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Sample Chapter: The Writing 69th
The eight civilian and military journalists were given the name "The Writing 69th" by one of the 8th Air Force's public relations officers, maybe Hal Leyshon or Joe Maher. The name was a play on words on the famous "Fighting 69th," which had fought in every war since the American Revolution and had particularly distinguished itself in World War I. (James Cagney starred in a 1940 movie called "The Fighting 69th.") A Newsweek article published before the mission said that they had considered the names "Legion of the Doomed" and "The Flying Typewriters."
The Writing 69th included Homer Bigart of the New York Herald Tribune, Walter Cronkite of the United Press, Gladwin Hill of the Associated Press, Paul Manning of CBS Radio, Bob Post of the New York Times, Sgt. Andy Rooney of the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, Sgt. Denton Scott of the military magazine Yank, and William Wade of the International News Service (INS).
In the newspaper world, Homer Bigart ranks as one of the most respected reporters of all time. Bigart won two Pulitzer Prizes as a print journalist and worked as a war correspondent in Korea and Vietnam. Initially with the New York Herald Tribune, he ended his career with the New York Times. It is not clear whether he flew more than one mission with the 8th Air Force, although he wrote that he would have liked to, but he certainly put himself in dangerous positions throughout World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
Walter Cronkite is the most famous member of the Writing 69th. He moved to CBS after the war and gained fame as a CBS news anchor. Of his war experiences, he is characteristically humble.
People take a look at my record and it sounds great. I'm embarrassed when I'm introduced for speeches and somebody takes a CBS handout and reads it, because it makes me sound like some sort of hero: the battle of the North Atlantic, the landing in Africa, the beachhead on D day, dropping with the 101st Airborne, the Battle of the Bulge. Personally, I feel I was an overweening coward in the war...I was scared to death all the time. I did everything possible to avoid getting into combat. Except the ultimate thing of not doing it. I did it. But the truth is that I did everything only once. It didn't take any great courage to do it once. If you go back and do it a second time - knowing how bad it is, that's courage. - Walter Cronkite, Playboy Magazine interview, June 1973
Cronkite may have thought he was a coward, but his actions don't bear that out. Keep in mind that in the 1980s, NASA conducted a nationwide competition to select civilians to accompany a mission of the space shuttle. At first, it looked as if a journalist would have been the first in the program, but according to Cronkite, Ronald Reagan promised the honor to a teacher in a speech before a teachers' union. NASA had applications from over one thousand journalists and had narrowed that group down to forty finalists (including Cronkite) when the space shuttle "Challenger" exploded on January 28, 1986. Christa McAuliffe, the New Hampshire school teacher, was one of the astronauts who died that day. With her death, the civilian-in-space program was cancelled. Afterwards, Cronkite said that he would still like to go on an orbital flight, or even visit the moon.
Harrison Salisbury, Cronkite's United Press boss at the time of the Writing 69th mission, wrote that wild elephants couldn't have kept Cronkite from taking part in the mission. Certainly that aspect of Cronkite's personality had not changed a lot in the intervening 40 years. Other missions that Cronkite flew on include a medium bomber raid to Belgium, an RAF coastal mission, a D-Day mission in a heavy bomber, and a glider landing in Eindhoven, Holland.
Gladwin Hill worked for the Associated Press from 1936 to 1944. In addition to the Wilhelmshaven raid, Hill witnessed the Allied invasion of France from another bomber. A Harvard graduate, who graduated four years after Post, Hill joined the New York Times in 1945 and worked there for 44 years. Assigned to the Los Angeles bureau after the war, Hill served as bureau chief for 23 years. He also wrote "Dancing Bear: An Inside Look at California Politics" and "Madman in a Lifeboat: Issues of the Environmental Crisis." He died in 1992.
Paul Manning worked with CBS radio in London under Edward Murrow. Though Manning did not fly on February 26th (a photo caption taped to the back of the group photo of the Writing 69th says it was because of pneumonia), he flew a mission with the 8th Air Force on October 9th of 1943. In addition, according to his press materials, he flew on B-29 missions to Japan. In 1948, along with fifteen other war correspondents, he was awarded a medal for his witness of the unconditional surrender of the Germans at Rheims. Another war correspondent, Edward Kennedy, broke the story early, incurring the wrath of the military and the other correspondents. After the war Manning wrote a book called "Hirohito, The War Years" He also worked as a speechwriter for Nelson Rockefeller. He died in 1995.

Paul Manning - Photograph courtesy of John Manning
At 24, Andy Rooney was the youngest of the group. His friendship with Walter Cronkite began with their coverage of the air war and has continued through their years at CBS. Today, he is best known for his humorous commentaries on the CBS program "60 Minutes." Besides his books of humor, Rooney also collaborated with Bud Hutton, a fellow Stars and Stripes staffer, on two books regarding their experiences in World War II. One was a history of the Stars and Stripes, and the other was called "Air Gunner." The title "Air Gunner" is apt because the military journalists did their share of fighting. Rooney and other Stars and Stripes staffers flew multiple missions as correspondent/gunners.
Denton Scott missed the mission on February 26, 1943, but flew shortly thereafter on a raid on Lorient, France. This is how Scott described that mission:
You are moving at several hundred miles an hour, and things are coming at you at several hundred miles an hour, and you dearly love life and your wife back in the States, and the sooner you get the hell out of there the better it will suit you. - Denton Scott, Yank Magazine, March 14, 1943
Scott was the most prolific writer of the group. After the war he wrote non-fiction, novels, cookbooks, travel books, and many award-winning children's books. He died in 1995.

Denton Scott inside a B-17 - Photograph courtesy of Mary Louise Scott
The day of the mission, William Wade's plane developed engine trouble and turned back. He filed a brief story that ran in the Minneapolis Star Journal under the headline "This Local Boy Didn't Make Good." Wade, a New Jersey native, went to college in Minneapolis. In December of 1943 he missed a chance to fly on an RAF bombing mission when he lost a coin toss with fellow INS correspondent Lowell Bennett. As described earlier, Bennett's plane was shot down. He spent 18 months in a German prison camp. Saved from this fate by the lucky coin toss, Wade later accompanied a B-26 Marauder minutes ahead of the Normandy landing on D-Day. After the war, William Wade earned a degree from the London School of Economics and later was an editor for the Voice of America. He worked in Washington, DC, and retired to Oakland, California, where he lives today.

William Wade - Photograph courtesy of William Wade
Wade says that Joe Maher, formerly with INS, handed out the green Writing 69th patches which were to be applied to their correspondent's uniform. Gladwin Hill was photographed, gazing heroically into the distance, with the emblem on his shoulder. Wade saw it more as a publicity ploy, and isn't sure he ever put the patch on his uniform. Coverage of the air war was only a part of their role as civilian correspondents. Wade notes:
I spent more time on evening shifts in our Fleet Street office relaying communiqués, not only about the air war but also from monitored reports from the Russian front, to our New York headquarters where our hotshot rewrite men turned them into news copy. - William Wade, letter to the author
After they had completed the training course, Bob Post surveyed the group which included the Writing 69th members and some others who would fly a mission. According to an account by Walter Cronkite, Post said, "There are ten of us here now. It kind of makes you think when you realize that according to the highest proportion of losses supposedly standable by the aircorps, which is ten percent, that one of us will not be here after the first mission." After a moment of silence Post continued, "It will probably be you Homer, you're the Frank McHugh* type - the silent amiable guy who always gets it in the end." But Bigart survived. Later he would say that he was probably still alive because of Post's death. The bad publicity, he said, "squashed that idea that it was going to be sort of a steady job going on air raids."
Note: Frank McHugh was a character actor who appeared in many films, including the Warner Brothers' "The Fighting 69th."

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