Thursday, February 26, 2015

1944. Charles Collingwood's D-Day Broadcast from Normandy

Charles Collingwood from Utah Beach

From Utah Beach
June 6, 1944 (broadcast June 8)
EDWARD R. MURROW (from London): This is London. Late on the afternoon of D-Day, Charles Collingwood took his recording gear in a little 36-foot LCVP onto a French beach. Nearing the beach, the water was filled with floating objects. Part of a parachute; a K-ration box; a life jacket; wreckage from a ship; shell cases. Here is part of the recording.

CHARLES COLLINGWOOD: This is Charles Collingwood. We are on the beach today on D-Day. We've just come in. We caught a ride in a small boat which came in from our LST loaded with a thousand pounds of TNT, half a ton of high explosives on this beach which is still under considerable enemy gunfire.

While we have been here we have just seen one of the strangest and most remarkable sights of this invasion so far. Two great fleets of over a hundred gliders have gone overhead towed by C-47 transports, who are certainly proving the workhorses of this invasion. They've hauled them right over the beaches and it seems as though the German gunners, amazed at this incredible sight, have stopped firing on the beach now because it's quiet here, and the second batch are droning over now. I can see them. They're casting off the gliders as they circle around over the beach and the transports are circling around and beginning to make off home. Where they're landing we don't know because we're down here on the beach, and there's a seawall in front of us and we can't see the land behind.

This is the way the beach looks, which was hit by our troops about twelve hours ago early this morning. It's a flat, sandy beach, like almost any beach that you're likely to see, and it floats gently away from the shore—from the seashore up to the dunes and then to the seawall, which was the first objective of our troops and which they took early on in the game.

Since that time, we have been able to bring in quite a bit of equipment. There are various trucks and jeeps and motor vehicles of all kinds here. There are also antiaircraft guns. We breached the seawall in various places and have set up guns there to defend against any possible enemy counterattack on the beaches, which has not occurred.

A naval party has just come in from the shore and begun to unload our TNT here, which is taking a load off my mind as well as a load off this vessel. And I asked him how things were going and he said it was pretty rough still. I asked him how far the troops had gone on inshore and he said that they'd got five or six miles inshore, which sounds as though they're making good progress. He said that the beach was still under considerable gunfire. The Germans had some 88s which we haven't been able to silence.

These boys are apparently having a pretty tough time in here on the beaches. It's not very pleasant. It's exposed, and it must have been a rugged fight to get it—although as nearly as we can see there is not a great deal of evidence of damage. Perhaps that's because it has been smoothed up. We can look along down the coast now and see this flat part of the beach which joins the water, going all the way down to the lower beach which is marked for us by columns of white smoke which are arising from it. And further up at the end of this beach we can see another huge column of white smoke which has apparently been caused by naval gunfire.

Looking out to sea, all we can see of the vast invasion fleet which is assembled for us are the silhouettes of the big warships, the battleships, and cruisers which have been putting a steady bombardment against the enemy positions all day. We can also see a few of the transports, but the fleet of LCTs and LCIs and other craft, which we have brought and assembled back maybe ten miles offshore, is invisible from us at this moment. They're coming back now, taking off more and more of this ammunition.

We've got a captain here who has come by and is looking rather curiously at this gadget we've got. Captain, can you come over here a minute? Can you tell us how things are on the beaches?

LIEUTENANT: Thank you for "captain," but actually I'm a naval lieutenant. Sometimes we get on these beaches by—we get to look like all kinds of things, particularly after you take a few running jumps in the sand.

COLLINGWOOD: Well Lieutenant, what's your name?

LIEUTENANT: Well, I work for a rival network in New York City...


LIEUTENANT: So that—or I did and I don't think I wanna ruin your broadcast. Let's just—let's say we dropped in, and that alone.

COLLINGWOOD: Okay, well, how are things going on the beach there?

LIEUTENANT: I've only been in for a little while, while these other boys have been there all day and if you might have made—maybe an army word, it's "rugged" as a matter of fact.

COLLINGWOOD: Is the beach still under some enemy shellfire?

LIEUTENANT: The beach is being pounded by enemy shellfire, though we hope to have it knocked out in the near future.

COLLINGWOOD: Boy, those gliders that just went over were quite a sight, weren't they?

LIEUTENANT: That was a impressive thing. I think that all of you folks listening at home, if you could've heard the "oohs" and "aahs" from men who are really dug in the shell holes in the sand—if you had heard those it would've done your heart a lot of good. It certainly did mine to see them go by.

COLLINGWOOD: Well I can agree with that too because it was a very impressive sight.

And now looking out we can see them going back very low along the water. The C-47s—which brought the gliders in—they've cut loose. And here comes another flight. The third flight of gliders which is being pulled in. I can't tell how many of them there are. They're coming in over the beach here. Squadron upon squadron of them have lined up in perfect formation, with the gliders coming along behind the big C-47s, and they're coming in apparently to drop right where they dropped before. Further up the beach, there's a fire which has apparently just been started by enemy shelling. It's maybe a quarter of a mile up from us.

At the moment there's no shelling in our immediate vicinity, although when we first beached our little LCVP about a hundred yards down the beach, German 88s were kicking up big clouds of sand as they shelled our positions down there, and you can still see some smoke drifting off from it. And over to our left, there's what is left some small craft or other which has been hit and is burning.

A great big Rhino ferry is making its way into the beach loaded with every kind of vehicle and craft. I can make out jeeps and trucks on it, and men sitting up there manning their guns which are already in case of enemy air attack. But there is no enemy air to be seen anywhere around here. The sky however is filled with this third fleet of gliders which are coming in full of our airborne infantry.

There is something which just dropped into the ground—into the sea. I don't know whether it was a plane or what it was that it made a big splash up there as it dropped down from out of the sky. The gliders are coming in now hauled in by the C-47s and protected by fighters which are around there. I can make out Thunderbolts and Spitfires which are giving them cover, and they've just taken off the last of our thousand pounds of high explosives, which is making it considerably more pleasant on this little boat. They're having to wade in across maybe fifty yards of water to get it into the beach.

We've come in in this LCVP through the transport area where our ship is. It's taken us about two hours to get in, and we came in through the choppy seas, with every second wave breaking over the ship and dousing us with spray. Gene Ryder and I are—and everyone on this little boat—are soaked absolutely to the skin. We're wet through and through. The salt is (?) on our eyebrows. Every time we lick our lips we taste the salt. Our hands are cold and chapped as... We just found ourselves lucky that, after having made a trip like that, we don't have to go onto the beaches and fight. All we have to do is make the trip again.

GENE RYDER: I might tell the Navy Department we owe them one recorder.

COLLINGWOOD: Gene is referring to the fact that we took our recording machine which the Navy has lent us along with us here, and it has been absolutely inundated with the spray. Somehow or other Gene has made it work. I don't know what—he was out there polishing it with his handkerchief. Gene says he doesn't know how he made it work either.

And looking back now, turning around with my back to the beach and looking out to the sea, more and more and more of these glider-borne troops are coming in. These gliders are coming in towed very slowly by the big C-47s in what is apparently an unending stream. It's an incredible sight. And as that navy lieutenant told us a moment ago, the troops are waving and pointing and talking about it on the shore, at least those of them who have time and are not too busy taking care of themselves.

The troops are well dug in here along the seawall which is partly covered by sand. They're sitting down now, most of them dug deep into the ground as close as they can to the seawall to protect themselves from the enemy shelling. Some men are lining up further down the beach near a sign which says "five." They are taking over a truck and are apparently about to move off, whether through a breach into the seawall back inland or not, one can't tell.

We're standing here—it's an absolutely incredible and fantastic sight. I don't know whether it's possible to describe it to you or not. It's late in the afternoon. The sun is going down. The sea is choppy and the beach is lined with men and materiel and guns, trucks, vehicles of all kinds. On either side of us there are pillars of smoke perhaps a mile, two miles away, which are rising from enemy shelling. And further back we can see the smoke and results of our own shelling. Looking behind us we can see the big ships and the—some of the transports which have brought the troops in.

And overhead this incredible sight is still going on as more and more gliders are towed in by the C-47s going over the seawall, disappearing out of sight in apparently a wide sweep, and dropping their men somewhere back there who—for a function which we don't know anything about. All we can do is stand here and marvel at the spectacle. Now our men—we're trying to get the LCVP in closer to pick up the men who have been waiting ashore in this cold sea and choppy wind to pick up the stuff.

This place even smells like an invasion. It has a curious odor which we all have—associate with modern war. It's a smell of oil and high explosives and burning things. All—thank you. Come on over here! (?), who is one of the sailors, has just come with a handful of sand because he heard me say a while ago that what I wanted to do most of all was just to get ashore and reach down and take up a handful of sand and say "This is France!" and I've got it in my hands. France at last, after four years. (?), how does it feel just to reach down and grab a piece of sand and say "I'm grabbing French soil," huh?

SAILOR: Well it's—since I was born in France it has special meaning to me.

COLLINGWOOD: Were you born in France?


COLLINGWOOD: Where were you born?

SAILOR: In Calais.

COLLINGWOOD: You were? Well that's not very far from here. Well it has a special meaning for me too, as you can imagine. Have you got some? We've gotta save this. We've gotta put it in a bottle or something.

Now the transport planes are going back. The C-47s who came in towing the gliders, they're going back very close to the sea and we're going back too. We've got our men aboard all with handfuls of France in their hands, and we're going to save it because this has been a momentous occasion for all of us.

There go our motors. The ramp is going up. We're backing away from the beach now, and soon we'll be out in the salt spray and it'll be impossible for us to broadcast anymore.

MURROW: That was a recording made by Charles Collingwood at a French beach on the afternoon of D-Day. We return you now to the United States.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

1953. Berlin: City Without a Country

See It Now: Berlin
East Berlin in 1949. The banner reads "Freundschaft für immer mit der Sowj. Union" (Friendship forever with the Soviet Union).

The New York Herald Tribune, September 21, 1953:

Berlin Story


"Our thesis, as always, is that what television does best is to take people places," said Ed Murrow and Fred Friendly in a memorandum to their "See It Now" crew of eight reporters and ten cameramen just before they took off for Berlin.

"We want the sights and sounds of the Cold War as it exists in Berlin, where the last war ended and the next one could easily begin. The narrower the focus, the more isolated the sounds, the better the picture. Let's try to get the difference between the East Zone and the west -- the difference in the faces, in the shoes, in the buildings. We want the gnarled fingers of a German woman picking bricks out of rubble. (The biggest business in Berlin is still rubble.) We want Mayor Reuter, possibly scuffling his way through the shell of the Reichstag." . . .

*      *      *

Naturally, this ambitious enterprise presented some rather special problems. The Russians take a dim view of cameras and Friendly warned the crew that the CBS movie cameras -- the large ones -- cost $15,000 and, for heaven's sake, don't taken them into the East section of Berlin where the Russians would surely take them away. So, Bill Downs and a cameraman promptly took a ride through the Brandenburg Gate, camera and all. I've just seen some of the bootlegged films and they're as graphic a picture of Soviet Berlin as anything you're likely to see.

Like any story, Murrow and his crew started out with a lot of ideas which were tossed out when better ones came along. The Berlin Story, which tomorrow will be televised, I ought to put in right here, tomorrow (Tuesday) 10 p. m., E. D. T. on CBS-TV, will constantly shift from East to West sectors. You'll see a bit of a shot of a fruit store in the West, then a fruit store in the East, a rubble factory in the West, then one in the East.

In other words, the parallels will be as close as possible and the contrast is enormous. Right now Germany -- West Germany -- may be the most prosperous country in Europe (largely, as Adlai Stevenson pointed out, because the Germans don't have to support an Army, Navy, or Air Force as the rest of us do). The shops are full of goods. The people are wearing fine clothes. There is a bustle and flourish to life.

*      *      *

In the East sector, there is universal drabness, ruin and the sort of nothingness that the Russians seem to spread wherever they go. Much of this has been captured on film. Down Stalinallee, the Russian showplace, some splendid but half-finished buildings are on view. The Russians haven't got any one to work on them since the strike. But the cameras poked furtively behind the splendid edifices; directly behind them is a sea of rubble as if the buildings were exteriors in a Hollywood movie set.

Murrow specializes in the little picture, the littler the better, so his men have taken one block of West Berlin, right on the fringe of the Eastern sector and explored it minutely. They picked up one German girl, Ooshy (a nickname for Ursula), who is shown in her apartment, at the butcher's, at the tavern, a dance hall and in an intimate and very expensive night club.

And, of course, there are the big people, too. They got that shot of Mayor Reuter in the ruins of the Reichstag. "I once told my wife," he says to Howard Smith, "that I would outlive Stalin and I would outlive Hitler -- and I did."

Before the Brandenburg Gate, Murrow interviewed Dr. James Conant, the United States High Commissioner; this sober and illuminating discussion of geopolitics was interrupted by communist youths who began singing the anti-American song, "Ami Go Home."

*      *      *

Berlin, of course, is a thrice-told tail. As Murrow admitted, millions of words about postwar Berlin have been printed or broadcast. When I asked him by transatlantic telephone the other day, was new, what had surprised him most about this trip to Berlin? He took a while to think it over and then said soberly:

"I think I was most struck by the calmness and the lack of tension in West Berlin. You see less signs of the strain in the faces of West Berliners than you find in the faces of New York or Chicago. I guess that if you live long enough on the edge of a volcano you figure, sooner or later, that it's not going to blow up and you relax."

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

1945. The Murrow Boys and the Holocaust

Liberté, égalité, fratricide
Source: The Oskar Kokoschka watercolor painting "Das Prinzip" which Bill Downs purchased after seeing Auschwitz. The inscription reads "Liberté, égalité, fratricide."

As the Allies liberated Europe in 1945, several members of the Murrow Boys visited the Buchenwald and Auschwitz death camps. In the wake of it all most of the men harbored heavily anti-German sentiment, but this passed soon after the war.

From the Murrow Boys: Pioneers on the Front Lines of Broadcast Journalism by Stanley Cloud and Lynne Olson, 1996, p. 235:
In any case, those CBS reporters who saw the death camps in 1945 as Hitler's Germany collapsedLeSueur, Hottelet, Downs, Shadel, and Murrow himselfwere overwhelmed. After visiting Buchenwald, Murrow described his first stunned look at the emaciated, ragged scarecrows who surged around him and Bill Shadel at the main gate of the camp. In the distance were the "green fields . . . where well-fed Germans were ploughing," but in the camp were naked, bruised bodies "stacked up like cordwood outside the crematorium; the terrible stench; the piles of gold teeth and human hair, the lampshades of human skin. Murrow concluded, his voice taut with barely repressed fury: "I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I have reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it, I have no words."

When he returned to London, Murrow told Dick Hottelet there were twenty million Germans too many in the world. Hottelet, who despised Nazis but fiercely loved his parents' homeland, was appalled. "You should be ashamed of yourself!" he barked at his mentor and boss. "He knew I meant it," Hottelet said many years later, "and he took it in very good part. Devoted as I was and respectful as I was, I wasn't going to echo his sentiments in that regard." For once Howard Smith agreed with Hottelet and effectively argued on air that the Allies should seize the opportunity to remake German society.

At that time, however, with the war still being fought and the full extent of Nazi atrocities still being learned, most of the Boys shared Murrow's sentiments. Bill Downs told friends after a horrific visit to Auschwitz that he felt like shooting the first German he saw. Before the war was over, he bought an Oskar Kokoschka watercolor, a clown with a grotesque grimace of a smile. At the bottom of the painting was the inscription Liberté, égalité, fratricide. "That in a nutshell summarized my dad's attitude about the human race," said Downs's son Adam.

"By the time the war ended, all our idealism was gone," Downs said later. "Our crusade had been won, but our white horses had been shot out from under us."

Prior to the liberation of the concentration camps (except for Majdanek), Downs wrote to his parents on October 21, 1944 expressing a similar sentiment:
We are beginning to run into the old atrocity stories again. I tried to tell them in Russia, but no one paid any attention. Now we are finding the same Nazi prisons, the same torture weaponswith some improvementsand the same sad stories of persecution, execution and privation by Hitler's bad boys. I don't suppose anyone will believe these stories either, although we collect and print enough evidence to hang the whole German army.
It seems that the Presbyterian mind of the average American cannot accept the fact that any group of people can coolly sit down and decide to torture thousands of people. And if torture isn't enough, then to kill them as calmly as an ordinary person would swat a fly. This refusal to believe these facts is probably the greatest weapon the Nazis have...and it will operate in the post-war judgment of the Germans, wait and see. All of us more or less normal people will throw up our hands in horror even at the prosecution of the guiltybecause there are so many guilty that we again will think that we are carrying on a pogrom when actually it is only making the Nazis pay for their crimes.

Unless it can be brought home as to what the Germans have done in Europethe cruelty and ruthlessness and bestial killings and emasculations and dismemberment that has gone onwell, I'm afraid that we'll be too soft on them.

Edward R. Murrow also delivered a chilling account of what he saw at Buchenwald:

1968. Analyzing Johnson's State of the Union Address

Foreign Policy in 1968
Source: "Soviet Premier Alexei N. Kosygin talks to President Lyndon Johnson at the Cold War summit in Glassboro in 1967."
Bill Downs Perspective


January 21, 1968

Official Washington is still wringing the words and issues out of the president's State of the Union message and considering the fact that Mr. Johnson is presumably laying his White House job on the line this year. His address before the joint session of the Congress Wednesday night was not the sod-busting, partisan, ring-tailed howler of a political speech that it might have been.

There was no attempt at soaring rhetoric, no sarcasm to castigate his critics, no ideological thrusts at America's enemies abroad. Compared with his previous State of the Union message, this one was lean. And for a Texas politician, it was almost an understatement.

By now every foreign government around the globe will have translated his speech, and every foreign ministry and military and political intelligence organization will be analyzing the Johnson Administration's view of these United States; taking the message apart, paragraph by paragraph.

The Asian communist leaders of Red China and North Vietnam will find no signs of discouragement or weakening in President Johnson's review of Vietnam policy. There was nothing new in his offer to stop the bombing of the North in exchange for a cessation of communist aggression in the South. In fact, Mr. Johnson pointed out that "the enemy continues to pour men and material across the frontiers of South Vietnam," a warning perhaps that even heavier fighting may be in store in Southeast Asia.

And he took pains to assure the leadership of the newly elected government of Saigon that any peace negotiations would be undertaken only after "consultation with the US allies."

Although the president made no mention of Britain's deliberately reduced role in world affairs, Mr. Johnson had a clear word of assurance for the free nations of Southeast Asia. These countries, he said, stretching from Korea and Japan to Indonesia and Singapore, are increasing their political and economic strength "behind America's shield." With the pullback of British military power east of Suez, the question remains open as to whether that American shield will be extended to the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. This is what the foreign intelligence services will be trying to determine between now and the British pullout deadline of 1971.

Mr. Johnson ignored the vituperation and the propaganda insults which have been pouring out of Peking the past year, mentioning only the turmoil and violent disruption in Mainland China and the radical extremism which has isolated the Chinese people behind their borders. The president, obviously without much hope of a favorable response, offered ways of breaking this isolation through an exchange of journalists and cultural and education barters, and again he offered to discuss with Chinese leaders the possibility of exchanging basic food crop materials -- an offer which may become significant if China has a crop failure this year.

Mr. Johnson made no mention of the growing danger that Vietnam's war might spread westward to Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. Nor did he attempt to exacerbate the struggle between Moscow and the Chinese brand of communism.

In fact, in all areas of international confrontation, the president's assessment was so low-key that it might give the impression that he was trying to play down the many foreign policy problems which threaten world peace.

The continuing crisis in the Middle East got only four sentences in the State of the Union message, but they were very significant words underlining the importance of the "hotline" communications with Moscow -- pointing out that a ceasefire was achieved without "a major power confrontation." In undiplomatic language, this means that the United States and the Soviet Union avoided starting what could have been World War III by using mutual restraint during last year's dangerous war between Israel and the Arab armies. The White House also knows that the Soviet political and military intelligence experts will read those four sentences about the Middle East as a a warning of continued American interest and concern in that area of the world, including the Turko-Greek dispute over Cyprus.

Concerning Europe and Latin America, the president praised the economic developments of the past year, but made no mention of the NATO troubles or communist infiltration south of the border. Mr. Johnson made no mention of his difficulties with French President De Gaulle, choosing instead to ignore him, just as he ignored Cuba's Fidel Castro.

The United States interest in the troubled continent of Africa was rounded up in a sentence in which Mr. Johnson noted that the "spirit of regional cooperation is beginning to take hold in practical ways." Africa's diplomats will undoubtedly feel miffed at the way their huge continent was dismissed with a sentence. However, they will also note that the State of the Union message made no mention of the smoldering governments of India and Pakistan.

President Johnson was deliberately diplomatically sanguine about US and Soviet relations. After last year's Glassboro meetings with Premier Kosygin, there is greater understanding between Moscow and Washington. In Geneva, the two nations are reaching agreement on a draft treaty to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. But Mr. Johnson did not mention that such weaponry already is spreading, with the French development of their own nuclear arsenal, and with communist China developing missiles to carry the hydrogen bombs which she exploded for the first time last year.

Then there was the Russo-American consular treaty and the first commercial airline agreement between the two countries. And shortly, Moscow and Washington concur in yet another space treaty providing for the protection of astronauts and cosmonauts who in the future may be forced to land outside of their national boundaries.

The president also made mention of the first space agreement made with the Soviets -- that document which purports to ban weapons of mass destruction from outer space. But Mr. Johnson failed to mention the fact that the Russians put so little reliance in this agreement that they are now building and expanding their own anti-ballistic missile defense system, which forced the US government to begin work on an ABM screen of its own. Also ignored was the fact that Soviet missile scientists are developing a so-called fractional orbital bomb which would violate the very treaty they've already signed. Neither was there a mention of the melancholy fact that the United States has under development a kind of ballistic "space bus" which could drop off a series of nuclear bombs on targets en route to its final destination.

As we said earlier, we have chosen to emphasize the foreign policy aspects of President Johnson's State of the Union message because we think it will largely be ignored in the domestic debate over Vietnam, government spending, and taxes -- and the war on crime and poverty.

There is likely to be no major opposition to Secretary McNamara's defense budget, up an estimated three billion dollars over last year. For, despite the hue and cry by the Vietnam critics and pacifists across the country, here in Washington most congressional doves concede that the nation's defenses must be strong. And politically there is no question about giving the Americans fighting in Southeast Asia everything they need to do the job.

Consequently, President Johnson's brief assessment of US foreign policy and posture last Wednesday -- accentuating the positive and playing down the negative -- was deliberate for two reasons.

First, great care was taken to deprive enemy propaganda machines of material which would be used to portray the United States as a voracious, power-mad, empire-building nation now embarked on the military conquest of the world -- beginning, of course, with Vietnam. Everyone knows, of course, that the State of the Union message will somehow be used by America's enemies to do that anyway.

But the second reason is that President Johnson is evidently convinced that foreign policy -- and even Vietnam -- may not be the vote swinging issues which will determine defeat or victory by the time November election day comes around.

It's increasingly obvious that Mr. Johnson expects to election to be won or lost in domestic challenges in big city slums and the streets of suburbia; at the cash registers in the supermarkets and among parents seeking the best of education and life for their children as well as security for their families, safety for their streets, and most of all, hope for the future.

The candidate who looks most like filling that bill will win the White House in November.

This is Bill Downs in Washington. Now back to Don Gardiner in New York.

Friday, February 20, 2015

1955. Italian Political Humor

Jokes from Rome
Source: Italian Prime Minister Mario Scelba (right) with American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles in 1955
March 9, 1955

Mr. Eugene Lyons
Senior Editor, Reader's Digest
Pleasantville, NY

Dear Mr. Lyons,

Mr. Wallace sent out a letter requesting examples of foreign humor circulating overseas, which has been in my current file as a reminder when something happens along in which you might be interested. Never a man to pass up a buck, I have three short ones which may or may not be new to you. At any rate, they are rare for this part of the world because they are clean.

Premier Scelba of Italy is facing another crisis in his government, which recalls a story attributed to him when he took office last year. At that time, Scelba was asked what major changes he intended to make in his staff. "The first man I will fire is the cloak room attendant." Surprised, his friends asked why. "Because," he replied, "every time he takes my hat and coat he asks: 'Do you intend to stay long, your Excellency?'"

Another story printed in an Italian humor magazine concerns the very popular Queen Frederica of Greece. While visiting a maritime hospital in Athens to cheer Greek Navy sailors injured in that recent sea collision, Her Majesty was surprised to note that all of the navy men had their arms heavily bandaged. "It must have been a strange accident for all of the men to have suffered broken arms," she commented at the end of the tour. The embarrassed hospital director blushed. "Not all were broken arms, Your Majesty," he admitted. "You see, most of the boys have tattoos and most of them insisted the subjects were not for your eyes -- thus the plethora of bandages."

And finally, I like this one, but I understand it has been around for some time. An elderly Italian, who for years as a good Catholic had generated a personal hate for Red Boss Palmiro Togliatti, was on his deathbed. His son asked if there was any last request -- anything that he wanted before he passed on. "Yes," the father said, "call up Comrade Togliatti and tell him to get over here. I want to join the Communist Party." The son was astounded, reminded of the good fight he had fought against the Reds all his life. "Father," the son asked, "I just don't understand why you would want to do this horrible thing?" "Don't you see, my son," the father smiled. "It is better for one of them to die than for one of us."

That winds up the local crop. As you probably know, Italian humor is satirical, cynical, and highly idiomatic. It is also mostly very unclean, particularly the political humor. But I'll continue to collect and pass stuff along from time to time.

Incidentally, we have never met but I feel we have a certain acquaintance, if only through the fact that both of us have served time as correspondents in Moscow.


Bill Downs
CBS News
Rome Bureau

1943. Horrific Booby Traps Left Behind

A "Cute" Nazi Idea That Didn't Work
Source: Three Waffen-SS soldiers playing with a kitten next to an egg grenade. The two on the right are of the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, 1st Estonian, and the one on the left is an SS-Lance Corporal.

The portions in parenthesis were censored from broadcast by Soviet officials.

Bill Downs


Friday, April 2, 1943

. . .

Right now, the big events in Russia are occurring behind, and not at, the front.

The Red Army the other day turned up something new in booby traps. They entered one recaptured village and found that every house had been mined. Sappers cleared all of the houses but one. (The local inhabitants told the Russian soldiers that, before they left, the Germans spent a lot of time in this particular house.)

(The area was cleared and) a Red Army lieutenant (started looking for the mine. He) sounded the walls, the floor, and even the ceiling of the house. Still he could not locate the hidden explosives.

He was just about to give up when he heard cats meowing in the stove. He opened up the door and one cat jumped out. The second cat just started to leave the stove when the lieutenant pushed it back inside.

On investigation, he found that the second cat had a string attached to one of its rear paws. The other end of the string was attached to the fuse in 25 pounds of high explosive.

It was another of those cute Nazi ideas that didn't work.