August 14, 2017

1945. Bill Downs on the Postwar World

Bill Downs on "Report to the Nation"
Bill Downs in Normandy, June 14, 1944
This text is from a transcript for the radio broadcast Report to the Nation in 1945.
JOHN DALY: This is a report to Report to the Nation. With victory in Europe, now can be told the stories behind the news. Here in our Report to the Nation studio is one of CBS' top-drawer war correspondents. You've heard him describe the Surrender of the German High Command, an appropriate wind-up to his war coverage, because like the troops he stayed with to the end, he went in on the Normandy beaches on D-Day, and fought across France and Germany with them.  His name is Bill Downs.

Speaking as a correspondent myself, Bill, I'd like to know how you got your stuff out of the beachhead.

BILL DOWNS: I tell you, John, it wasn't until ten days after D-Day that we found there were fourteen Army radio transmitters which we could have used. The news didn't get out of Normandy by radio as fast as it should have. Army officials at that time were uncertain of the form of news reporting of this campaign would take. However, eight days after the D-Day landing, when we got the first broadcast out, they were most cooperative. Without boasting, I think the radio, press, and photographic reporters have done an adequate job.

DALY: What about stories behind the news? You were on the British front, Bill. What about this fantastic character, Montgomery?

DOWNS: Field Marshal Montgomery already is a legend in the European campaign. He's a mixture of Roman god, Episcopalian minister, and a fine fighting man. He also has an ego that's become famous throughout the world.

A good example is the time he met Russian Field Marshal Rokossovsky south of Wismar on the Baltic. Both Rokossovsky and Monty had speeches prepared for the historic joining of forces, but Rokossovsky beat Monty to the draw. He grabbed Montgomery's hand and shook it for over ninety seconds, meanwhile spouting a stream of Russian.

Montgomery was overcome for the first time in this war. He turned to his interpreter and asked, "What's this chap saying?"

The interpreter said, "Field Marshal Rokossovsky says he is proud and happy to greet one of the war's great soldiers."

Montgomery replied, "Is that so? Let me shake that man's hand again."

DALY: How about it, Bill—is Montgomery really good?

DOWNS: As good as he thinks he is, John.

DALY: You got the story on V-E Day from the British front?

DOWNS: Yes. I suppose it was the first time in radio history that a whole enemy town turned out for the Columbia Broadcasting System.

DALY: How'd that come about?

DOWNS: Well, we knew V-E Day was coming up, and the terms of surrender about forty-eight hours before it happened.

DALY: You went in with the troops on D-Day and stayed with them all the way until V-E Day. What did it add up to for you?

DOWNS: I don't know how it looked to you from over here, John, but to me D-Day in Normandy and Victory Day in Germany were different as black and white. On D-Day every dogface who went up those beaches was riding a white horse. He was a crusader fighting for the freedom of Europe and the world.

That spirit lasted until we reached Germany. Then, when victory was in sight, came a more deadly artillery than we found on the battlefields. The shells of suspicion, the gas of selfishness, and international undermining. By the time the war ended all our idealism was gone. Our crusade had been won, but our white horses had been shot out from under us.

I remember sitting in London back in 1940, when the world's most powerful air force was bombing us, when the most powerful army in the world was spreading over Europe. I knew that sooner or later America would have to come into the war. And I remember shuddering, watching these professional German soldiers—and they were professional. I thought that, when we did come in, what a meat-grinding process it would probably be.

I was wrong. Our drugstore clerks and college kids and farm boys have developed into the best fighting men in any army today.

As a nation we are now just feeling our strength. Now, then, how will we use this strength? For the cause of hate or race discrimination, or territory or money?

The crusade that inspired men to give their lives selflessly must not turn into a precinct political battle on the world scale, with all of its ramifications, power politics, diplomatic double-dealing, and cutthroat economic competition. No American's life is worth spending on these things. We have started a purchasing program, buying freedom and dignity and democracy with the lives of Americans. It is an investment given as security the trust and confidence of future generations. We must make our investment pay dividends, in human freedom.