September 29, 2015

1947. American Newsmen Revisit Bastogne

Bastogne Rebuilds
General Anthony McAuliffe (left) and Lieutenant-Colonel Harry Kinnard in Bastogne, Belgium in 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge (source)

From the "Special Issue: A Report to America Two Years After V-Day," This Week magazine, August 10, 1947, p. 26:


It is grateful to the GI's who saved the town and shrugs off the looting they did
Here's where the 101st Airborne Division and the 10th Armored Division held out for five days against the far heavier German forces and rejected the Nazi surrender ultimatum with a fine, peremptory "Nuts!"

Bastogne was a town of 5,000 people before it was threatened by von Rundstedt's Ardennes offensive. Then 4,000 were evacuated and the rest stayed in town to be encircled with the American troops. But of the total population, a thousand were killed in a few days.

Almost all of Bastogne's homes were hit and a quarter of them were destroyed by the 27,000 shells the Germans laid into them. But all through the town today you hear the sound of hammers and saws, for Bastogne is coming back fast.

This is true of Belgium generally. Her industrial areas were not badly damaged and she is recovering much more quickly than most European countries. As a result, her attitude toward America is different. She is more independent than the others, considerably more outspoken in her criticism.

The Bastognians, to be sure, are lavish in their praise of Americans as fighters. And "Mac-aw-leef" the general. There was a man!

They remember how they answered a call to supply bed-sheets as camouflage for the tanks—and how American paratroopers and tankmen were cold and needed blankets. The call went out, and within 10 minutes Bastognians were throwing their bedding at the GI's as if they had vast surpluses. Many of the Belgians went cold for a long time.

But the thousand civilians who stayed in town during the siege also remember another kind of beating they took—and not all of it was at the hands of the Germans.
One of those who stayed was George Fountaine. He now works in the town hall, on the floor above the police station. During the battle, he was appointed Acting Chief of Police, his main function being to keep 999 other Bastognians under ground. His home was taken as a command post and he likes to show you the machine-gun bullet holes in his dining-room table.

Smiling just a little—not much—Fountaine tells two stories, stories the British and French might not recall so readily for American ears.

One day, after finishing his civilian patrol, Fountaine came home and found paratroopers looting his house. One of them was making off with his typewriter. He protested. A soldier raised his gun and told him to get the hell out. He got out. When he came back he discovered they had taken not only his typewriter, but also his bicycle and his violin. He put in a claim for 25,000 francs and was allowed 3,000 ($25 or $30).

"Which was better," he admits ruefully "than most of us did in our claims against the army."

During another patrol of the town, Fountaine saw that a jewelry shop had been broken open. Inside he found a crowd of GI's loading up with rings and bracelets. Again he protested.

Two paratroopers took him by the arm, patted him on the back and said, "You're a fine fellow—you're doing a good job. Let's take a walk, George."

They walked him around the block, and when they got back the other paratroopers, and the jewelry, were gone.

Later Fountaine reported this to the local MP. "Sorry, bub," he was told. "I'm only here to direct traffic."

The independence which permits Belgians to make legitimate gripes like these seems also to inspire less worthy postures. Remember how Americans were at one time adopting embattled towns like St. Lô and Isigny? They took it upon themselves to contribute money for food and clothing. In some cases they even had children from the stricken towns brought to the United States to be educated and restored to health.

Well, after Bastogne was relieved and the Germans were pushed back, the townspeople said, "Now we are a bit of American history. The Americans will appreciate us and make our town rich."

But we never adopted Bastogne.

"We are orphans," says Fountaine, "completely abandoned."

A friend in his office interrupts.

"Not quite," he says. "Some English town—I forget the name—some town in northwest England adopted us."

They both looked as if this was something not quite fair. It was like being adopted by a poor uncle just before a rich uncle hears of your plight.

They are still hoping Bastogne may be adopted by Americans. In the meantime, they figure that whether or not we take them, maybe they can take us a little. They now look forward to the day when thousands of U.S. tourists will again make pilgrimages to European battlefields. Already they plan to erect a great war memorial which will be inscribed with the names of the 40,000 American soldiers who were casualties in the Ardennes.

Another plan, not yet approved, is to build a big arch at the entrance of the town, an arch with neon signs, no less, that will flash the arresting words: "Stop—you are entering Bastogne, the 'Nuts!' town."

September 28, 2015

1948. The Growing East-West Divide in Blockaded Berlin

Leading Up to West Berlin's December Elections
"A man watches a Communist rally from the bombed-out ruins of a building overlooking Berlin's Lustgarten Square. The rally, billed as a remembrance of the victims of fascism but featuring plenty of anti-American rhetoric, was held at the height of the Berlin Airlift. In fact, a story about the rally noted that speakers were occasionally drowned out by the noise from U.S. planes ferrying supplies to the blockaded western portion of the city." (source: Gerald Waller, Stars and Stripes)

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

Tuesday, November 30, 1948 - Murrow show (Edward R. Murrow with the News)

An operation was performed on the city of Berlin today. Call it politico-surgery; an operation that could spread an infection which could inflame the whole body of this world with the disease of war.

The patient right now is spending an unquiet night as we await the reaction. When that reaction comes, it will probably be serious—and dangerous.

So it is necessary now, some twelve hours after the Communist-led faction of Berlin made its incision, that we think calmly of what has happened. It is very important.

It has been evident that a move by the Communist-led organizations was imminent. Posters and stickers began appearing throughout the city three days ago attacking the Western sector elections next Sunday. This propaganda is all signed "The Democratic Bloc of Berlin."

Today we see for the first time what constitutes the so-called "democratic bloc" from the Eastern sector and how it works.

The "democratic bloc" assembled in the State Opera House this afternoon. Between 1,500 and 2,000 persons attended: leaders of the Communist-dominated Socialist Unity Party, the Communist-dominated Federation of Trade Unions, Soviet-endorsed East sector city officials, and various cultural groups.

This "democratic" assembly proceeded to summarily dismiss the Berlin magistrate election in the citywide voting two years ago. It appointed a new magistrate from a slate agreed upon beforehand, and the whole thing went through unanimously. No objections, no protesting votes. No opposition.

Then the assembly adjourned to a democratic bloc mass meeting organized in Unter den Linden. I was at this meeting this afternoon. The day has been cold and foggy, a fog that has kept the Anglo-American airlift on the ground for more than twenty-four hours.

All the trappings were there. The red banners and forty-nine slogans proclaimed for this event; East sector workers were ordered to stop their jobs and attend the "spontaneous" demonstration—a demonstration so spontaneous that one man said he had only ten minutes to go before he could quit demonstrating. About 100,000 people were on hand. There might have been more, but after an hour of waiting workers were walking away as quickly as others arrived in trucks from their factories.

The whole affair was grim, cheerless, and unenthusiastic. Only one woman took the trouble to recognize me as an American. She turned around to spit at my feet, but I felt that she would have done the same to any national from an occupation power, including the Russian.

As you have heard from Ed Murrow, the Western sector elections will be held on Sunday as planned.

Berlin is now two cities. The dissection tonight has not been completed; maybe it will not be a total cleavage. The inter-sector subways and elevated railroads are still running. But the new identification cards ordered by the Soviet military command will start distribution tomorrow.

Hope for East-West settlement over this intensifying Berlin crisis are at a new low tonight.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to Ed Murrow in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

Wednesday, December 1, 1948

The Communist-led Opera House government of Eastern Berlin moved to take over the Russian sector of the city this morning while, in the blockaded Western sectors of the city, the legally elected assembly proclaimed a state of "political emergency" for this bisected city.

Police and personnel at the Berlin city hall in the Soviet sector were changed overnight. Acting Mayor Friederich Friedensburg, ignoring yesterday's rump assembly dismissal of the present magistrate, reported to his office as usual this morning, but Eastern German police refused him entrance to the building. Yesterday afternoon, after the so-called election of a "democratic bloc" magistrate in the State Opera House, members of the newly proclaimed government went to the Rathaus—some with their families—to select their new offices.

Tomorrow the rump magistrate of Berlin will hold its first meeting and officially take over the government of the Eastern sector.

Leaders of the three anticommunist parties in the Western magistrate meeting minced no words in calling yesterday's events in the Russian sector as an out-and-out putsch in the same pattern as that which put Hitler into power in 1933. Frau Louise Schroeder of the Socialist Party said that any person participating in the East sector magistrate would be tried in orderly courts.

There was some serious ridicule about the "light opera government" proclaimed in East Berlin at today's magistrate meeting, but an undercurrent of crisis was also evident, because those who participate in the elections next Sunday and in this current government most certainly are marked men and women.

The Western city assembly will meet daily during this period of what they call as "political state of emergency." Preparations are going ahead for Sunday's elections in the Western sector.

The charge that the Communist-dominated parties are afraid of free elections at this time would seem to be confirmed by yesterday's action. The rump assembly says it will hold its own elections soon—elections which it can control.

On the surface, Berlin appears unchanged today. The underground and elevated railroads that connect the Eastern and Western part of the city are still running. Public services shared by the divided sectors are operating as usual.

But the final irony of the so-called "democratic bloc" assembly which voted itself into power comes in a letter from Ottomar Geschke, a Communist Deputy Chairman of the original city assembly. This letter, addressed to the military commandants of all four occupation powers, notifies them of the formation of a new magistrate, with a final paragraph that says: "I take the liberty to assume that this new magistrate will get the necessary support to carry out its duties."

The answers from the four military governments should be interesting, particularly the answer of Marshal Sokolovsky.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

Thursday, December 2, 1948

Gangs of Communist-led rowdies roamed the streets of the blockaded Western sectors of Berlin last night, tearing down election posters and pasting up placards warning Berliners not to vote in Sunday's elections.

These putsch tactics were extended to at least two Socialist Party political rallies. In a working class district near Tempelhof Aerodrome, some four hundred members of the Russian sector Socialist Unity Party tried to break up a political meeting. A first class brawl ensued until German police using nightsticks threw the rioters out. Nine persons were arrested. A similar scene occurred in another meeting in the American sector.

German police are taking precautions against the possibility that gangs from the Eastern sector might storm polling places on election day and try to confiscate ballots. German police guards already have been posted at the homes of Western city officials, and other police patrols have been placed at elevated and subway stations which might carry the rioters into voting areas.

Both the Western city assembly and the so-called "light opera magistrate" of the Eastern sector met today. The blockaded city government has a housing problem on its hands—British and American military governments are turning over a number of requisitioned buildings to provide office space for the municipal authorities.

The Soviet sector magistrate in its initial meeting in the Berlin city hall considered measures to provide winter help for the blockaded parts of the city—winter help that Berliners can buy at the price of their political freedom.

The election of Fritz Ebert, son of the Weimar president, as Oberbürgermeister for the rump magistrate of the Eastern sector has precipitated a family argument. His older brother Karl Ebert, who lives in Heidelburg, disowned his brother's activities and told Berliners that "the name of Ebert has been misused to deceive you." The elder brother, who lives with his mother, urged the cities to go to the polls on Sunday.

The Berlin airlift is slowly pulling itself out of the chocking fog that virtually grounded it for the past week. In the most serious stoppage yet, air deliveries over the blockade for the past five days have been less than half of what normally arrives in this city in one day. But the planes are beginning to fly again this morning.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

Friday, December 3, 1948

The Soviet Union has recognized the Communist-led "putsch" assembly of Eastern Berlin. In the most brazen political maneuver since the Communist coup d'etat in Czechoslovakia, the deputy Soviet military governor for Berlin dispatched a letter to the leadership of the rump city magistrate which proclaimed itself into power last Tuesday.

The letter, signed by Colonel Jelisarov, says that "the Soviet Command declares that the provisional democratic magistrate will be granted any support and assistance necessary to take care of its functions serving the interests of the population." The letter further states, with rare cynicism, that "the Soviet Command supports measures aiming at keeping unity of the city and the safeguarding of normal actions of democratic self-governmental institutions. It acknowledges the provisional democratic magistrate elected by the special city assembly until uniform democratic elections in all of Berlin are carried through, which the Soviet Command considers of imminent importance."

Soviet recognition of the "opera house government" came a few hours after the American, British, and French military commanders for Berlin denounced the rump assembly as illegal and withdrew their liaison officers from the city hall in the Soviet sector.

Marshall Sokolovsky put the clincher on the Soviet Union's latest diplomatic move by receiving Fritz Ebert, the Oberbürgermeister of the rump Berlin government, in his Russian headquarters.

Meanwhile, more gangs invaded the Western sectors last night and attempted to break up political rallies being held in the campaign for next Sunday's elections. There was a fistfight at one Christian Democratic meeting and another fight at a subway station where some sixty young men started a demonstration against the elections.

The Berlin blockade indirectly was responsible this morning for the death of ten to fifteen Germans in a train wreck on the western borders of Berlin just inside the Russian zone. At six o'clock this morning, an express train carrying passengers into the city was stopped so that police could check documents of the travelers and inspect their luggage so as to confiscate foodstuffs they might be bringing through the blockade. A commuter train which had not been warned of the blockade delay crashed into the rear of the express, demolishing two passenger cars. In addition to the ten to fifteen dead, twenty-five persons are believed to be injured.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

Saturday, December 4, 1948

The stage is all set for tomorrow's Western Berlin elections. Some 1,400 polling places have been set up in schools, public buildings, pubs, and restaurants. German police have been alerted to full strength in the event that any Communist-led raids on ballot boxes are attempted.

The American, British, and French governments are officially keeping hands off this election—it is a completely German affair. However, the occupation troops will be on a standby basis tomorrow in the event there is any serious outbreak.

For the past two days, Allied inspection teams have been making the rounds of the polling places. Their job is to see that the elections are conducted fairly and freely. They will be on hand tomorrow. Tonight there will be the final political meetings by the Liberal Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and the Social Democrats.

The Communist-controlled press from the Eastern sector of the city this morning came out with the "big lie" tactic in an effort to frustrate the elections. The Russian Army newspaper, Tägliche Rundschau, carries banner headlines that the Western Powers are preparing to leave Berlin in January. Another story says that General Clay is going to be replaced as the American military governor. The inference is that anyone who votes in tomorrow's elections will be deserted by the Western occupation forces, and thus be at the mercy of the Communist-dominated rump government of Berlin which already has threatened reprisals.

Yesterday there was a small riot at a political rally in the British sector. When Socialist candidate Ernst Reuter declared that Berlin would continue to fight, a heckler shouted, "Yes, until we end in a common grave."

Fists started flying, and a number of youths from the Soviet sector were beaten so badly that they needed first aid treatment afterward.

It has been expected that the elevated and subway trains which connect the Eastern and Western parts of Berlin might stop running on election day to make it more difficult for voters to get to the polls.

This happened yesterday to persons riding the trains to the Socialist meeting. The trains failed to stop at the station near the mass meeting and people changed trains, riding back and forth several times until someone got the bright idea of pulling the emergency brake. It led to another fight with the railroad police, but the crowds got to the meeting anyway.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

1977. The Problem with the ABC News Division

How to Fix a Third Place News Broadcast
ABC Evening News anchors Harry Reasoner and Barbara Walters on set (photo by Ray Stubblebine, Associated Press) (source)

From The Washington Post, March 9, 1977. "Will Arledge Preside Over ABC News?" by Sander Vanocur, p. B1:

Will Arledge Preside Over ABC News?

By Sander Vanocur

The problem with the ABC Evening News is not primarily Barbara Walters. Nor is it Harry Reasoner. The problem with the ABC Evening News is ABC News.

There has been much speculation and gossip about how Reasoner and Walters get along—whether he will leave the show, whether she will leave the show, or whether he will remain in New York and she will move to Washington. It fills the pages of newspapers and magazines and completely obscures the problem, which is ABC News.

The nightly news programs of the three networks are the final distillation of the daily activities of their respective news departments. Imagine the programs in your mind as what comes out of the small end of a funnel into which a large amount of wine is being poured. That is how it looks at CBS and NBC.

But at ABC, the reverse is true. Priorities have been reversed. They pour their news input in through the narrow end and what comes out the large end of the funnel is a tiny trickle of wine served to us by two very famous wine stewards.

Whatever else Walters has or has not done, she has focused the attention of ABC management on this fact: The network simply has not given its news department both the money and the support that the network has lavished on its entertainment and sports departments.

CBS was dominant in the early days of radio news because William S. Paley gave Edward R. Murrow a blank check to go out and hire the best: Howard K. Smith, William Shirer, Charles Collingwood, Eric Sevareid, David Schoenbrun, Winston Burdett, Bill Downs. A tradition was started. When major events happened, people turned their radio dials to CBS.

In the middle 1950s, Robert E. Kintner took two men named Huntley and Brinkley and used them to build a news department. For the remainder of that decade and the first part of the next, NBC dominated television news as CBS News had earlier dominated radio.

I had the pleasure of working for Kintner during that period. If you were a reporter at NBC News during his reign, you were treated as one of fortune's children. If major events happened, you would go on the air immediately because Kintner ordered entertainment shows replaced with major breaking news stories. His reasoning was simple: When something important happened, people knew that they could see it first and see it best on NBC.

That tradition has never existed at ABC. For the past 15 years, under Elmer Lower and William Sheehan, two of the most decent men in journalism, ABC management has not given its news department the attention and prominence that Paley and Kintner gave at CBS and NBC. For that reason, people do not associate ABC with being a leader in the news.

The lesson that seems to have now been learned at ABC is that the hiring of a star from another network to join with another star on the evening news simply will not raise ratings. Huntley and Brinkley were a pairing made in heaven. But they dominated the news ratings, both the nightly news and at a convention, because they were supported by a strong news organization that had the full backing and support of top network management.

Now there is talk that ABC Television President Frederick S. Pierce, who recently added the ABC News division to his field of responsibility, is going to make some changes in the division's management. Current speculation centers on making ABC Sports President Roone Arledge head of ABC News.

Arledge is the man who gave ABC Sports its commanding position not by wasting his energy returning phone calls. In an interview with Playboy magazine last hear he hinted that he had some ideas about what was wrong with television news.

While not confessing to Playboy that in his heart he lusted after the presidency of ABC News, it was a tip-off to some people in the industry that Arledge was looking for a new challenge in television.

Running ABC News would be a challenge, another summit to scale. But Arledge would be foolish to entertain the prospect, if it is offered to him, without assurances from ABC management that they will give him the same kind of backing that Paley and Kintner gave their news departments.

That means he would be allowed to preempt ABC's incredibly successful entertainment programming to present a news special when a major news story develops—to not, on occasions like last year's Fourth of July, be so shamefully outclassed by CBS and NBC.

If he gets that kind of commitment, then, in time, he may be able to provide the galvanizing energy which ABC News so badly needs. Without it, ABC will continue to be a bad third and we will continue to spend our time writing gossipy little tidbits about Walters and Reasoner which will titillate readers but obscure the real problem.

September 23, 2015

1955. Ambassador Clare Boothe Luce on Italy

Italy's Political Woes
Bill Downs (right) meets with Italian Prime Minister Mario Scelba in 1955

TO: Ed Murrow, John Day, Jim Burke

FROM: Bill Downs, Rome

March 1, 1955

I just had a long talk with Ambassador Luce over the general situation in Italy. Speaking off the record (although I didn't see why), she seemed fairly optimistic and said that, since the passage of the Western European Union program by the Bundestag, there should be little trouble getting the program ratified by the Roman Senate. There are signs that the Togliatti boys will make some noise before the the present debate is concluded, but she believes this will be for the benefit of Moscow and to get the party on the record in the public mind here. Mrs. Luce does not believe Togliatti will go all out on an issue which he knows in advance he has little chance of winning.

Italian political leaders in Premier Scelba's coalition government are back playing with their knives again. The right wing Liberal leaders deliberately brought up the agricultural law issue just the day Scelba and Martino returned from the London and Paris trips. The gambit apparently was to embarrass the Premier and grab the headlines from him. Foreign Minister Martino, who is a Liberal Party member, finally brought the dissidents into line but gained only a three month respite, when the issue will come up again. The Liberals, who include many wealthy landowners, want to modify the present law which prevents them from being able to discharge sharecroppers or tenant farmers and change the regulations to get people off their property after a set notice time. As you can see, it is a perfect issue for Communist propaganda.

Scelba and Martino will arrive in America about the 23rd of March. The exact itinerary is still being made up, but present plans call for a visit to Ottawa, then Washington, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Scelba will return to Rome ahead of Martino, who is likely to extend his tour to San Francisco returning east via Texas. They want to go to Washington with ratification of WEU behind them, and the agenda of the formal talks with Eisenhower and Dulles will include the usual mutual defense and economic problems, with emphasis on increased trade and immigration. Incidentally, Mrs. Luce is leaving for the US on about March 18 ahead of the Scelba party. She's going to get an honorary degree from Georgetown University. I also am pressing for the exact dates on the Scelba-Martino itinerary with a view to getting Martino on some of our shows. Martino speaks fairly good English.

Mrs. Luce does not expect much that will cheer the West to come out of the Sicilian elections which will probably be held in June. The Communists and extreme left are expected to make further gains. The moderate and right wing political situation is complicated by splits in all parties, a proposed majority election law to replace P.R. which is being fought by the minor parties, a controversial issue over oil exploration and exploitation, and the usual personality battles for power. In other words, the Left is expected to make gains.

The Ambassadress continues to insist, however, that generally the Communists are losing some of their punch. She admits that she had little proof of this except scattered factory elections where the Red CGIL unions have lost votes. She admits that it may be all a farce to get US military contracts, "or it may be done with mirrors" but, she continued, "if I'm being fooled over this, I must say it's the way I want to be fooled." The biggest problem, she says, is to find a way to get the government off dead center. But even under the present "immobilissimo"government, things generally get slightly better from day to day. This progress by osmosis has already precipitated a split in the Communist leadership, and she says that if this somnambulant state of affairs can be continued, the West will stand to win in the long run.

The crisis period in Italian politics will come after the presidential election this summer. Depending on who gets the job—in the running are Martino, ex-Premier Pella, and possibly even Demochristian Party Secretary Fanfani—will depend on the men who will try to upset the Scelba government. Some gossip has it that Fanfani has been sitting back developing his own organization and will emerge with the power to give the country strong leadership of a New Deal kind. Another candidate being mentioned is Finance Minister Vanoni, the creator of the Vanoni Plan to give Italy full employment in the next ten years. Just about any man who emerges with personality enough to capture the imagination of the people can do the job. But not to be forgotten is Scelba himself, who seems to creep up on power or inherits it by default.

La Luce says that elections any time within the next two years would force a real polarization of the vote with both the right and the left gaining at the expense of the center. The Demochristians have no agreed program to present to the electorate and have little in the way of a positive record to point to as their past accomplishments.

In other words, politically things are normal here and we may have a government crisis in the summer, if not before.


Bill Downs

September 21, 2015

1947. Omaha Beach, Three Years Later

Returning to Omaha Beach
German prisoners tending to an American cemetery in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer near Omaha Beach in 1945 (source)

From the "Special Issue: A Report to America Two Years After V-Day," This Week magazine, August 10, 1947, pp. 20-21:


by Bill Downs

The scene of the Normandy landings is lonely and eerie—three years later

What does a soldier feel when he walks back through the battlefield and finds grass growing in the foxholes and butterflies flitting over the pillboxes? Correspondent Bill Downs, who landed on the Normandy beachhead with the British on D-Day, 1944, went back to find out. He took along a portable recorder.

The result is something new in reporting. For this is no straight account of events and people. Bill Downs looked inwardly and reported the thoughts that marched through his mind—as he walked alone through Omaha Beach. This is how he put them down on the recording tape:

I'm on Omaha Beach, where, not very many months ago, I saw bodies stacked like cordwood—American bodies. Behind me lie the remains of the Mulberry Docks, the improvised harbor that meant so much on D-Day plus. The sea is very quiet today. Battered ghost ships ride low in the surf. This morning—when the sun was just coming out—the moisture on the beach came up in small clouds of steam.

I'm standing at the entrance of an American assault boat. There are about 50 here—some holed by shells, some by collisions. They're old and rusted, down at the stern, half-buried in sand.

Directly in front of me, over the open landing ramp, I can see the rise of treacherous ground the Germans held for so many hours while American troops fought their way up inch by inch. But now this rise is green and has a sort of military smallpox where naval bombardment drove the Germans back and enabled our troops to land.

It gives you an eerie, unreal feeling to be here, to see these sunken ships of the Mulberry harbor; and you wonder if perhaps sailors don't come back sometimes, and maybe soldiers, too, to man these assault boats of that exciting hour.

I walked practically the entire distance of Omaha Beach this morning, starting with the south end, where there are a half-dozen German pillboxes. In one there's a destroyed 88-millimeter gun which, even in destruction, still looks plenty tough.

All along, the hillside by the beach is marked by shellholes. Grass is beginning to grow back into them. Walking alone—there's no one around—you can find old "C" and "K" ration cans rusting in piles, shell casings, an occasional canteen or canteen cup—usually with a bullet hole through it.

Every day except Sunday, German prisoners come down and dig up the mines. Most of them have been dug up successfully, and there have been few casualties—postwar casualties—on the beach itself. Occasionally, from over the horizon, you can hear the far rumble of an explosion—fortifications or recovered mines being blown up inland by German prisoners. Over the high hill that faces the beach you can see smashed pillboxes with the steel rods that reinforced the concrete forming a pattern of deadly lace against the sky.

Two Frenchmen are riding along the beach now. It's Sunday, and the French tourists come up here quite often. The beach used to be a vacation place, and you can still see the wreckage of some summer homes. They are now roofless, shattered and windowless. They give you a sort of blank, stark stare, as if they have not yet recovered from what they saw on that fateful June 6, 1944.

After three years, you find yourself forgetting entire towns which lie inland, back on the beach. Trips that in your memory took about 10 minutes really take a half-hour or longer. Airfields that used to be there are now only wheat fields, and cattle graze on the site of your Command Post.

Almost every farmer has taken advantage of the material left behind by the armies to patch up his place. It seems to be a kind of poetic justice, remembering how our tanks knocked down fences and the corners of houses trying to get through the narrow lanes.

Incidentally, the Normandy cattle are back on their four feet. There are as many cattle now, the farmers tell us, as there were before the war, and there is no sign of those bloated things with legs in the air that populated the fields when we were there.

On the beach, the only things you hear are the singing of the birds—and you probably didn't have time to hear them when you landed, even during lulls when the artillery was quiet. And there are butterflies hovering over the pillboxes and the good, clean smell of plowed earth in the air. But you want to talk about the smell of the swollen cattle, the grim song of the flying shells, and the noise and confusion that goes with an amphibious operation.

But there's no one to talk to because you're here alone.

Maybe you plan to bring the wife and kids and try to show them the exact place where you landed. And the rim of the white, sea-washed stones that saved your life—you show them that. And maybe you try to point out the "88" position that was giving you most of the trouble.

But the explaining and the pointing out has no real meaning for anyone but yourself—and the memory is so deep inside that it needs blasting to bring it out.

I was sent by This Week and CBS to go back over this ground. There was nothing I wanted more—all those exciting, glorious days when you lived by the hour, when every story was worth doing because men were writing that story in their blood for an honest cause.

If you were in on the D-Day landings, I don't think you'd like coming back to beaches like Omaha. There's something grim and ghoulish about it. You stand and you look at the foxholes where men hid desperately. Then you go to the graveyard and read all those names—the Smiths and the Joneses and the McCloskys and the Weinsteins—and it just makes you plain mad. You think how quickly people forget, how you forgot—until you came back.

You look at these shells and this beach, this silence, and you wonder what it was all about. You wonder if you and the rest of the world will remember the terrible sights and sounds of that day three years ago—and try to make its sacrifices worthwhile.

September 18, 2015

1943. The Complete Moscow Broadcasts

Bill Downs' Moscow Reports
A still from the Soviet film The Battle of Russia (1943)

Bill Downs wrote these broadcast transcripts and articles in 1943 while he headed the CBS bureau in Moscow. His reports feature updates and analyses of the war as it happened.

January 20, 1943: The women doing the labor in Moscow
"By closely observing this daily battle against the snow, you can pretty well tell how all of Moscow feels about things. When the Red Army isn't doing so well, this army of women prod viciously at the ice. They glare at pedestrians and at each other. They don't do much talking, even when they stop for a breather."

January 22, 1943: Life in Leningrad
"No one knows what Leningrad is suffering tonight. It is not likely that the German command is letting Russia's greatest seaport city sleep while the Red Army continues its dirty job of throwing German soldiers out of pillbox after pillbox."

January 23 to May 13: The turning point of the war in Europe
"It is a cheering sign that there are no such foolish arguments or discussions going on in Moscow tonight such as those which arose in America after the last war—you know the old argument that 'we won the war for the Allies.' Russians simply don't think that way. After what the Soviet Union has suffered, the people of Russia don't care to waste time talking about who won what. It has become pretty clear over here that unless everyone puts ever ounce of fight and energy into this war, no one is going to be able to talk about winning anything for a long, long time."

January 24, 1943: The Red Army pushes back against the encirclement of Leningrad
"During their sixteen month encirclement of Leningrad, the Germans built a three-to-five mile zone of concentrated Siegfried Line. It was a military nightmare. First there was row after row of coiled barbed wire. Then came the minefields."

January 26 to February 23, 1943: Decimating the Axis forces
"Hitler calls his great Russian winter retreat an 'elastic defense.' It is fairly certain he is going to try to put some snap into it this spring. But he's working with synthetic material that he can only stretch so far. Hitler's ersatz allies have already been badly broken under the strain."

January 1943: Comparing wartime Moscow and London
"You see in the people of Moscow the same determined, grim look that you could see in the brave citizens of London during their heaviest bombings. And when a Muscovite looks grim, I mean he really looks grim."

February 8 to February 9, 1943: The aftermath in Stalingrad
"There are sights and sounds and smells in and around Stalingrad that make you want to weep, and make you want to shout and make you just plain sick to your stomach."

February 9, 1943: German Field Marshal Paulus in custody after Stalingrad
"Typical of the daring, devil-may-care spirit of these new Red Army forces was the almost comic capture of Field Marshal Von Paulus. Von Paulus, the only German field marshal ever to be made a prisoner of war, was taken after initial negotiations conducted by a 21-year-old Red Army first lieutenant."

February 9 to April 28, 1943: Stories from the Eastern Front
"At one point in the Stalingrad line, the German and Russian soldiers used to amuse themselves by shouting insults back and forth to each other. My Russian friend said that one German soldier shouted across the lines and offered to exchange his automatic rifle for a Red Army fur cap."

February 19 to 20, 1943: Moscow schoolkids make predictions about a second front
"So I decided I would beat them to the draw. I asked the class just how and where they thought a second front should be started."

February 22, 1943: The 25th anniversary of Red Army Day
"The letters that the Russian kids write to the soldiers usually congratulate the men on the 25th anniversary and urge them to continue the stuffing out of the Germans. And often the letters end up with a promise that, as a token of appreciation, the schoolchildren will see that they make better grades and stop whispering in classrooms."

February 27 to March 16: The Nazi occupation of Kharkov and the colonization of Ukraine
"During the first days of the occupation about 18,000 people were executed. Bodies hanging from balconies were a common sight. Among these 18,000 executed were about 10,000 Jews—men, women, and children—who were taken nine miles out of the city, shot and buried in a big ditch."

March 2, 1943: The Soviet Union's winter offensive after Stalingrad
"The Germans didn't leave Rzhev voluntarily. This is shown by the great amount of equipment they left behind. They were kicked out of Rzhev in a blow that eliminated the main Axis threat to Moscow."

March 5, 1943: The Red Army's "tank desant" tactics
"This is the formation of groups of "hitchhike troops" specially trained to operate mobile tank forces which have acted as spearheads for the Russian drive westward."

March 7, 1943: Joseph Stalin names himself Marshal of the Soviet Union
"Premier Stalin now holds the position of Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the USSR. He also is Chairman of the State Defense Committee, the People's Commissar of Defense, and Chairman of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party."

March 8, 1943: Lend-Lease to the USSR
"The Russian people also have no idea of the scope of such American and British organizations such as the Aid to Russia funds. They know virtually nothing of the tremendous personal interest the people of the United States and other Allied nations are taking in their problems."

March 8, 1943: Ambiguity in Russian-American relations
"As he said in his statement tonight, the American people realize and sympathize with the stupendous courage and effort with which the Russian people have met the Axis onslaught. But, he said, the Russian people have little idea of the American's feeling for them."

March 19, 1943: The Nazi offensive is bogged down by the weather in Ukraine
"They sent a group of tanks across to attack some Russian fortifications on the left bank. When the two loading tanks reached the middle of the stream, the ice suddenly gave way and they went through and were lost. The following tanks immediately retreated to safety."

March 21 to April 21, 1943: Soviet bombers fighting for air supremacy
"The Soviet bombers have proved just how impressive they are to the citizens of Königsberg and Danzig. And a lot of other German cities are going to find out this summer when flying weather gets better. The Russian bombing force is growing."

March 21 to May 23, 1943: The advent of spring in Russia—two censored reports
"We are told it is almost a certainty that Hitler will start the fighting this spring. But he is hesitating because this time he feels he must not fail. He must get this campaign rolling before he has to organize another to protect his 'European fortress' from a second front."

March 23, 1943: The State Stalin Prize
"The occasion for even hinting that these things exist was the first annual list of Stalin science awards. These awards range from $18,000 to $5,000, and are given to engineers, professors, and scientists who have distinguished themselves in Soviet science and industry for the past year."

March 24, 1943: The Red Army's death toll thus far
"[A]ccording to the comparative losses during the German counterattack, 2,936,000 Red Army men have died in defending their country during this fighting. But I must point out that this figure is based merely on one small fact from one small sector of the Russian front. But whether the figure is larger or smaller, 2,936,000 men lost in the cause of democracy gives the Allies of Russia something to think about—and throws new light on Russia's desire for a second front."

March 26, 1943: The Soviet Union waits for the Western Allies to open a second front in Europe
"When they learned that there was some Congressional opposition to extending the Lend-Lease agreement, they could not understand it. Their one question was always, 'If it helps to win the war, then why argue about it?'"

March 28, 1943: Soviet engineers work a miracle as the Nazis retreat
"And when the Germans were chased from the area, they did one of their most complete jobs of earth scorching along the Velikiye Luki-Moscow railroad. Every bridge was blown up. Switches and sidings were destroyed. In some places the Germans even burned the forest around some vital bridges so that the Russian engineers would have no material with which to reconstruct them."

April 2, 1943: The Nazis leave behind horrific booby traps
"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."

April 3, 1943: The Red Army's massive winter offensive comes to an end
"In just 141 days of some of the bloodiest fighting that the world has ever witnessed, the Germans lost over 1,193,000 men in killed and captured."

April 6 to May 12, 1943: The Soviet commission on Nazi war crimes
"The report ends with the statement, 'These men must bear full responsibility and merited punishment for all these unprecedented atrocities.' And this morning's Izvestia editorial adds 'The Russian people will not forget.'"

April 8, 1943: Heroic Czechoslovak soldiers hold the line
"The Germans launched a counterattack. It was a big show, and sixty tanks appeared on one narrow sector opposite the dug-in Czech troops. A young lieutenant named Yarosh was in command on this sector. His field telephone rang, and Colonel Svoboda said the unit would have to hold out alone. There were no reinforcements to help the lieutenant stop the sixty tanks. The colonel's orders were 'it is impossible to retreat.'"

April 9, 1943: The Free French squadron fighting in Russia
"Many of them are veterans of the Fighting French air force in Britain. Here they operate under Russian command and have a great respect for the fighting abilities of the Russian fliers. One of them told me he was learning how the Soviet pilots ram German planes in combat. He said the Russians had developed a technique in which a pilot could knock the tail or wing off an enemy plane and do very little damage to his own ship."

April 1 to April 14, 1943: Censored broadcasts
"There was a fear that the correspondent could, by intonation, change the meaning of his report...When reading your dispatch on the air, there was always an English-speaking Communist broadcaster sitting alongside with his hand on the cut-out switch. If you unintentionally changed the grammar of the sentence, as sometimes happens, down would go the switch and you'd be off the air."

April 17 to May 28, 1943: The battle for the Kuban bridgehead
"It took forty minutes of inching forward through the mud on their stomachs before the Russian soldiers reached the first German lines. Then there was a period of furious and bitter hand-to-hand fighting before all the Germans were bayonetted out of their trenches."

April 19 to April 27, 1943: Soviet officials deny responsibility for the Katyn massacre
"The newspaper Pravda, organ of the Communist Party, this morning violently attacks the Polish government of General Sikorski for giving official cognizance to the German propaganda charges that the Soviet government allegedly murdered 10,000 Polish officers near Smolensk in 1940."

April 21, 1943: No time for fun in Moscow
"[T]here are no nightclubs or dance halls or anything like that in the capital of the Soviet Union. There is only one cocktail bar, and you have to stand in line to get into it. Occasionally some of the artist's clubs or other such organizations will throw a dance, but it's not very often."

April 21, 1943: Russians civilians train for air raids
"Moscow has not had a bombing for a year. Quite naturally the city is relaxed. People have forgotten where they put their gas masks. Fire watchers and shelter wardens have been more lax than they should be with Nazi bombers only a half hour's flight from the city."

April 21 to July 6, 1943: Film and theater in wartime Moscow
"In an exclusive Variety interview, Krapchenko said the wartime Moscow theatre is tending toward serious drama and tragedy."

April 23-24, 1943:  The air war in Crimea
"[T]he Germans more and more are putting Romanian troops into the vanguard of their local attacks. Thus the Romanians suffer the heaviest losses. The dispatch says that when the unlucky Romanians show a reluctance to attack, or when they appear on the verge of retreat, the German soldiers behind them liven their spirits with Tommy gun bullets. A good number of these Romanians have been killed by their own allies."

May 2, 1943: Stalin's cult of personality
"This week all over the Soviet Union, pictures of Josef Stalin are being displayed on every factory and office building in the country. It means that this week his picture is getting larger display and his name on more banners and posters and that he is getting more personal publicity than any man has ever received."

May 7, 1943: Soviet maskirovka
"No one is fooling down in the Caucasus tonight as the Red Army presses the Axis forces back to the Black Sea coast. But on the rest of the front there is a real war of nerves that, in plain deception, provides the greatest mystery show on earth. And strangest of all, these mystery tactics are good military practice."

May 13, 1943: The Russians react to the Allied victories in Tunisia
"The American and British and French troops in North Africa don't know it, but their heroism and sacrifices and courage have achieved something here in Russia that a thousand diplomats and a million words could never have done."

May 19, 1943: The American ambassador visits the ruins of Stalingrad
"Mr. Davies said he wished every American fighting man could have a look at the tragedy of Stalingrad before he went into battle against the Germans."

May 25, 1943: The Soviets throw a goodwill banquet for the British
"They represent an exchange of ideas—not between governments, but between peoples. Neither America, Britain, nor the Soviet Union is trying to impose ideas in this campaign for better cultural relations. That's what got Germany into trouble. If there is one thing that this war has proved, it is that it's much better to exchange ideas than it is to exchange bullets."

May 30, 1943: Western Allied bombing of Germany threatens morale on the Eastern Front
"The Anglo-American bombing of Germany is having a very real effect on the German soldier, who has been given the impossible job of defeating Russia. When a Fortress or a Liberator or a Lancaster drops a bomb on Berlin or Duisburg or Essen, this bomb not only smashes Nazi war production, it also smashes just one more grain of confidence and resistance in the morale of the Fritz on the Russian front who sooner or later hears that his hometown has taken it in the neck again."

June 7, 1943: "Red Justice"
"With the German attack of 1941 a decree was promulgated reclassifying murder, attempted murder, highway robbery, resistance to representatives of the government, and refusal to join the labor front as crimes subject to martial law."

June 17, 1943: "Bogdan the Elusive" in Ukraine
"Once, the Germans thought they had Bogdan. They carefully threw a cordon around his camp. When they finally closed in on the camp they found warm campfires, empty tin cans—and a goat. Around the neck of the goat was a note saying 'A hurried good-bye—but I'll be back.'"

June 19, 1943: The Russian perspective on Japanese imperialism
"'In May 1943, a serious reverse befell Japan,' the Russian expert says. 'In the Northern Pacific, American troops drove the Japanese out of Attu Island which, incidentally, the Japanese militarists prematurely gave a Japanese name.'"

June 25, 1943: Summertime fashion in Moscow
"The most popular summer footwear are sandals. I've seen some made out of worn out automobile tires. The tire is simply cut into the shape of a show. Another thickness is nailed onto the heel—two straps are attached—and there you have a perfectly good pair of summer shoes."

June 27, 1943: The Wehrmacht's lice epidemic
"The German command is trying to combat the louse that infests the invincible, Aryan Nazi soldier. They are using all kinds of propaganda. Soap is scarce in the German army, and propaganda has not been a very good substitute."

July 11, 1943: What are Hitler's ultimate plans for the new offensive?
"The third theory is that this present attack is the beginning of an all-out attack on the Soviet Union, with Hitler ignoring the impending second front and setting out once and for all in an attempt to defeat the Red Army. In this event, he would depend on his European defenses to protect his rear."

July 14, 1943: Axis espionage in Russia
"The business of spying is no longer a glamorous job of pumping a victim full of champagne and getting him to talk. Axis agents have been discovered disguised as beggars, as wounded Russian soldiers, as government officials, and a number of other things."

July 27, 1943: Russian play features heroic American war correspondent
"The correspondent is depicted as about 40, greyish, with an intense interest in getting the story but with little interest in taking a personal part in the war. He is constantly taking notes and snapping pictures and making what are, to the Russian mind, wisecracks. The author allows the correspondent to jibe the Russians about their love for tragedy, maintaining that Tolstoy should have ended 'War and Peace' with 'everyone loving everyone else.'"

August 13, 1943: The Bryansk partisans
"I sat next to Romashin during a lunch the Orel city government gave the correspondents. He told me that, if I wanted to turn him over to the Germans, I would be a rich man. The Germans know his home. To the person who can produce him dead or alive they will give 15,000 rubles, thirty acres of land, a house, one horse, and two cows."

August 14, 1943: The Red Army's high spirits
"These campfires are a beautiful sight. I saw them from an army headquarters on a height overlooking the Oka river valley. These fires, spotting the ridges and slopes of the rolling steppe, make an unforgettable sight, particularly if you look to the horizon and see the reflection of the burning ruins of Nazi occupation. Those peaceful looking army campfires are flames of vengeance. The big light on the horizon is reflected fear."

August 26, 1943: Downs tells of the curfew in Moscow
"While walking from the foreign office to the radio studio, a young soldier packing a very business-like rifle and bayonet stopped me and asked to see my documents. I handed him my official press card, the pass which allows me on the street during air raids, and my precious night pass. Everything was in order except for the night pass. It had run out and had to be replaced."

September 4, 1943: Tragedy on the Steppe Front
"We came to a little farm railroad called Maslova Pristan. Our convoy of jeeps stopped. An air raid had started someplace on the horizon. The ack-ack and bomb flashes lit up the skyline so brightly that it didn't seem real. If you saw it in the movies you would say it was too Hollywood; too overdone."

September 6, 1943: Ukrainians persevere in the wake of Nazi destruction
"The damage is so extensive that the occasional house that was new—unburned, without shell holes and not charred by fire—such scattered houses seemed almost to be showplaces. They stood out like the pyramids in a desert of destitution."

September 9, 1943: Italy falls as Donetsk is liberated
 "A victory for one of the United Nations is a victory for all the United Nations."

September 12 to September 17, 1943: The Red Army approaches Bryansk
"The Red Army in the past ten months of its winter and summer offensive has almost completely wiped out the gains that the German army spent two years in achieving.As the Russians drive for Kiev and the Dnieper bend, they soon will be on the same lines where they fought the Nazis in September 1941."

September 14, 1943: The Young Guard in Ukraine
"These high school students played a lot of tricks on the Germans, such as taking empty mine cases and planting them like booby traps. The Germans would worry for days over such tricks. They wired officers' cars so that when they stepped on the starters, the car would blow up. They cut the telephone lines, and always they put out their daily bulletin, carefully written by hand and passed among the people."

September 20, 1943: "Harvest of Death: Behind the Lines in Russia's Reconquered Villages"
"The jeep was blown a dozen feet off the road, turned over, and was almost torn in two. The driver escaped miraculously with only a wound in the back of his head. It was a freak mine that somehow hadn't gone off although hundreds of cars had driven over the spot on the road throughout the day."

September 23, 1943: The Second Battle of Poltava
"The German base of Poltava was one of the most powerful in the Ukraine. It was taken with much greater casualties for both sides than either the Russians or the Swedes suffered two centuries ago."

September 26 to September 29, 1943: The massive Dnieper offensive continues
"An article in the Army journal, Red Star, today puts the question that is on everyone's lips here in Russia: "Where is Hitler's army going to stop?" This same question must be on the lips of the people of Germany."

December 6, 1943: The Babi Yar massacres
"The first foreign witnesses this week returned to Moscow from what are probably the most terrible two acres on earth—a series of desolate ravines in the Lukyanovka district three miles northwest of Kiev."