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Sample Chapter: Bob Post
In February of 1943, New York Times correspondent Robert Perkins Post stunned two friends with a startling admission: he thought he was going to die. He'd been selected to cover an American 8th Air Force bombing mission and would soon be climbing aboard a bomber bound for Germany. Actress Leonore Corbett and Chicago Daily News war correspondent Helen Millbank were startled by Post's attitude and tried to reassure him, but Post was insistent. He didn't think he would come back. Oddly enough, he was the one who'd pushed for this assignment. He'd been trying to hitch a ride on a bomber for two years, first with the Royal Air Force (they'd turned him down) and later with the Americans. Finally, he and seven other journalists were being given a chance to accompany a mission.
Known to his friends as "Bob", Post was a large man, good-looking, but heavyset. He had come to the New York Times London bureau in 1938 and was there to cover the Battle of Britain when the Germans escalated their bombings early in the fall of 1940. At 32, he was already a veteran reporter, having served in Washington, DC, as a White House correspondent. Post was the son of a Harvard-educated, New York lawyer whose family summered in a mansion called Strandhome on Long Island's Great South Bay. The product of prep schools and the Ivy League, Post graduated from Harvard in 1932 with plans to become a journalist. During summer vacations in college he had worked for newspapers like the Putnam Patriot and the New York World. After graduating he took a job for the Boston American. In 1933, he applied to Arthur Krock, head of the New York Times Washington bureau, for a job as a junior correspondent. Krock told him, "You'll have to do it the hard way, Bob...There's a job for an office boy and it's mostly running messages for the telephone operator." Post took the job. He left Washington briefly to go to New York City to help with publicity on Mayor La Guardia's campaign for re-election. At the same time, his brother, Langdon Ward Post, was running for borough president. He lost, and afterwards, Bob Post returned to the Times.

Bob Post, war correspondent for the New York Times - Photograph courtesy of Elizabeth Coville
In October of 1935, Post married Margaret "Margot" Lapsley in Brooklyn, Connecticut. The Times reported that the wedding "united two families long identified with New York society." They honeymooned in the West Indies, and began their married life in Washington. Post worked in the New York Times Washington bureau from 1934 to 1938 and was the New York Times White House correspondent in 1936 and 1937. It was during this time that Post built his friendship with President Franklin Roosevelt. In 1936, Roosevelt's son was inducted into the Fly Club, a Harvard social club. Because Post had been a member during his days at Harvard, he was allowed to attend the ceremony, unlike other members of the press who were excluded.

Bob Post (center with notepad) at a March 1937 press conference in Warm Springs, GA. Thomas Qualters, the President's personal bodyguard is seated next to Roosevelt. Marvin McIntyre, Presidential secretary, is at the left, hat in hand - Photograph courtesy of the Roosevelt Presidential Library
The most often told story about Post and FDR relates to a confrontation they had early in Roosevelt's second term. Two prominent Democrats had speculated publicly that FDR would indeed run for a third term in 1940. Shortly thereafter at a press conference, Post asked FDR about his intentions. At first, Roosevelt joked about the weather, ignoring the question entirely. When Post pressed on, FDR told him, "Bob, go put on the dunce cap and stand in the corner." As Post left the room, FDR gave him a thumbs-down sign. The newspapers had a field day with the incident, using it as an example of how Roosevelt ducked important questions. Three years later when FDR accepted the nomination for a third term, Post sent a congratulatory telegram to FDR with the message: "Who's the dunce now?"

Cartoon by William Summers of the Cleveland News, July 1, 1937
Click for larger image
On a December morning in 1937, Bob called Margot at home with some unexpected news: they were headed for London. "How wonderful!" she replied, "What a break!" "We sail in three weeks," he added, then cautioned, "Don't forget there might be a war."
I brushed that unpleasant possibility aside and hung up. With a thumping heart I looked around our tiny, but newly decorated, apartment and a very small lump came to my throat. There was no use kidding oneself, this was the end of an era in our little lives. - Mrs. Margaret L. Post, The Putnam Patriot, October 1940
Margot wrote a four-part series that appeared in the Putnam (Connecticut) Patriot. Describing the events of September of 1939, she wrote:
Five minutes after war was declared everyone felt better than they had for weeks. The tension was over. The war would last three years, we were told, and it was essential to adapt oneself. News bulletins were broadcast every fifteen minutes. With the radio beside us on the grass we listened to the familiar voice of the announcer making the most unfamiliar statements. The population was told that there would be no church services, movies or theatres. We were ordered not to collect in crowds and to carry our gas masks everywhere. Great bombers roared overhead and we wondered whether they were headed for France or Germany. They looked like silver sharks in the afternoon light and not at all as if they were controlled by young men, flying at three hundred miles an hour away from their homeland. - Mrs. Margaret L. Post, The Putnam Patriot, October 1940
By the early 1940s the London staff of the New York Times included the bureau chief Raymond "Pete" Daniell, Tania Long (who later married Daniell), David Anderson, Hal Denny, Walter Leysmith, Jamie MacDonald, Drew Middleton, Bob Post, and James "Scotty" Reston. After a September 7, 1940 air raid destroyed their original quarters, Daniell moved his staff to the Savoy Hotel where many in the journalistic community had gathered after the fall of France in June of 1940. To some observers, a German invasion appeared imminent, but Post disagreed. He wrote FDR that he expected to see troubles instead in the Middle East.
In 1941, Daniell wrote a book in which he described Post as boyish, with an irrepressible sense of humor:
One night the humdrum quiet of my office was interrupted by the noisy invasion of half a dozen Home Guardsman armed with rifles and ax handles. Someone had reported that we were showing a light through one of our blacked-out windows... "Lights?" said Bob. "Oh, that's just our regular nightly signal to the Germans." The leader turned on him, and I thought the thing had gone far enough for safety's sake, for it was a joke among us that the Home Guard probably would kill one another all off before they ever got a shot at the enemy. "He's only joking," I said. "The light's probably coming from the Asahi office. The Japanese have the floor below us, you know." - Raymond Daniell, Civilians Must Fight
Tall and bespectacled, Post towered over the diminutive Daniell. In November of 1940, they and the Times hosted an election night party at the Savoy Hotel. They invited all of the correspondents and conducted polling with simulated voting booths. Roosevelt won in a landslide, beating Willkie 106 to 4. According to the writer Quentin Reynolds, Post had cast his vote for Willkie, but no one knew who the three other Willkie men were.

New York Times London bureau correspondents: Raymond Daniel (4th from right), Bob Post (3rd from right), Jamie MacDonald (3rd from left), and David Anderson (far right). The others are unidentified - Photograph courtesy of Rollin Post
Post filed many stories on the Battle of Britain and, like many of the London correspondents, watched the air battles from a spot called Shakespeare Cliff, west of Dover. In May of 1941 when Rudolf Hess parachuted into Scotland, Post had the byline on the lead story. He compared the Nazi leader's exodus to "something from a mystery thriller" and described the British communiqué regarding the incident as "the strangest and most dramatic document ever to come from the official home of a British Prime Minister." Post was sensitive to the voice on the street, and in this case he quoted a Briton who said that this was the "first 'break' we have had since the war started."
As a witness to the agony of the bombing of London, Post described what he saw to an audience thousands of miles away. After a fierce German air raid destroyed the Commons Chamber of the House of Parliament and tore the roof off Westminster Abbey, Post wrote:
The sun rose red over London yesterday after one of the worst air raids that London has experienced. Weary and drawn after a night of horror and fire - a night that even women living alone spent in putting out incendiaries - London began to make a preliminary reckoning of what happened...It is perhaps not important to the historian that little shops have been blasted or that a street of little homes has been destroyed: but it is vital to men who own and work in those shops and live in those houses. But Londoners recovering from this raid - and though it was bad it is too early yet to say that it was one of the worst in history - felt a savage satisfaction when they read in their papers or heard on their radios that thirty-three raiders had been shot down, four by anti-aircraft fire and twenty-nine by fighters. It was good news and it would probably have been better news if all the speculation had been told, because it is probable that many more Nazi planes were damaged or brought down. Some speculations go far beyond the official figure and in any case it was a very fair percentage of the total raiders over England. - Robert Perkins Post, New York Times, May 12, 1941
Quentin Reynolds thought that this air raid on May 10, 1941, was a turning point in the Battle of Britain. Years later he wrote:
" was the day England was saved. She would not collapse, as the isolationists had been crying for months. She was battered and suffering from a few superficial wounds, but she was stronger than ever." - Quentin Reynolds, Redbook, December 1950
Reynolds saw Post that night outside the Savoy Hotel. Later, from the roof of the Savoy, they watched London burn.
Post's sister Mary lived in London at the time, and when her apartment was bombed out, she and her 15-year-old daughter moved into the Savoy Hotel. Post's niece, who later became Lady Rupert Nevill, was Anne Camilla Eveline Wallop, the daughter of the Earl of Portsmouth. This teenager, nicknamed "Micky", was extremely impressed to be living in a fancy hotel with her handsome uncle. She described him as "unbelievably good-looking" and fun, though argumentative. She noted: amazing number of rather fascinating people flowed through our table in the dining room. I think he had the trust of a great many people in the government... - Lady Nevill, letter to the author
One of those people was Brendan Bracken, Winston Churchill's Minister of Information. On a visit to the U.S., Post wrote Bracken a lengthy letter with observations and advice about improving Anglo-American relations. Post cared about the British, and was discouraged to see anti-English sentiment in the States.
Margot had gone back to the United States late in 1939. When she tried to return to England in 1941, the State Department would not allow her to leave the country, even though she had a job lined up with the British Broadcasting Service. She had been doing similar work in New York with the British Press Service. In October of 1941, at a time when he was the interim bureau chief, Post wrote a letter to the President, hoping to pull the right strings to allow his wife to join him in London:
I hesitate to bother you at a time like this. Indeed I am not going to bother you directly because I shall send this letter to Steve [Early] and leave it to him whether or not to pass it on to you.
My wife and I have been separated since March of 1940. We returned home that winter and I came back ahead of her. By the time she was ready to return, the balloon had gone up and there was no chance of getting her a passport. For a long time I felt that it was better for her to remain at home, but she and I have been so unhappy that we have now come to the conclusion that there is no reason why we should allow Mr. Hitler to keep us apart indefinitely...
As you know, I have been over here more than four years, and I consider that this is my form of war service to my country. All my friends, like your own children, are in some form of Government service, and there is nothing I should like more than to be able to do the same thing. However I believe, and our military people here say the same thing, that my present job is more important, and that I am more use in it, than I would be in the Army or the Navy...
Mr. President, again I hesitate to bother you about a personal matter like this, but I do appeal to you to consider this case of a long and extremely cruel separation. I know that my wife would be of great value to the United States over here. - Robert Perkins Post, letter to FDR

Margo Post - Photograph courtesy of Brooks and Beverly Coville
Stephen Early, FDR's secretary, passed the letter to Breckinridge Long, an assistant secretary at the State Department. Despite the high-level support, Post's appeal was unsuccessful. Margot remained in the United States. In December of 1941, after two years away from each other, Margot and Bob Post participated in a two-way NBC radio broadcast between twenty London-based American newspaper correspondents, their wives, children, and other relatives. Margot Post, identified as the wife of the "chief New York Times correspondent in London," joined relatives of David Anderson, James MacDonald, and Craig Thompson who had gathered in a studio in Radio City Music Hall in New York. The event was broadcast nationwide and warranted a Christmas day write-up in the New York Times.
Post remained in London until July of 1942 when he flew back to the United States to see his wife. Post had been given a deferment by the local draft board because of his work with the Times. When Pete Daniell was named in his place as the permanent head of the New York Times London bureau, Post reported back to the local draft board that he was ready for assignment. The Times, on learning this, wrote again to the draft board, saying that because of reassignments of reporters to Northern Africa, that Post's services were still required in London. He was then granted another deferment.
Post agonized over this decision. With two of his brothers serving in the Navy, he wanted to serve his country as well. He also wanted to prove to his father that he was no coward. Post's ancestors included a Civil War hero and Indian fighter, so there was a family precedent for serving in the military.
The Times, however, convinced him that he would serve the country best reporting on the war from London. In his weak moments he feared others would think he was hiding behind the New York Times to keep from serving in the armed forces.
My grandfather was always rather shocked that he [Bob Post] wasn't in the spearhead of the warzone after America entered the war, so I think it was because of this he volunteered to go on these very serious and dangerous bombing raids on Germany... - Lady Nevill, letter to the author
In December of 1942 he went back to London on a troop ship. Margot Post, her passport finally granted, followed shortly thereafter. By early February Bob Post was training to accompany an 8th Air Force bombing mission.

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