guadalcanal had a code name, Cactus, but the servicemen preferred to call it ‘the Canal.’ The nickname had an affectionate sound about it. Men cursed and hated Guadalcanal, a pest-hole that reeked of death, struggle, and disease, but the Canal was like a good-for-nothing cousin or brother. When you make tremendous sacrifices for someone or something, when you give your blood or your last drop of muscular effort or sweat, you feel something like affection for that object or person.”

Tregaskis shared his adventures on Guadalcanal, including the fear of being shelled and feeling as if he “were at the mercy of a great vindictive giant whose voice was the voice of thunder,” with Americans on the home front in his book Guadalcanal Diary. The book proved to be a critical and popular success when published by Random House in 1943. By the late 1960s, more than three million copies of the book had been sold and it had been translated into twelve languages, including Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, French, and Danish. Tregaskis’s book remains in print today as a Modern Library edition and his dispatches from Guadalcanal are included in volume 1 of the Library of America’s Reporting World War II.

The tall, gangly reporter (marines dubbed his size-fourteen boots his PTs, for “Patrol Tregaskis”) eventually left the Pacific to report on the fighting in Europe. Although he had been lucky to escape Guadalcanal with nary a scratch except for a nasty bout of gastroenteritis and a bout with malaria, Tregaskis’s luck ran out on a hill named Mount Corno near Cassino in Italy. Shrapnel from a German shell pierced the reporter’s helmet, through his brain, and out through his helmet. Surviving his horrific wounding, Tregaskis, sporting a metal plate in his head covering a hole in his skull, spent the next several months re-learning how to speak by reciting poetry and regained the use of a paralyzed right hand well enough to produce another book, Invasion Diary.

Tregaskis recovered in time to cover the intense street fighting as American soldiers advanced into Germany and returned to the Pacific with the crew of a B-29 bomber, Number 688, following them into battle in a series of articles for the Saturday Evening Post and joining American troops in Japan for the occupation following the Japanese surrender. In accepting his assignment with the B-29 crew, Tregaskis, when asked by his editor if he really wanted to go, responded, “I don’t want to, but I think I ought to go.” According to the Post, “ought to go” had been Tregaskis’s first commandment “ever since he began chasing the war, three months after Pearl Harbor.”

Richard Tregaskis: Reporting under Fire from Guadalcanal to Vietnam will be released by the University of New Mexico Press on November 1, 2021. The 368-page, hardback book costs $34.95 and is also available in an e-book version.



Monday, April 12, 2021

The Historian As Adventurer: Jacob P. Dunn Jr. Goes Prospecting

In 1879 a twenty-five-year-old Indianapolis attorney decided to give up the rigors of the law for a potentially more lucrative career—prospecting in the Colorado silver fields. That young man, Jacob Piatt Dunn Jr., never struck it rich, but he discovered something far more important, the two callings he pursued throughout his lifetime—journalism and history. Forty-two years later, Dunn, now a respected Indiana historian and political reformer, left his native state for another grand adventure. Well into his sixties, Dunn traveled to the island of Hispaniola (the present-day countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic) with the announced intention of finding Christopher Columbus’s lost gold mine.

According to a page-one account of the trip in the Indianapolis Star, Dunn sought to uncover the mine from which Columbus took the gold that he presented to the Spanish court on his return from several of his voyages to the New World. In this case, as in many other instances throughout his life, Dunn was exercising his well-known wit by spreading such a story. The main purpose of his Caribbean journey involved prospecting for a mineral potentially as valuable as gold—manganese, which was used in steel production, glassmaking, fertilizers, and paints.

Dunn’s trip to Hispaniola, as had his earlier adventure in Colorado, ended in disappointment. He failed to find manganese in enough quantity to justify large-scale mining operations. His two prospecting trips, however, revealed much about Dunn the man. He could not bear standing on the sidelines; Dunn sought an active in life. This meant that as a young man he could not resist trying his hand, as his father had, at prospecting. In his historical research, he spent many hours in libraries sifting through documents, but, as his daughter, Caroline, noted, he also could be found rushing around trying to interview some old-time Indianapolis resident in an attempt to gather information on life in the city during its early days.

Karl Detzer, who grew up in Fort Wayne at the turn of the century and often explored that region with Dunn for artifacts, learned through the Indiana historian that history did not merely consist of facts printed in books, but could instead be “a swamp where your feet sank into deep Indiana muck; or a sandbar across a creek; or a trail winding through willow thickets to what looked like an ordinary low hump of earth; or a faint, narrow path zigzagging up to a high point where . . . you saw down below, not just the prosperous new red barns with their Mail Pouch Tobacco signs, but the glorious past that helped erect them.”

Dunn brought that same active spirit he used in pursuing his historical research to his battles on behalf of various reform efforts, including fighting for the Australian ballot law in Indiana, securing a new city charter for Indianapolis, and writing a proposed new constitution for the state.

The man whose friend Samuel Ralston, Indiana governor and U.S. senator, described as “slow to admit that he could not accomplish anything he undertook,” was born on April 12, 1855, in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, the third of five children raised by Jacob and Harriet Louisa Dunn. The senior Dunn, a cattle trader for a time, was one of many who traveled to California in 1849, the Forty-Niners, seeking his fortune in the goldfields. In the summer of 1861 the Dunn family moved north to Indianapolis, where the senior Dunn opened a slaughter and pork-packing business in partnership with James McTaggert.

After attending private schools for several years, the young Jacob entered public schools in Indianapolis in 1867. Four years later his parents sent him to Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. Dunn was one of ten people in Earlham’s graduating class of 1874. While the rest of the graduates indicated that they planned careers in teaching or medicine, Dunn was the only one to choose the field of law. He journeyed to Ann Arbor to study law at the University of Michigan. After receiving his degree in 1876, Dunn returned to Indianapolis and continued his studies with the prestigious local law firm of McDonald and Butler. The young lawyer made a good impression on one of the firm’s partners, John M. Butler. In a March 11, 1879, letter of introduction to former Civil War general and Ben-Hur author Lew Wallace, Butler described Dunn as a trustworthy man, a good lawyer, and a person possessing an understanding of business—“a gentleman in every sense of the word.”

The practice of law, however, was no match for the lure of the untamed West. In 1879 Dunn and his brothers left the Hoosier State for Colorado to look after their father’s silver mine investments and to seek their own fortunes. Just a year earlier there had been a rush to Leadville, Colorado, with the discovery of large deposits of the precious metal. “There are a great many strangers here, ‘tender-feet’ like myself,” Dunn wrote a friend in Indianapolis from Silver Cliff, Colorado, “who have come to seek their fortune. If half of us find it, we will carry off the State bodily.”

Dunn discovered that the life of a prospector in Colorado’s mountains was a hard and thankless one. Just obtaining supplies proved to be a major, and financially draining, undertaking. As one history of Colorado noted, profiteering in the area “seemed the rule, not the exception.” Hay, for example, sold for two hundred dollars a ton during the winter; food cost four times more than in Denver; and Leadville shopkeepers could expect to make fifteen-hundred-dollar profit on a single barrel of whiskey. Other fortunes were also made in the hills of Colorado. Between 1879 and 1889, approximately $82 million dollars worth of silver was extracted and shipped from the Leadville area.

Dunn did not share in these riches, but he did mine a collection of humorous stories about his misadventures. On one prospecting trip into the mountains Dunn had camped near a stream and had gone to sleep only to awake at ten o’clock that night nearly frozen: “Moved up nearer fire. Woke up 11 P.M., fire out; frozen to death; ditto at 12, 1, 2, 2:30, 3, 3:30, 4, 4:30, 5.” In the morning he found that his burro had wandered from camp and he spent a considerable time navigating the mountain’s treacherous slopes to track it down. “The man who wrote ‘Not for gold nor precious stones would I sell my mountain home,’” Dunn said, “was either a greenbacker or some other idiot who had never seen a mountain. I shall not go out of my way to climb mountains any more. If one approaches me I will defend myself, but I seek no trouble with them.”

The Hoosier native had some trouble getting accustomed to the differences between the West and Indiana. For example, as Dunn discovered in tracking down his burro, every inch of ground in Colorado seemed to slope in every direction. “An old-timer told me that he went down into the plains for a couple of weeks last summer, and while there had to wear a stilt on one foot and sleep on a house-roof,” he noted. Bothersome, too, were the strange animals he observed—white quails with pink eyes, blackbirds with white eyes, fish equipped with scales that could not be removed, and tiny (compared to those in the East and Midwest) squirrels. “I saw a bumble-bee last week, and he looked so old-fashioned and natural that I wanted to shake hands with him,” Dunn remarked in a July 4, 1879, newspaper article for the Indianapolis Herald

A gang of mountain rats also devoured Dunn's provisions and the lining of his hat and were just about to eat the hobnails from his boots when he picked up his revolver and fired. Unfortunately, the rats escaped without injury; the same could not be said of Dunn’s spirit lamp. After the incident the young prospector resolved to put away his handgun as it weighed too much to carry comfortably on the trail. He did, however, dream of a day when he could lure a mountain rat “down into some mesa where there is nothing in range but prairie dogs and cactuses, and then—ha! ha! revenge!”

Despite these troubles, Dunn became enraptured by his new surroundings. The thin air in Colorado’s high elevations seemed to be affecting his mind, making him almost giddy. He particularly remembered one occasion when he was climbing along the side of a mountain with a pickax slung over his shoulder and happened to spy three deer. He went on to report: “They saw me at the same time and started to run around me. I, with a ‘zeal but not according to knowledge,’ started to head them off. After I had run for about a mile it occurred to me that they were out of sight. In my excitement I had forgotten to watch them. I do not think they run any harder than I did, but there seems to be an element of speed about a deer that I do not possess. I carry a stout rope with me now, and when I see a deer, I tie myself to the nearest tree.”

During his time in Colorado Dunn loved to hear tales from old-time prospectors, whom he called “glorious liars.” These men often would “collar the unsuspecting ‘tenderfoot’ and stuff him till his mind is in the condition of a Thanksgiving turkey, and he goes off to retail their statements and get a reputation for their utter unreliability,” Dunn noted. He also became fascinated with Native American lore and history. Inspired in part by the appearance in 1881 of Helen Hunt Jackson’s A Century of Dishonor, an indictment of whites for their unjust treatment of Native Americans, he began to collect information on the clashes between white and Indian cultures, which motivated him to write what became the book Massacres of the Mountains: A History of the Indian Wars of the Far West, 1815–1875.

Along with starting him on the path to his career as a historian, his time in Colorado also gave Dunn a chance to exercise what a fellow Indiana historian, James A. Woodburn, described as “a versatile mind and a facile pen” through his work for several newspapers in the state. Dunn contributed articles to the Denver Tribune-Republican, Leadville Chronicle, Maysville Democrat, and Rocky Mountain News. He later used his journalistic skills to land jobs and writing assignments at Indianapolis newspapers. His dealings with politicians and corruption as a reporter in the West also may have inspired Dunn’s subsequent commitment to political reform.

Returning to Indianapolis in 1884, Dunn embarked on a career as a “political man of letters,” successfully merging throughout his life careers in both history and politics. During his lifetime, Dunn worked as state librarian, Indianapolis city controller, editor for the Indianapolis Sentinel, and as a member of the Indiana Public Library Commission. With all this, he also found time to marry and raise a family in this Pennsylvania Street home built by his father-in-law. Dunn was the only male in a household that included his wife, Charlotte; two daughters, Caroline and Eleanor; and a sister-in-law. Charlotte seemed to understand her husband’s need to get away from his responsibilities at home, writing in a letter to Dunn during his Caribbean adventure about “getting this out of your system” and “having a complete change and a good time.”

On his trip to Hispaniola, Dunn served as field agent for the Hispaniola Mining Company, a group that included as officers such prominent Indianapolis men as Ralston, Solomon S. Kiser of the Meyer-Kiser Bank, and Elmer W. Stout of the Fletcher American National Bank. The company charged Dunn with journeying to the island and, if possible, obtaining a concession for mining manganese under the local laws. Along with a three hundred-dollar payment as provision for his family during his absence, those involved in the company placed fifteen hundred dollars in a fund for Dunn to use for expenses on his trip. Charlotte’s cousin, Edgar Elliott, headed a Haitian-American sugar company and offered Dunn his help in the venture. “From him [Elliott] my father had heard about Haiti, and probably recalled his early silver mining experiences in Colorado,” noted Caroline. Also, Richard Lieber, head of the Indiana Department of Conservation, helped strengthen Dunn’s position with U.S. officials in Haiti (American troops occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934 and U.S. advisers dominated the government there) by appointing him as a special deputy geologist for the collection of exhibits for the Indiana State Museum.

As he had many years before as a prospector in Colorado, Dunn threw himself wholeheartedly into his trip, frequently writing his family back home in Indianapolis and keeping detailed journals of his experiences in six 3 ½ by 5-½-inch logbooks. Leaving the United States two days before Christmas in 1921, Dunn journeyed south aboard the Panama Railroad Steamship Line’s SS General W. C. Gorgas, on which he occupied a tiny cabin. The room’s small size, and its unfortunate location over some steam pipes, failed to diminish Dunn's good humor. He noted that his quarters were no “worse than a Pullman on the Chesapeake & Ohio [railroad].”

Onboard the General Gorgas Dunn displayed the same affability he was known for back in Indianapolis. To help the passengers become better acquainted, Dunn organized a Christmas Day celebration for the small number of children on the ship. He did have some difficulty finding a Santa Claus costume, but with some whiskers out of a mop furnished by the steward, and with the aid of a bath robe, a canvas hat, and some rouge, Dunn came up with what he called “a fair imitation” of Saint Nick. Armed with the cover story that Santa had arrived by airplane, Dunn presented the children with stockings filled with raisins, nuts, and candy. After a quick costume change, he returned and led the passengers in rousing renditions of such songs as “Tipperary,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Hail, Hail the Gang’s All Here,” and “How Dry I Am.” The evening’s entertainment ended with some dancing, which shocked the straight-laced Dunn. He wrote that the younger women danced the most modern dances, including one called “the wiggle.” He complained that he did not understand “how a decent woman can make such an exhibition—am sure she wouldn’t if she could hear how the men talked about it.”

Arriving in Port-au-Prince on December 29, 1921, Dunn found lodgings provided by the Haitian American Sugar Company (known in Haiti as Hasco), the firm that employed Elliott. Before journeying into the countryside, Dunn consulted with Professor Edward Roumain, who oversaw Haiti’s exhibit at the 1904 Saint Louis Exposition. “I am convinced,” Dunn confided in his log, “that he [Roumain] was the only man on the island who knew about minerals.” Roumain welcomed the Hoosier explorer “with open arms” and promised to help Dunn find a guide for his trip. After conferring with Roumain, Dunn busied himself with purchasing his supplies. He bought a horse, complete with saddle and bridle, for thirty-six dollars and furnished himself with a pickaxe, frying pan, small stew pan, two teaspoons, two tin cups, two small cans of Armour pork and beans, and three cans of sardines. On the advice of American officials worried that he might be set upon by thieves during his journey, Dunn received permission from Haiti’s chief of police to carry a .44-caliber Colt revolver, serial number 264804, and twenty rounds of ammunition.

Dunn was embarking on a truly strenuous endeavor as Haiti is more mountainous than even Switzerland. One story about the country’s hilly terrain has an English admiral crumpling a sheet of paper, placing it on a table, and remarking to King George III: “Sire, Haiti looks like that.” For his ambitious trip into the Haitian interior, Dunn hired a guide named Oceart Noël, a bespectacled black man he described as being only four feet, six inches tall. Noël agreed to be Dunn’s guide for five days, furnish his own horse, a pack animal, and an interpreter, all for twenty-nine dollars. The interpreter, named Salomon Télamour, “proved to have command of about thirty words of English, but is quite proud of them,” Dunn said.

Leaving Port-au-Prince late on January 9, 1922, the three men attracted quite a bit of attention from the Haitians. “I was clad in khaki shirt and pants,” said Dunn, “with leggings, and my artillery swinging on a belt.” Noël, the guide, wore a black coat, Panama hat, and spectacles. The interpreter, Télamour, was described by Dunn as “the dude of the party,” as he wore a two-piece suit of light-colored material with a dark stripe, white canvas shoes, and a Panama hat. Télamour provided a bit of comic relief by riding on top of the packhorse. His legs “stuck out at angles of about 45 degrees, and were in constant motion, as were also his arms,” Dunn commented in his log of the trip. “He carried a stick with which he belabored his [horse] and also cheered it by yelling ‘Kurrk’—or something that sounded that way. Most of these people talk to their horses . . . just as they would to a person.”

The descriptions of this small band of explorers particularly tickled the fancy of Charlotte, who wrote her husband that it seemed to her “that you and your retinue, when you start out prospecting, must look not unlike Don Quixote and his Sancho Panza! Your dun-colored steed and your long, thin legs! But I hope you may have all the good luck you desire, as well as the adventure.” Charlotte was so taken with the Don Quixote imagery that she addressed later letters to her husband as “My Dear Don Quixote.”

The elderly Dunn survived his excursions into the mountainous countryside without too much difficulty. The local food did upset his “internal workings,” which he later calmed with liberal doses of milk of magnesia, and when arising in the morning after trying to sleep on a hammock (the cold night air kept him awake), he had to “do gymnastics for several minutes” in order to relieve his cramped muscles. Although his companions claimed that Dunn spoke the native language “like a French oyster,” he developed good relations with the Haitians he encountered on his travels by tendering a “substantial [monetary] reward for any service rendered.”

Dunn may have had good luck in charming the Haitians with his largesse, but he failed in his quest to discover enough manganese to risk the large-scale mining operations sought by his Indianapolis financial backers. Returning with his specimens to Port-au-Prince on January 17, 1922, Dunn had his first bath and shave in almost a week. “Appearance somewhat improved,” he observed in his log, “but a trifle gaunt. The trip had evidently been some strain.” Refreshed, Dunn took the specimens he collected to be analyzed at the sugar company’s laboratory by a Doctor Joy, a Haitian chemist employed by the firm. “We satisfied ourselves,” Dunn said, “that there was not a particle of manganese in any of them.” He later wrote his wife the following about his unfortunate news: “I am including the log herewith, and there is little else to say. The manganese scheme is gone glimmering, and I expect to know pretty soon whether there is anything in the gold proposition.”

Coming up empty in Haiti, Dunn hoped for better luck in the neighboring Santo Domingo. “There is a striking contrast between Port au Prince and this place—all in favor of Santo Domingo, which is quite up to date in appearance, though it has no street railways, no street lighting, and a very poor water supply,” Dunn wrote upon arriving in Santo Domingo on January 30, 1922. While in Santo Domingo, Dunn conferred with American officials in charge of public works for the country and was able to obtain transportation into the countryside to investigate reports of large manganese and gold deposits. He left on his expedition on February 8, 1922, and established a base at a garage run by Americans in charge of repairing and refurbishing the road system. Shown to a spring bed on which he was to sleep that first night, Dunn ruefully noted that his days of “‘roughing it’ are gone.”

Although his guides for his prospecting trip spoke no English, Dunn was able to make himself understood and tramped through the mountains searching for the riches he had been led to believe were there for the taking; it was all for nothing. His journal reported his bad luck: “Strenuous day. . . . I finally got to the place at 1:30, and by the time I had taken a look at it, and eaten lunch it was 2:30. It is no good.” Charlotte sympathized with her husband’s misfortune, writing: “Too bad about the manganese. I hope other things will look more promising—but you know I was never very optimistic. Still, success would be most welcome! At any rate, you are getting this out of your system, and having a complete change and a good time. Perhaps something good will ‘turn up’ when you return.”

A disappointed Dunn returned to the United States the same way he had gone—by boat. As with the trip south, the voyage north proved to be a fine opportunity for Dunn to enlarge his circle of acquaintances. “The men on the boat are mostly Americans and are a thoroughly argumentative outfit,” he noted. “We have discussed and disposed of a large number of questions already.” Unlucky at prospecting, Dunn found he had better luck at cards, winning a reputation as a “card sharp” for his skill at pinochle, where he won the impressive sum of thirty-six cents during one high-stakes game. The only sour note on his return home was struck by an Irish lady who recommended that Dunn read an editorial in the Smart Set by H. L. Mencken. “It was rotten stuff,” said Dunn, “and she was very much disgusted with my lack of appreciation—observed that I might be ‘one of them boobs that believe in prohibition and that sort of stuff.’”

The Hoosier historian arrived back in New York Harbor on March 2, 1922, and made his way overland to his Indianapolis home. His bold undertaking provided Dunn no riches from precious metals, but it offered him the opportunity to investigate and write about Haitian dialects and the island’s voodoo religion for Indianapolis newspapers. Dunn also wrote a particularly lively series of articles engaging in a battle of words with Ernest H. Gruening, managing editor for The Nation magazine, about an article Gruening penned for the periodical Current History discussing the American occupation of Haiti and Santo Domingo. Dunn believed that Gruening’s article had besmirched the reputation of the American marines and attempted to set the record straight in articles for the Indianapolis News. After all, he added, before Gruening’s piece of “propaganda of defamation,” Current History had established a reputation for reliability. “Getting misinformation from it,” Dunn said, “is like getting poisoned food from a trusted friend.”

Engaging in such skirmishes might have provided a way for Dunn to salve an ego bruised a bit by returning from the West Indies empty-handed, but a far greater chance to redeem himself beckoned a year after his Haitian experience. Ralston, newly elected as a U.S. senator, selected Dunn to be his private secretary for his Washington, D.C., office. Before this appointment the two men had enjoyed very cordial relations, with Dunn serving as an adviser to Ralston on public policy issues and Ralston was a business partner in Dunn’s Hispaniola explorations.

In offering his advice during Ralston’s governorship, Dunn, the veteran of many political wars, and one who was not afraid to state his opinion on any subject, counseled Ralston to use the same direct approach in his public life. On the matter of Ralston’s position, for example, on the National Prohibition Enforcement Act, passed in 1920 and more commonly known as the Volstead Act, Dunn advised him to “go the whole hog” on the issue and take a solid position supporting prohibition. To Dunn’s way of thinking, there existed no middle ground on “this question that will satisfy people who are really interested on either side, and if you are going to lose one crowd you can profitably gain the other.”

In his letters to Caroline in Indianapolis, Dunn seemed to be enjoying life in the nation’s capital, commenting in his correspondence on politics and society, including the funeral of former president Woodrow Wilson. Although many in Washington were disappointed that Wilson’s wife declined a state funeral for her husband, Dunn supported her actions, telling his daughter that he suspected Edith Wilson did not want “to accept any hypocritical favors from the bunch that hunted Wilson down.” He compared the situation to what happened when Theodore Roosevelt died and “all the Republican standpatters discovered what a wonderful man he was, and fell over each other mourning him, although they had laid awake hating him before his death.”

In other letters Dunn informed his family that the burdens of his office were few and far between. “The worst task,” he said, “is listening to people talk when you would like to throw them out, but know that you have to be moderately polite.” The historian turned bureaucrat did go on to say that many persons came into Ralston’s U.S. Senate office who were “sources of pleasure, so that it balances up fairly well.”

Dunn’s time in the nation's capital proved to be short-lived. During his travels in Haiti he had contracted some form of tropical disease that left him susceptible to jaundice. His ill health caused him to return to Indianapolis, where he died on June 6, 1924.

Commenting on Dunn’s death, Ralston expressed his “great admiration” for his fellow Democrat. Ralston noted that the first time he heard Dunn make a speech its subject was the value of circulating libraries to citizens. “It was characteristic of him to be most interested in those things that most benefited the people,” said Ralston. “He could become as indignant as any man I ever knew at the failure of a public official to perform his duties.” Dunn was not only loyal to the truth, at whatever the cost, Ralston continued, but also loyal to his friends. “And trustworthy—absolutely so,” he said. “I shall miss him.”


Monday, February 22, 2021

“Allegiance to no faction”: The Indiana Daily Student

During the summer of 1979 a student journalist from Indiana University, Tom French, an Indianapolis native who had attended the Indiana State Fair for years, became intrigued by one of its more outlandish attractions—the World’s Largest Hog competition. He set out to write about it for IU’s Indiana Daily Student newspaper.

French had always considered the Largest Hog event “weird,” wondering why someone would take the trouble to raise an animal so enormous that its legs literally could not support its weight. His editors at the IDS, friends of his and excellent journalists, urged him not to do the story as it was not a serious subject. “By that point I had written hundreds of serious stories and had been bored to tears by most of them,” French recalled. “My question was: What’s wrong with once in a while writing something that people actually want to read?” He went to the fair, observed the winning hog and traveled to the farm in Elwood, Indiana, where it had been raised. Through his reporting, he learned that the story was “really about the American obsession with super-sizing everything. I became convinced that it had something to do with the vastness of the American landscape and American ambitions.”

The article won first place that fall in the features category in the Hearst Journalism Awards program for college students, earned French a trip to the championship that next summer in San Francisco, and helped him land a job with the Saint Petersburg Times, where French, today a professor of practice in journalism for The Media School at IU, won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in feature writing and a Sigma Delta Chi award for “Angels & Demons,” a series that explored the murder of an Ohio woman and her two teenage daughters. The article became a seminal piece of narrative journalism. Fellow Pulitzer recipient Anne Hull of the Washington Post said French’s series long dominated the craft and served as “a model for the rest of us to follow.” It could never have happened without French’s association with the IDS. “It was the best learning experience I ever had and one of the greatest times in my life,” said French, who also served as the newspaper’s editor-in-chief. “I never really understood how much freedom we had to make mistakes, take chances and do outrageous things.”

Years before French’s investigation of the state fair’s odd attraction, another Daily Student reporter, and future Pulitzer Prize winner, Ernie Pyle, heard news that IU’s twelve-man baseball team had been invited to play a series of exhibition games in Japan. “I’ve just got to go,” Pyle, struck with wanderlust, told his friend Paige Cavanaugh. Pyle obtained permission from Dean of Men Clarence Edmondson, borrowed $200, and, with three of his fraternity brothers, secured jobs on the ship (the Keystone State) taking the baseball squad to Japan. Pyle wrote his parents that he possessed “a pretty level head, so there is not the slightest cause to worry about me. I have trotted around this old globe considerably, and I think I should be pretty well qualified to handle myself wisely.”

The junior from Dana, Indiana, made sure to mail articles about his experiences to the IDS, including pieces on a storm that sailors told him was “the worst they had ever seen on the Pacific with the exception of a typhoon,” and his duties as a bellboy, including carrying ice and water, shining shoes, delivering packages, drawing baths, and tending to the “innumerable queer wants of the passengers.” Pyle and his fraternity brothers even managed to help a young Filipino stowaway, Eugene Uebelhardt, evade detection and make his way onto American soil.

French’s idiosyncratic hog story and Pyle’s audacious Japan trip would no doubt have delighted the original editors of the university’s first newspaper, The Indiana Student, which appeared on February 22, 1867, the same year the IU board of trustees voted to allow women to attend classes. Although in its first issue its editors—Henry C. Duncan, Robert D. Richardson, and Henry C. “Sol” Meredith—solemnly proclaimed the publication owed “allegiance to no faction, subservient to no personal motives of exaltation, pure in tone, seeking the common good, partial and guided by a spirit of truth and justice.”

The editors invented for a front-page article in the newspaper’s inaugural issue a meeting in the upper room of the Fee Building on the northwest corner of the Bloomington Square where such luminaries of the time as President Andrew Johnson, writer Washington Irving, newspaper editor Horace Greeley, publishers James Gordon Bennett, journalist Henry J. Raymond, and editor George D. Prentice gathered to determine a name for the IU publication.

Among the possibilities considered included the “Bloomington Regulator,” with one of its principal objects to “regulate society, regulate literature, regulate students, regulate the faculty, regulate public exhibitions, regulate Bloomington; in short, it was to be a regulator in the fullest sense of the term.” The article noted that Raymond in particular believed “The University Lightning Rod” would be fitting, as it would be the “means of silently conducting all the superfluous gas generated in the fruitful craniums of certain ‘smart students,’ either to immortal glories in the skies, or . . . to its more appropriate place, the dominions of Pluto beneath the earth.” The men also pondered such names as “My Policy Gazette” (Johnson’s choice), “Collegian, “Review,” “Banner,” “Mirror,” and “Bummer.”

Finally, Raymond, “by a heroic stretch of imagination and herculean wielding of brain power,” came up with “The Indiana Student.” That first issue also included a puckish notice informing students they should bear in mind that marriage notices would be “inserted free of charge,” and a piece advocating for campus improvements (a familiar theme for subsequent IU student newspapers),  especially the building of a “walk from the campus gate to the college. Many of our citizens have been deterred from attending performances at the college, in consequent of the deep mud through which they were compelled to wade. This could be remedied at a small outlay, and should be attended to at once, if we desire to keep up our reputation; all it needs is someone to take hold and it can be put through. Who will make the move?”

Throughout its more than 150 years of existence, the IDS has changed with the times and technology, from the hot-metal typesetting days of the Linotype machine to scanners and computer terminals and reading breaking news on handheld devices that can be slipped in and out of a pocket with ease. The newspaper has fought to maintain itself economically and reflect the audience it was writing for as it evolved from a for-profit venture for its editors to one owned by the university and used a laboratory to train journalists at IU to an independent publication employing students of all types with its editor-in-chief selected by a publications board including professional journalists and students. “These are our students on display,” noted Trevor Brown, former dean of the IU School of Journalism. “Obviously at times they disappoint us. At other times they thrill us with the quality. But that’s no different from a professional newspaper.”

Mottos used by the IDS have reflected the changes in journalism over the years, with the paper in 1914 using “Best in the Middle West,” in 1929 “He Serves Best Who Serves the Truth” and “’Tis the Truth that Makes Man Free,” and in the late 1990s “You Are the News.” The work produced by the newspaper has often been honored with national awards, including numerous Pacemakers from the American Newspaper Publishers Association, and IDS alumni have earned for their articles and photographs more Pulitzer Prizes than graduates from any other active college newspapers.

Before the Indiana Student made its appearance in 1867, other universities had already started publications offering literary outpourings and news, including the Dartmouth Gazette in 1800, followed by the Asbury Review, the Yale Courant, and Harvard Advocate. The Bloomington campus had seen two other attempts at collegiate journalism, including publications from the 1840s titled The Equator and The Athenian, the latter of which was sponsored by the Athenian Society, a literary group.

The Indiana Student’s appearance on February 22, 1867, was not accident, as its editors might have taken advantage of the pomp associated then with commemorating George Washington’s birthday, including a campus tradition whereby students burned their Latin texts of Horace or buried “Calculus” in late-night ceremonies. Newspaper staff consisted of editors from the senior class, with junior class members as “associates,” sophomores serving as office boys. and freshman relegated to the printer’s devil role, doing the mundane and grubby jobs associated with the printing trade.

Although the first issue of the newspaper had lampooned its naming with its fanciful committee, the truth was more prosaic, with Duncan, Richardson, and Meredith, joined by three other unnamed students, pondering what to name their creation. Reminiscing about the newspaper’s start, Duncan noted that those gathered “puzzled our brains . . . in names beginning with ‘A’ and running to ‘Z,’ but no name appeared suitable until the big senior from Cambridge City—‘Sol’ Meredith—put his giant intellect to bear on the subject, struck an attitude, and sang out ‘Student’—‘Indiana Student!’ And so it was christened.”

The four-page, three-column, privately-owned newspaper struggled to find its way, alternating between monthly and semimonthly publication, and sometimes disappearing from view for months at a time; for example, not issues appeared from April 1870 to the following September. “It started out under rather unfavorable circumstances,” Duncan remembered, “but by hard work we managed to make both ends meet, barring a little deficit the members had to foot. But then the honor!” Meredith could always be counted on to provide local news, but sometimes he wandered afield in his writing into areas, Duncan noted, “not very suitable for a first-class paper.” Although Richardson possessed writing ability, and could beat anyone on staff “on criticism,” said Duncan, he could also be “inclined to be sarcastic.” As for his own contributions to the Indiana Student, Duncan would only say that they were often spurred Doctor Cyrus Nutt, the university’s fifth president, to invite the young student to his office for a talk.

Taken over in 1870–71 by the by the Athenian and Philomathean Literary Association, two literary societies, the Indiana Student went out of business in 1874, beset with financial problems and supposed pressure from university president Lemuel Moss, who believed that IU should be a school of arts and no more.  For the next eight years students had to rely on Bloomington newspapers for news about campus activities. That changed with the arrival on campus of a transfer student from Butler University, Clarence L. Goodwin, who sought to revive a campus newspaper. He sought a partnership with a former IU student, William Julian Bryan, then teaching in Virginia and later the university’s president from 1902 to 1937. “He brought with him the courage and conviction to start new things,” Bryan said of Goodwin. “And since reawakening the professional schools would have been a bit out of line for him as a student, he brought baseball, The Student, and lecture bureau to the campus.” 

With help from William W. Spangler, university librarian, who served as the newspaper’s business manager, the monthly, twenty-eight page Student set out to not only provide “some means of recording the doings of the alumni,” but also giving “an esprit de corps to our students which they would not otherwise possess.”

After being revived by Goodwin and Bryan, the publication underwent some rocky times, with ownership changing hands among various editors, as well as being taken over by the IU Lecture Association and the university librarian for a time. The university did finally offer a class in reporting in 1893 taught by Professor Martin W. Sampson, with four students being instructed for two hours a week on “accounts of fires, accidents, crimes; reports of lectures, entertainments, public meetings; interview; study of daily and weekly newspapers.” The class had disappeared by 1898. IU’s paper finally got on solid footing under the editorship of Salem, Indiana, native Walter H. Crim, who, in the fall of 1898, received permission from the board of trustees to change the name to the Daily Student (it did not become the more familiar Indiana Daily Student until 1914) and publish it five afternoons a week; printing was done in the Bloomington World-Courier building.

In the 1900s student editors received fifteen credit hours for the work, but the university dropped the policy in 1906, and applicants for the job suffered a considerable drop. Journalism courses were offered at IU in 1908 by Fred Bates Johnson, a former Indianapolis reporter, and at the end of the 1910–11 school year, Joseph W. Piercy, formerly of the University of Washington, came to IU as head of the Department of Journalism, finally retiring in 1938. (Piercy was succeeded by John E. Stempel, who had worked on the IDS as a news editor with Pyle and later serving as a copy editor at the New York Sun.)

On May 5, 1910, after years of squabbling among editors over finances, most of the student and faculty stockholders of the Daily Student donated their holdings to the university’s board of trustees. By this time, newspaper had become a laboratory for journalism students, with a cast of rotating editors. In September 1914 the newspaper operation moved into new headquarters on campus, occupying half of what had been the university’s power plant. (After World War II a quonset hut provided room for the news staff and the journalism department and newspaper finally moved into Ernie Pyle Hall in 1954). Four pages of six columns each were published every morning except Sunday; during World War I, to conserve paper and power, the IDS halted publication on Mondays.

By 1920 the IDS added news from the Associated Press, which came every night via a fifteen-minute phone call from Indianapolis; full AP service came in 1931. Also in the early 1920s, the newspaper established an Indiana State Fair edition (Pyle served as one of the first editors-in-chief), with ten thousand copies printed and distributed free to those attending the goings-on at the fairgrounds in Indianapolis. 

Reflecting on the publication’s centennial in 1967, Marjorie Blewett, a former IDS editor-in-chief and a 1948 IU graduate, noted that the State Fair edition ended due to financial difficulties in 1955, but those who worked on it were fond of recalling “the week of dusty typewriters, finding features among the many fair personalities, covering the horse show, and the livestock competitions, watching the style show in the Women’s Building, and carrying on a running banter with Purdue students working in that school’s building down the street.”

Furnishings were by no means plush in the newspaper’s editorial offices in the printing plant. Martha Wright Myrick, a 1932 graduate whose father, Joe Wright, helped run the journalism department with Piercy, recalled a cluttered city room with a “horseshoe shaped desk for rewrite men and headline writers. I remember sitting on those rickety wooden folding chairs in front of an equally rickety typewriter batting out my story for the next after a concert or recital or whatever I had covered that night.” Students could be interrupted at any time by a faculty member storming into the office to point out an error in someone’s copy. Glen Stadler, a 1936 graduate, never forgot one day when J. Wymond French, the newspaper’s faculty adviser, stormed out of his office to tack on the bulletin board a notice pointing out a gross error: “NEVER, NEVER, NEVER write ‘TURN DOWN’ when you mean ‘REJECT!’”

Seeing an article with a byline appear in print for the first time was a memory cherished by many IDS alumni. J. E. O’Brien, who went on after graduating from IU in 1937 to work at the Indianapolis Times and Indianapolis News, achieved his first byline as a freshman after receiving a tip from Henrietta Thornton of IU’s publicity office. O’Brien interviewed Charley Hornbostel, the university’s famed middle-distance runner, about one of his ancestors, who had also been a runner. With “some trepidation,” O’Brien took his story to French. “He read it without changing a word, marked the paragraphs and penciled my byline atop the story,” O’Brien recalled. “I then asked if I could join the staff. To my surprise, French said I could.” 

O’Brien spent three years at the IDS, working in a variety of jobs, including editor-in-chief. His most satisfying was serving as night editor, effectively the paper’s managing editor, as that post selected what stories appeared on the front page and which receive the biggest play. Although French never questioned the night editor’s news judgment, “the marked-up front page he posted on the bulletin board the next morning usually made the night editor wince,” remembered O’Brien.

As part of her journalism education under Stempel, Blewett and others on the newspaper staff had to learn how to set hand type. “There were always stories about people dropping a drawer full of type, because Stempel always had to put it back,” she recalled. The process seemed almost miraculous to G. Patrick “Pat” Siddons, who, after serving with the army in the Pacific, had enrolled at Purdue University to study electrical engineering before realizing his writing skills were a better fit for IU. Siddons fondly recalled the heady feeling he “got from putting words on paper, the thrill of watching the Linotype operator create words in metal, and of watching that old flat-bed press crank out copies of a paper that actually contained stories I had written.” 

The days of the flatbed press ended in 1964, when the IDS became an offset newspaper. By the middle of the 1970s, computers arrived, and reporters typed their stories on special typewriters before feeding them into a scanner that transferred the information to a file in the computer that could then be edited before being sent to the production room for layout. In October 1996 the IDS entered the Internet age with the appearance of an online version on the World Wide Web.

Among the major changes to the newspaper, none may have been bigger than the one that occurred in 1969, when, as part of a change in the curriculum, journalism students were no longer required to work on the IDS. Also, the IU board of trustees approved a charter making the newspaper an enterprise of the university, still owned by IU, but without offering financial support. “It was a time of activism on campus,” said Blewett, who had joined the journalism department in 1965. “Everyone was trying to get their hands on it—student government, every kind of side group, every activist group. You really realized how valuable it was when you saw that all those people wanted it. . . . We had to fight to hold on, to mold the paper as an independent paper.”

Jack Backer of the Niles Star became the IDS’s publisher. A student who worked on the IDS under Backer’s tutelage, Dennis Royalty, a 1971 graduate, often told them, “Progress is crisis-oriented,” and gently pointed out what the fledgling journalists “could have done better while championing our success.” Following Backer’s death from cancer in 1976, Siddons, Bloomington bureau chief for the Louisville Courier Journal, accepted the publisher. Siddons said that Backer had put “the Daily Student on the lips of all the college media advisers around the country. . . . Jack Backer built the ship. All I had to do was make sure that it was steered in the right direction.” 

One of the lessons Siddons attempted to impart in the IDS staff from the beginning was that “you may be young, you may be students, you may be nonprofessionals, you may still be learning the tricks of the trade, but I want this to be as professional a paper as it can possibly be. I think they took pride in seeing how professional that they could make it.”

Controversy, of course, has been part of the IDS since its inception, and has included everything from angry Iranian students demanding the newspaper drop its AP service for Reuters International, accusations that the newspaper did not reflect the diversity of the student body, and (change to Media School).

With all the changes in journalism and at IU since the IDS first appeared in 1867, one thing has remained constant—the dedication of the students who have chosen to offer their talents working for the newspaper. It has been that way from the 1920s to the 2000s. For example, in the spring of 1929 reporters and editors were working on the next day’s issue when, at about 10 p.m., the lights in the newsroom went out. “The power house, which was right adjacent to the Daily Student office, was on fire,” said Robert Pebworth, who worked as the night editor. “We went out and by that time, the fire fighting equipment had come, and inquiries of what the devil to do.”

 Eventually, the staff gathered all the type and moved it to the Bloomington World to be printed. Pebworth recalled that the staff finished making up the paper at 7:30 in the morning and, despite the fire, it was out and delivered by 8:30. “We had a sense of a team concept,” he said. “We came from different backgrounds, with different interests, but we got swept up in trying to put out a good newspaper.”

Seventy-nine years later, another IDS editor, Carrie Ritchie, a 2008 graduate, arrived at Ernie Pyle Hall on her first day as spring editor to discover that the building’s electricity had gone out. “This presented a sizable challenge considering we did everything on computers,” Ritchie said. “I remember huddling on the back steps of the building with my staff members, trying to think of a viable alternative.” They ended up squeezing into a computer lab at the IU Memorial Union for several hours until power was finally restored at Ernie Pyle Hall.

Ritchie noted that a number of students, not too happy about being back at school after a long break, would have “complained about being in cramped quarters, trying to put out the first paper of the semester. But not this group. Instead, my colleagues were laughing, working with writers who had come in to edit their stories and genuinely enjoying each others’ company.”

Ritchie’s experience that day proved to her (as Pebworth’s adventure probably had in 1929) that she had made the right choice in choosing journalism as her career. “I wanted to be part of a profession that proved people can accomplish anything with a little bit of teamwork,” she said. “I think of that day often, especially when I hear people question the future of journalism. I know it will survive as long as we all work together, like IDS staffers did that day and for more than a century before that.”






Monday, February 1, 2021

Operation Cleanslate: Richard Tregaskis in the Russell Islands

 As the last of the exhausted and starving Japanese troops evacuated Guadalcanal in early February 1943, Richard Tregaskis, a correspondent with the International News Service who had reported on the action with the U.S. Marines during their first seven weeks on the island, prepared for another trip onboard a naval task force—this one aimed at the Russell Islands, codenamed Operation Cleanslate. American military officials planned to strike another target, New Georgia, in the future, and the capture of the two large islands in the Russells, Banika and Pavuvu, would provide the necessary space for supporting airfields and naval bases on islands best known to many for the coconuts harvested by its approximately 350 inhabitants for plantations owned by the Lever Brothers.

The islands in the Russells had been described by those who had visited as a land of “rain, mud, and magnificent coconuts.” Still, at least Banika Island seemed an appropriate location for American forces to construct the facilities needed to support future operations, as reports indicated that it had such positives as “well-drained shore areas, deep water, protected harbors, and lack of malaria.”

As he had before for the Guadalcanal operation, Tregaskis sailed with the master of amphibious warfare, Admiral Richmond K. Turner. Although Turner, the commander of Task Force 61, expected limited opposition on the ground, he warned the correspondent that the Japanese would do all they could to strike the American forces with numerous air raids once they had landed at the Russells and started setting up bases there. “Those b------- are going to react and do a lot of bombing here,” Turner prophesized. “There’s no doubt about that.” The admiral also worried about a response by the Japanese navy against the limited forces at his disposal—destroyers, fast transports, minesweepers, and motor torpedo boats. Jack Rice, an Associated Press photographer who accompanied Tregaskis on the expedition, had the same fears as the admiral. Rice had experience being under enemy bombing, and said he planned, once on solid ground, to dig a foxhole and “pull the top in after me.”

Major General John H. Hester, the commander of the U.S. Army’s Forty-Third Infantry Division, tasked with taking the Russells, was confident that his men would be successful whatever opposition they faced. Although his soldiers had yet to experience combat, they had trained hard and appeared eager to get into action. Hester said about twenty-five men had broken out of the hospital when they heard the outfit was getting ready for the Russell offensive. “It cured ’em,” the general informed Tregaskis. “There were a couple, though, who had appendicitis. It didn’t do anything for THEM.”

Ambling about the deck of his ship before the February 21 landing, Tregaskis had the opportunity to compare the soldiers of the Forty-Third with the marines he had come to know on Guadalcanal. In general, he noted, the soldiers were much more varied in appearance and age than the marines (one from Pittsburgh was reputed to be forty-four years old), which he expected, as about half of the army troops were draftees (the marines had all been volunteers). 

An officer said that the men in the division represented every state in the Union, but that most came from Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, along with Mississippi and Georgia and Swedes from Minnesota. A former automobile mechanic from Mississippi told Tregaskis he thought that the outfit was glad to finally end its training and finally see some action, with most of the soldiers feeling as he did—the job had to be done and the sooner it was the sooner they all could return home to their families. “These people were not as wild or youthful or exuberant as the Marines,” Tregaskis said. There was grousing from some involved in the operation, conceived by Turner and grudgingly approved by Halsey, who had told Turner, “go ahead, as some kind of action is better than none.”

One of the engineers, responsible for constructing the facilities on the Russells, complained to Tregaskis that those in charge “just put an X on the map and want us to build a base there. They never stop to think about terrain or anything like that.” The correspondent attributed the nitpicking he heard to the usual “beefing that you find anywhere in normal military or naval circles.” The army men passed the time shipboard in similar ways to what the marines had done on their way to Guadalcanal, Tregaskis remembered—playing cards, reading books and magazines, writing letters to loved ones, sharing photographs of their sweethearts, cleaning their weapons, and painstakingly reviewing their orders. Plans called for three simultaneous landings—on the north end of Pavuvu Island’s Pepesala Bay (a task to be handled by the 800 men of the Third Marine Raider Battalion), on the east coast of Banika Island’s Renard Sound, and on the southwest coast of Banika Island’s Wernham Cove.  

Whatever tension there may have been about the impending action lessened when a reconnaissance team of six American and Australian officers that had explored the area before the February 21 invasion found no Japanese troops on any of the islands except for a dead fighter pilot lying beside his crashed Zero. On Bycee (also called Baisen) Island at the northern edge of the Russells the officers did find evidence of a recent large concentration of Japanese, estimating that anywhere from 500 to 1,000 had established a camp and started work on a base. “But now all the enemy were gone,” Tregaskis reported. “The Japs had left large stores of supplies, including rifles, ammunition and medical items, behind them. They had evidently gone in a hurry, for even such items as packs and helmets were abandoned.” Still, the Japanese did not let the operation go completely unchallenged.

On the evening of February 17 a convoy of transports and escorting warships heading to the staging point for the invasion came under attack by a group of twelve to fourteen enemy torpedo planes. A naval officer who experienced the attack, Commander Charles O. Camp of Omaha, Nebraska, told Tregaskis that he could see one of the Japanese came right at his ship and it seemed like a long time before the ship’s gunners hit and destroyed the enemy. “I found myself squeezing, saying to myself, ‘I hope they hit him pretty soon.’ Finally, he burst into flame and there was a splatter of fire when he hit the water.”

The other torpedo planes made their attack runs at intervals of about four or five minutes, Camp added. “Our destroyer screen would pick them up and shoot at them and then the transports would join in,” the officer recalled. “It was like the Fourth of July. At one time there were five patches of flame on the water when the planes hit. As they struck the water in flames the planes looked like a mess of burning pieces. The ships kept turning to avoid the torpedoes and the attack was over in about 15 minutes. We had been unhit.”

In the days leading up to the February 21 landings, Hester and Turner were busy reviewing plans with their officers. Tregaskis recalled there were numerous last-minute changes and “an infinity of details” to be cared for. Turner’s headquarters thronged with high-ranking army and naval officers—admirals, generals, colonels, and commanders. “That’s the most gold braid I ever did see in one place,” a solider observed to Tregaskis. On the rainy night before the landing, soldiers had to jockey for space to sleep on deck. “The destroyers which formed a large part of our fleet had barely enough space below for their own crews,” Tregaskis recalled. “And in the large troop-carrying lighters which spread around the destroyers and auxiliary transports like ducklings around their parents, there was no hope of cover. The boats were open to the weather.”

On the destroyer to which he was assigned, the correspondent noted that the troops had no shelter except for the scanty cover of torpedo tubes and gun mounts, and these spaces were crowded “by a fortunate few.” Although reconnaissance had shown that there would probably not be any ground resistance in the Russells, some onboard, he noted, were sure that before the morning was over “we would be bombed: that the Japs might tackle our ships as they were unloading their cargoes of men, and our landing boats as they were striking for the shore; or at least, that we would be intensively bombed after we had landed.” Tregaskis overheard one of the soldiers holding forth to that effect in conversation with a circle of his friends and sailors. He asked them an unanswerable, it seemed, question about bombs being unleashed on them: “When you see the son of b------ comin’ right at you, what the f--- you gonna do, where the f--- you gonna go?”

No enemy projectiles fell on Tregaskis and the members of the Forty-Third Division the morning of the invasion. Because no Japanese had been unearthed, there was no need for a preliminary bombardment, and the ships’ guns were silent. The soldiers had calm weather, which made for an orderly landing—except for, that is, the landing barge, on which Tregaskis traveled, which had some trouble at Wernham Cove at the southern end of Banika. “We had thought our boat would be one of the first ashore,” he remembered. “But we soon changed our minds: suddenly our craft thudded against a coral reef, and bumped its way solidly aground. The soldiers looked silently over the side, watching the schools of small, bright blue fish daring amongst the vari-colored coral formations.”

Tregaskis noted that when one of the men asked their officer, Lieutenant Jackson S. King of Colusa, California, what they should do if the Japanese suddenly showed up, he had a straightforward solution: “We’d just dive in and try to swim for shore.” The craft’s skipper, Bosun Charles T. Howard, directed a mass movement to the stern and port side and, finally, the weight shifted, the engine churned furiously, and the boat began to “shudder its way off the reef.” It finally reached the beach, its ramp clanked down “like a medieval drawbridge, and our troops poured out,” reported Tregaskis.

All along the edge of a coconut grove Tregaskis could see the “tangled impediments and bustling crowd of the typical landing. There were piles of blue, soggy barracks bags, rifles stacked and in piles, wooden boxes of small arms ammunition and the black cardboard cloverleaf cases of artillery shells in great dumps.” At the water’s edge he could see additional landing boats running ashore and disgorging their troops, as well as soldiers rolling loaded trucks down the ramps of huge landing barges. “Platoons and companies were forming up and setting out up the hill to reconnoiter neighboring woods,” he said. All of this would have made a perfect target for Japanese bombing, but the enemy “literally ‘missed the boat,’” Tregaskis recalled. “Either they were intimidated or unaware of our operation.”

Wandering over to a nearby plantation house, Tregaskis came across a coastwatcher, Lieutenant Allan Campbell of Sydney, Australia, who sat calmly on the porch and looked out over the peaceful green lawn rimmed with frangipani trees and hibiscus bushes bearing crimson flowers. Campbell had been in the Russells for the last three months, reporting to U.S. headquarters by radio about Japanese ship and troop movements in the islands. “A dangerous job,” said Tregaskis, who asked Campbell if he had any close calls with the enemy. “Yes, they’ve been about,” Campbell said. He had seen them on the other side of the island, wandering about, but they had fled from the Russells the day after American forces had mopped up on Guadalcanal. The Australian officer noted that the Japanese had counted on building an air base in the Russells and having another crack at dislodging U.S. forces from Guadalcanal. Another coastwatcher joined the duo on the porch and asked Tregaskis if he would like a cup of tea. “It was an unexpectedly polite welcome to this island where we had expected a hot reception from Jap aircraft,” the correspondent said.

Later that afternoon, Tregaskis trudged for miles over a rough trail, stumbling constantly over coral extrusions, to reach the camp where he would be sleeping. He, Rice, and a handful of army officers struggled a bit to set up a tent to shelter them for the evening, but eventually succeeded. “Marvel of marvels,” said Tregaskis, “we had folding cots too and did not have to sleep on the ground. Which was well because in the night the rain began to pour down and kept on pouring.” Before they went to sleep, those staying in the tent made sure to pick out a nearby gully where they could seek shelter if, “as we expected,” Tregaskis said, “the Jap bombers came over during the night. But they did not come.”

With the landings a success, Tregaskis spent the next few days, accompanied by Rice, traveling the waters around the Russells, including checking in with the Third Marine Raider Battalion, which had been responsible for seizing Pavuvu Island. En route Tregaskis used his swimming prowess to investigate a downed Japanese Zero lying on a coral bank in shallow water about ten feet down. As everywhere else in the islands, the water was crystal clear, and he could see the plane’s markings and the bullet holes in its wings as he peered down from his boat above. “I dived in and swam about the cockpit and around the tail of the of the plane. The cockpit was intact, untouched by bullets,” he reported. Evidently the Zero had been struck in its engine or lubrication system and had made a forced landing—an observation Tregaskis later verified with occupants of a nearby village. According to their account, the Japanese aviator had survived, been captured by Australian coastwatchers, and sent on to the Americans on Guadalcanal.

Upon reaching Pavuvu, Tregaskis met with the men and officers of the Marine Raiders. Although the Raiders had discovered no traces of the enemy on Pavuvu, on the nearby Bycee Island they had uncovered the remnants of a Japanese camp. “There were shelter caves dug under plantation house, there, and machine gun positions, more than 100 drums of fuel oil, and some foodstuffs,” Tregaskis learned, along with medical supplies, machine-gun ammunition, and hand grenades. One of the unusual items they unearthed was a bottled, honey-tasting liquid. “It seemed like concentrated food to me,” Lieutenant Murray Ehrlich of San Diego, California, said to the correspondent. “It’s quite palatable when take with something else and washed down with a hot drink. It tastes like mineral oil with a very sweet flavor.”

While his traveling companions left to check on the items left on Bycee, Tregaskis stayed behind with the Raiders on Pavuvu to “work furiously” on a typewriter. “I was anxious to get some copy aboard ships which were leaving in the afternoon,” he noted. Tregaskis’s party had a pleasant return trip to Banika, but had a rocky night, as the camp was “full of disturbing shadows and misgivings. It seemed weird that the Japs had not yet attacked.” Sentries were on edge and were quick to call out “Halt!” if they heard or saw any movement in the jungle, Tregaskis recalled. “We had an alert in the middle of the night, but no planes showed up,” he said. Rain did appear, however, falling hard enough to flood the earthen floor of Tregaskis’s tent.

On the afternoon of February 25, it seemed as if the attack everyone had feared had finally happened. Two signalmen came running into Hester’s headquarters clad only in trousers. They told everyone that their group had been fighting with a Japanese patrol in the jungle, and they had abandoned their position when they feared they might be surrounded. Officers scrambled to organize a platoon to send out, with the expectation, Tregaskis noted, that a pitched battle would be joined. The correspondent joined the soldiers as they marched off, with the remaining troops yelling “Give ’em hell boys!” as a farewell as they shoved off on a landing boat for the rescue mission. “We were ready, and had made the same grim mental adjustment for a fight which would have been necessary if we had actually run into one; but the Japs turned out to be phantoms,” Tregaskis said. “We found, on landing, only a badly scared signal company and some croaking bullfrogs in the thick jungle; nary a Jap, as yet.”