Richard C. Hottelet broadcasts under fire near
Aachen, Germany, in the winter of 1944.
By Richard C. Hottelet
The 60th anniversary of the end of World War
II was observed with nostalgia, something the
conflict in Iraq is not likely ever to evoke.
The Second World War was forced upon the West,
rousing its people to mobilize all their resources.
Iraq has been an intervention not of necessity
but of choice. Its origin and purposes are
suspect; its course has been bloody and erratic,
and its outcome, both short term and long, is
a matter of concern.
From 1939 to 1945 the American
people knew what was going on. Reporters covering
U.S. forces enjoyed conditions which, while
often uncertain and hazardous, were professionally
close to ideal.
Richard C. Hottelet, the only living member of Edward R. Murrow’s
original reporting team at CBS Radio during World War II, speaks to the
audience on June 6, 2004, during a GW/Smithsonian Associates event to
mark the 60th anniversary of D-Day.
before D-Day, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower ordered
his commanders to allow accredited correspondents “to
talk freely with officers and enlisted personnel
and to see the machinery of war in operation
in order to visualize and transmit to the public
the conditions under which men from their countries
are waging war against the enemy.”
The inevitable military censorship was fussy
but not crippling.
The U.S. First Army press camp at Spa in eastern
Belgium provided us, a dozen or so correspondents,
with jeeps and drivers 24/7, no questions asked.
Press Wireless was there as a commercial radio
link to CBS News in New York, subject to all
kinds of interruptions, sunspots, and “atmospherics.” It
was the bronze age of communication.
The Germans had magnetic tape. We had an almost
comically rudimentary wire recorder; no matter,
New York did not want recordings.
We had a pretty useless G2 briefing on weekdays.
One supposedly quiet Sunday morning I drove
east to Fourth Division headquarters in the Huertgen
Forest, to be received with some surprise.
Did I know that German paratroopers had come
down in the area the night before? An obviously
big attack was underway not far to the south.
Back to Spa in a lather, where Press Wireless
could not raise New York but did contact London.
I reported that what turned out to be the Battle
of the Bulge had begun. We tried the wire recorder
again the following March for the great airborne
crossing of the Rhine, but whatever was on
the wire was lost when our plane was shot down.
I made my way to the Ninth U.S. Army headquarters
to do the broadcast.
Richard C. Hottelet’s copy of
Gen. Eisenhower’s memo to unit commanders
of the allied expeditionary force outlining
the wide latitude given to news correspondents
covering World War II. The memo was issued
less than one month before D-Day.
Sparse though our spots necessarily were, they
met a real need and were warmly appreciated.
The other half of a complete news circuit,
an eager audience, was waiting to hear how their
husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, and sisters
Occasionally, the reports were eloquent. No
one who heard them would forget the broadcasts
of Edward R. Murrow, any more than the incomparable
word pictures of Ernie Pyle. But, in the main,
professional competence was the hallmark and
broadcasters had a special edge: telling people
directly what was happening. Murrow had not
hired his crew as trombone-voiced radio personalities.
He wanted reporters, and all in London had
learned the trade at United Press.
The geography of the European war made it easier
to explain. There was, as a rule, a discernible
line between us and them. The signposts were
reliable. That, and much else, has radically
changed. The last neat war was in the Persian
Gulf in 1991. Communication technology is light
years beyond the 1940s and Korea. Almost instant
voice and picture contact is now the norm.
Armies of reporters service multifarious media
in an unbroken 24-hour news cycle. The mask of
battle is no longer the steel helmet of past
millenniums. That began to change in Vietnam.
In Iraq it has become the grotesque figure of
the suicide bomber, unrecognizable and ubiquitous.
And the political background to it all, constantly
changing, is a game whose goals and players are
Today’s reporters venturing out of specially
secure strongholds can well be in the grip of
a nervous tension that their colleagues of the
1940s may have felt only in the scariest moments.
And their output is seldom gratefully received
but too often kicked around, in political football.
They deserve recognition, admiration—and
Click here to
listen to a broadcast version of this article,
as aired Aug. 15 on WAMU Public Radio in Washington.
Richard C. Hottelet, a member of Edward
original reporting team at CBS Radio during World
War II, is a GW Welling Presidential Fellow.