March 10, 2017

1942. Bill Downs Meets with General Eisenhower's Naval Aide

Bill Downs Meets with Harry C. Butcher
"Eisenhower with paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division at Greenham Common in the Berkshire Downs, June 5, 1944 . . . The tall officer in the dark uniform is Commander Harry C. Butcher, Eisenhower’s naval aide" (source)
Harry C. Butcher served as Naval Aide to General Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1942 to 1945. During that time he maintained a diary about his experiences, including an encounter in 1942 with Bill Downs, who at the time still worked for the United Press.

Passage from My Three Years with Eisenhower: The Personal Diary of Captain Harry C. Butcher, USNR, Naval Aide to General Eisenhower, 1942 to 1945, pp. 40-42:

Someone sent Ike Time for July 27, and the Washington Times-Herald for July 29, and they certainly had a fast passage. Noticed in the Times-Herald the Scottie story: "Wounded 'Eagle,' Last of 19, Promised U.S. Air Transfer." The text of the story is as follows:
LONDON, July 28 (CTPS). Lying in a Cambridge hospital with his back broken in three places, 33-year-old Scottie Cooke, former Hollywood scenario writer, has received a letter from Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower, it was reported today, promising to facilitate his transfer from the Royal Air Force to the United States air arm.

"I'm delighted to secure for the American Army men of your unusual experience, qualifications and gallantry," Eisenhower wrote after hearing Cooke desired to join the United States Corps. "The instant you come out of the hospital, please come to my office personally and I will see that all necessary steps are instituted forthwith," Eisenhower added.

Cooke is the last alive of a group of 19 Americans who threw up their jobs two and a half years ago and paid their own passage to join the RAF here.

In August, 1941, he married an English girl and the following month limped home in a badly shattered plane after a raid on Frankfort and has been hospitalized ever since.

The doctors, according to Cooke, are still not sure of his recovery, but he is convinced he can regain the use of his legs. "If they would only strap me into some old crate and let me back over Germany," he said, "I could still show them something."

His wife declared he was thrilled by Eisenhower's letter and "full of plans to keep the appointment with the general."
It illustrates to me the impossibility of trying to keep his name out of the press if what he does is newsworthy. This is the story Bill Downs of the UP first broke. Bill then came to see me. The dying condition of Gunner Cooke, lying in a Cambridge hospital, had touched this reporter deeply. Downs had said that the one big thing that Cooke wanted was to transfer, after he had left the hospital, to the American Air Force. Ike had readily consented to send a letter promising this, but instructed me to ask Bill Downs to handle it without mention of Ike's name, merely attributing it to Theater Headquarters. The CG wanted no personal publicity, especially at the expense of this unfortunate flier. Downs handled it in this manner, but when a London paper followed up on his story, its English reporter found Cooke not only elated, but displaying the letter. Thus the story, including Ike's name, broke in the London papers and was picked up by the CTPS. It's a hard life in this war for any general who wants to avoid publicity. Also hard on the aide.

Colonel Al Gruenther, C/S in Ike's old spot with the Third Army, under Major General Walter Krueger, at Fort Sam Houston, arrived tonight after a twenty-seven-hour flight from Washington. Gruenther reported to Ike at the apartment while we were at dinner.

I neglected to mention that during the day the July 27 issue of Life arrived by hand of some other transatlantic passenger. I discovered in it a big frontispiece of Ike and, further along, a smaller picture of his brother Milton. When I showed these to Ike, I first opened the magazine at Milton's smiling mug, which gave Ike a great kick. Then I said, "Here's another fellow you might be interested in." Leafed back to the full-page picture of Ike. He nearly fell out of his chair.