August 21, 2013

1978. "Bill Downs, Reporter for ABC, Ex-War Correspondent, Dies" - Washington Post

Bill Downs, Reporter for ABC, Ex-War Correspondent, Dies
Bill Downs speaking with Edward R. Murrow
Bill Downs, 63, a network correspondent for the American Broadcasting Co. in Washington for the past 15 years, died Wednesday of cancer at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda.

Mr. Downs, whose most recent assignment with ABC was to cover ecology and matters on natural resources, began his broadcast career in 1942 with the Columbia Broadcasting System in London during World War II.

His wartime assignments included Moscow, where he was stationed from 1942 to 1944, and where he covered the battle of Stalingrad, the D-Day landings in Normandy, the surrender of German forces to Field Marshall Montgomery, and the surrender of Japan.

He later covered the atomic tests at Bikini Atoll in 1946, the Soviet blockade of Berlin and the resulting Berlin Airlift, the Korean conflict, and numerous stories in the United States, including presidential campaigns. He was assigned to Rome by CBS from 1953 to 1956, and then became a specialist in diplomatic reporting. He resigned from CBS in 1962.

Mr. Downs joined ABC after a brief period of free-lance writing. He helped cover events surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He was ABC's correspondent at the Defense Department from 1963 until 1970, when he switched to ecology.

His prizes included a National Headliner's Club award for his exclusive coverage of the German surrender to Montgomery and and Overseas Press Club citation in 1949.

William Randall Downs Jr. was born in Kansas City, Kan. He grew up there and graduated from University of Kansas in 1937. He worked for Kansas City newspapers and then joined the old United Press in that city. UP, now United Press International, transferred him to London in 1940.

Mr. Downs' survivors include his wife of 31 years, the former Rosalind Gerson, of the home in Chevy Chase; three children, William R. III, of Flagstaff, Ariz., Karen Louise Smith, of Portland, Ore., and Adam Michael, of Silver Spring; his parents, William R. Sr. and Katherine Tyson Downs, and a sister, Bonnie Shoults, all of Kansas City. The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to a charity of one's choice.

August 19, 2013

1940s. World War II Currency and Headlines

Contemporary Coins and Preserved Newspaper Headlines from World War II


Reverse: "Schlagt lüge betrug und verrat frei macht die tat. Wählt liste 8"Fight lies, deceit, and treason. Action liberates. Vote List 8, April 24, 1932.

"FREIE UND HANSESTADT HAMBURG" - Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg


Bank Note from Occupied Ukraine in 1942



The failure of the Maginot Line

When it came to France, Hitler was obsessed with symbolism--particularly revenge for World War I grievances with the overall goal of humiliating France.

August 18, 2013

1946. Bill Downs Covers the Bikini Atoll Nuclear Tests

Operation Crossroads
The letter sent from Bikini Atoll by Bill Downs to his wife Rosalind on the day of the nuclear tests
In 1946, Bill Downs reported on the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests known as Operation Crossroads. He was the sole correspondent to accompany the crew of an observation plane which flew directly behind the bomber. It was the plum assignment (PDF, page 7). The rest of the press corps covered the tests from the USS Appalachian.

The decision to send Downs, a radio reporter for CBS, was met with protest from the major news wire agencies, the United Press, the Associated Press, and the International News Service. Since the report was to be the first bulletin to the press, they insisted that a neutral party be given the assignment.

Here is an account from the USS Appalachian. From Denise M. Rompilla's From Hiroshima to the Hydrogen Bomb: American Artists Witness the Birth of the Atomic Age, pp. 167-168:
"'How does it feel to be on your way to a catastrophe?' mused Norman Cousins, in a column he filed for the Saturday Evening Review en route to Bikini. Aboard the USS Appalachian, nicknamed 'the Big Apple,' the correspondents were growing used to the 'grotesque unreality' of participating in a mission in which they themselves were eager guinea pigs. To his readers at home, Cousins recounted the details of the mob conferences that the correspondents crowded into a tiny stateroom to attend. At one, a geologist spoke unblinkingly about the remote possibility of planetary extinction from the atom bomb tests. If the world did manage to pull through unscathed, stories of concussions from the blast and blindness from the light of the explosion were drummed into their heads to take appropriate safety precautions.
"Because of these lessons which forced them to confront their own mortality with unsettling frequency, the passengers turned to macabre humor for relief, starting up their own newspaper, the Daily Blast (published from 'Guinea Pig Bay'), composed their own theme song (dedicated to Join Task Force Press Officer Captain Fitzhugh Lee, and on one of the last evenings before reaching Bikini, held an elaborate banquet, which featured 'Plutonium Pie' for dessert...However, during the six week journey the correspondents spent the majority of their hours in the tropical heat with no news and nothing to write about. The lack of mobility in the crowd, their confinement for such a long stretch of time, and the complete impartiality in which they were doled out the news, resulted in stories in which most of them 'wrote their heads off' about something most of which was already known, and the rest Top Secret. 
"On July 1, 1946, when the moment of the explosion finally came, Crawford was positioned on the deck of the Appalachian at a distance of 18 miles from the perimeter of the target fleet. The members of the press were spread out on deckchairs, dressed like beachcombers, many clothed in the wild prints of the Hawaiian shirts they had picked up on their stopover in Honolulu, with typewriters and notepads on their laps and military-issued goggles on their foreheads. Crawford was one of a handful to refuse the protective gear and look at the explosion directly as he crouched behind the starboard rail—but as his son remarked on the circumspect nature of his father, he watched the test with one eye closed 'just in case.' 
In the end, the goggles were totally unnecessary—at the radius of the observation fleet, the sound and the light of the explosion had dropped off exponentially. As the salmon colored cloud snaked its way into the stratosphere, some of the servicemen threw off their goggles and grabbed their cameras instead—as one veteran noted 'when the first Bomb exploded, you heard more camera clicks before the sound of the explosion arrived to our ears.' Bill Downs [from the observation plane], the first reporter to speak on the global hookup after the static died down, remarked with noticeable disappointment 'there was no tidal wave, the plane did not receive any shock, I can't see any damage below. Observers on the Appalachian noted that Bikini's palms were still visible, gently swaying in the breeze...'"
In 1952, during an appearance on Edward R. Murrow's television program See It Now, Downs reflected on the nuclear tests at Enewetak Atoll, famously saying "This seems to me to be more a day for a searching of the human soul, perhaps, than for any kind of scientific celebration." The full clip is below:

August 16, 2013

1943. Nazis Even Kill Their Wounded in Russian Retreat

Nazis Even Kill Their Wounded in Russian Retreat
Friedrich von Paulus
Ottawa Citizen - February 9, 1943
NEW YORK, Feb. 8, 1943--(A.P.)

Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus, captured at Stalingrad, may be questioned by the Russians concerning atrocities in the Ukraine, Bill Downs, CBS correspondent who visited Stalingrad, said in a broadcast tonight.

Downs reported one Russian officer told him a commission is now investigating "atrocities in the Ukraine." Field Marshal Paulus came through the Ukraine. We probably will want to ask him about that later."

Meanwhile, the Russian midnight communique declared: "The Germans are not only abandoning their wounded, but even killing them. In the village of Timiryazevo the Hitlerites blew up a hospital in which 27 wounded German officers and men were patients."

August 12, 2013

1945. Germany Has Surrendered - Associated Press News Bulletin

"The Agony that Convulsed the World"

By the Associated Press

London, May 7 -- The greatest war in history ended today with the unconditional surrender of Germany.

The surrender of the Reich to the Western Allies and Russia was made at Gen. Eisenhower's headquarters at Reims, France by Col. Gen. Gustaf Jodl, Chief of Staff for the German Army.

This was announced officially after German broadcasts told the German people that Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz had ordered the capitulation of all fighting forces, and called off the U-Boat war.

Joy at the news was tempered only by the realization that the war against Japan remains to be resolved, with many casualties still ahead.

The end of the European warfare, greatest, bloodiest and costliest war in human history--it has claimed at least 40,000,000 casualties on both sides killed, wounded, and captured--came after five years, eight months, and six days of strife that overspread the globe.

Hitler's arrogant armies invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, beginning the agony that convulsed the world for 2,319 days.

1958. Bill Downs on Time Magazine's "Man of the Year"

Who Will Win Man of the Year?

Bill Downs

CBS Washington


Good evening. This is Bill Downs in Washington, substituting for Eric Sevareid. We are approaching that time of the year when news editors sit down and choose the ten biggest news stories of 1958, and Mr. Henry Luce's news magazine goes through the annual ritual of picking the so-called "Man of the Year."

It occurred to us that, if Mr. Luce can have a "Man of the Year," why can't everyone else? Republicans and Democrats; scientists and dolts; politicians and voters. We were kicking the idea around with some of our Washington colleagues the other day, and it was agreed that the true men of the year are seldom given proper credit—those characters in the background who initiate or embellish a story or event.

A staunch Democrat president said his party should nominate Harold Stassen for the honor, but another partisan said no; the Man of the Year of the Democratic Party should be that Andean hunter who shot the vicuña that got to the house of Goldfine. Someone then asked, who should be the Man of the Year for the Republicans? Well, our GOP colleague on hand, still suffering from November's election buffeting, thought long and deep. "It's obvious," he said finally, "the Republican Party should make their 1958 'Man of the Year' honor a posthumous award to the late John D. Rockefeller for having the foresight to sire a son named Nelson, although we don't know yet where Nelson's going to stand with the Dirks and Bridges wing of the party."

Well, as such discussion will go, the talk turned to international affairs and who was really this year's unsung "Man of the Year" in the Soviet Union. The Russian who makes Khrushchev's vodka was considered and rejected. So was Mrs. Khrushchev. But this informal board finally agreed that the West really owes the "Man of the Year" honor to the Russian official who read Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago. This unsung hero, by banning the book, the Nobel Prize, and attacking the author, struck a blow for freedom that rang around the world.

When the informal nominations got into the field of arts and sciences, there immediately came to mind a man from Memphis, Tennessee. That unknown lover of good music: the chairman of Elvis Presley's draft board. And what explorer would not endorse for the "Man of the Year" that perceptive sailor on the nuclear submarine Nautilus who remembered to take aboard a load of ancient North Polar ice for the admirals' cocktail parties back here in Washington?

But here we got on—got one objection from a Marine correspondent, naturally. "If there's to be a military 'Man of the Year' for 1958," he declared, "then surely it should go to that little Lebanese boy who greeted the advance Marine detachments which landed on the shores of Lebanon last July 15. This Beirut youth set up a cold drink stand to slake the thirst of US fighting men, he proved the efficacy of individual ambition and free enterprise, and so overcharged the leathernecks that they had little money left to get into trouble with. A true advocate of Arab-American understanding.
This truly has been an eventful year. With segregation and satellites filling the headlines. With recession and rock 'n' roll badgering the citizenry. One man's "Man of the Year" is another man's bum, and we give fair warning to Mr. Henry Luce that if he's smart this year, he'll stick to Santa Claus.

August 11, 2013

1952. Nixon's Headset

"Walter Cronkite and Ed Murrow want to talk to you."
Bill Downs interviewing then-Vice President Richard Nixon in the 1950s
From Don Hewitt's 2002 book Tell Me A Story: 50 Years and 60 Minutes in Television, p. 57-58:
We also were fierce in our competition with the other networks for breaking news and interviews. Right after the Republicans chose Richard Nixon to be Dwight Eisenhower's running mate, Nixon was holding an impromptu news conference in the hallways leading from the convention floor. NBC, ABC, and CBS, among others, were carrying the news conference live on radio and television. As usual, it was a mob scene.

Our man in the crowd was Bill Downs, who was wearing a headset on which he could hear Walter Cronkite and Ed Murrow in the anchor booth and me when I wanted to cut in and tell him something. He was also holding the microphone over which we were picking up what Nixon was saying. All of a sudden I was struck with a crazy thought. "Take your headset off, Bill," I said, "and put it on Nixon before he has a chance to know what’s happening, and tell him Cronkite and Murrow want to talk to him."

Downs couldn't answer because his mike was "hot" and Nixon was speaking into it, as he was speaking into a dozen or so other mikes that were stuck in his face. Bill thought I had lost my mind, but he did what I told him. He took off his headset and stuck it on Nixon’s head, handed him his mike and told him, "Walter Cronkite and Ed Murrow want to talk to you."

Because it happened so fast and because it happened live in front of millions, Nixon had no chance to think about it. The other reporters didn't know what to do because there was nothing they could do. Here was Richard Nixon, wearing a CBS headset and holding a CBS microphone, talking to Murrow and Cronkite live on NBC and ABC as well as on CBS. We, of course, could carry both ends of the conversation. What the others got were only long pauses and then Nixon's answers, which began "Well, Ed," or "well, Walter." It was delicious.

Putting a headset on news personalities at news events so they could talk to Cronkite became a CBS trademark, and later, a joke. Hughes Rudd, one of our reporters during the '60s and '70s once said he'd had a dream that I told him to take off his headset and put it on Cronkite so Walter could have a conversation with himself.

August 8, 2013