October 31, 2014

1944. Bill Downs Returns Home from Russia

Reflects Bill Downs on Time in the Soviet Union
Telegram sent by Bill Downs to his family in Kansas City, Kansas, postmarked September, 9, 1942
From the Kansas City Times, January 1944:

Back From Russia, Bill Downs Greets Friends and Tells of Experiences as Correspondent
"Grandma's on the phone, excuse me."

So Bill went to the telephone and talked with his grandmother, who hadn't seen him for four years while he has been in England and Russia.

"Pay no attention to them, Grandma," he said into the phone. "They are fooling you." He turned aside and said someone had told Grandma she was too old to travel from Springfield.

"Tomorrow. Sure. Be seeing you tomorrow evening."

"Grandma" is Mrs. Nellie Cartmell, 82 years old, of Springfield, Mo. She will catch the train there about 2 o'clock tomorrow afternoon and arrive here about 6 tomorrow night.

Favors Friendship

Then Bill cut loose on Russia -- that great nation of the Big Bear (within the week, sixteen Little Bears by ukase of Premier Stalin) and told how Americans can get along with her in the post-war world if this nation really wants to.

Bill is Bill Downs, CBS correspondent and son of Mr. and Mrs. William R. Downs, [address removed]. He has just returned from a year in the Soviet.

"The Russians keep a close check on American politics and are intensely interested in what is happening over here," Downs said, adding that Americans would do well to take as great an interest in Russia.

"America and the Soviet Union are the two greatest continental powers in the world today. And I am sure from what I learned while I was there that, if we will suppress our suspicions of that people, we will be able to work out a program for the post-war world which will not only be to our mutual benefit, but which will help insure peace for many years to come. Without mutual respect and confidence, we will find ourselves divorced from the Russians, who no doubt will have a powerful word to say in post-war Europe since they are paying such a price for the freedom of their nation today."
Russian Losses Huge

Downs said that with less than three years of war behind her, Russia already has lost 10 million of her people, killed and missing. "That includes both civilians and personnel of the armed serviced," he stated.

Bill Downs is now 29 years old. He once carried The Kansan and later was with the United Press. He was in London at the time of the air blitz and went to the Soviet after considerable time spent in the English capital.

"I never met Stalin, but I have talked with Molotov (foreign minister of the U.S.S.R.) many times, and with most of the other head men of the Russian government," he said.

"First, they are tough. Second, they are capable. Third, they are competent to operate not only their army but their own government."

"Can we trust the Russians?"

That was the principal question asked of him.

Ask Same Question

With a grin, he said, "That's a good one." Then he studied for a long minute and said:

"That's what the Russians are asking about us," he said. "They want to know if they can trust America. Now Americans want to know if they can trust Russia.

"My idea is that we can trust Russia if we are willing to deal with her honestly and fairly. We must realize that her toll of blood in this war is going to make her extremely conscious of her part at the peace table. She is going to have something to say about what happens to Europe, just the same as we'd have something to say about what happens to North America if the situation were reversed and Canada or Mexico had jumped on us and Russia had come to our aid."

Downs said that for the most part supplies going to the Russian front are traveling from the railroad junctions to the fighting line on American trucks and other equipment. He said that a large per cent of the medium bombers now being used by Russia are of American make.

Star Makes Difference

"All you have to do to make a B-25 look like a Russian plane is to have a can of red paint and use it on the white star on the plane's fuselage," he explained.

The correspondent brought back souvenirs from Russia, including money he picked up in Russia, Persia and North Africa. A beautiful shirtwaist he brought back cost him a bottle of vodka, four pounds of butter and five cans of vegetables which his company had sent him eighteen months before he received it. He said butter was not particularly difficult to get in Moscow, but that it was scarce in other parts of Russia. He brought jewel cases, hand painted and of rare artistic beauty back with him for members of his family, and for himself a cigarette case of the same material.

He said that America, Britain and Germany all mis-guessed Russian strength, because they could not fully realize that the Soviet Union had come so far in so short a time with its program of industrial expansion and manufacture.

"But Russia had been preparing for this war for fifteen years, and that's why she has been able to hold the Germans," he said.

Predicts Hard Days

Although unwilling to make a definite prediction, Downs said hard days lie ahead in this war.

"Surely we here in the middle west don't have to lose our towns to an enemy, have our people driven out of their homes by bombs and brutality, suffer plague and starvation and death to realize what this war means. At least I hope we don't. Just because our men are fighting on foreign soil is no reason those here at home dare lie down on their responsibility. It's going to be tough going for quite a while yet."

Young Downs said he would visit here for two weeks, then probably go to London again.