For Memorial Day weekend listening and reading:
Veteran United Press reporter Henry T. Gorrell flew on an October 1942 bomber mission over Navarino Bay in Greece, wound up serving as a medic for shrapnel-scarred fliers — and had his experience dramatized as the first episode in the “Soldiers of the Press” radio series.
A few months later, Gorrell was awarded the Air Medal for “extreme gallantry under fire” for helping the bomber crew, and was mentioned again in an April 1943 story about correspondents’ accomplishments. On the job since before the U.S. entry into the war, he continued to cover the action in Africa, the Middle East and Europe, including the liberation of Paris and reopening of the U.P. Paris bureau.
In the Henry Gorrell flies with bombers to Navarino Bay broadcast, an unnamed actor voices Gorrell’s story-behind-the-story narration: “I was in my quarters pounding away on my typewriter when…”
Other actors play reporters, military briefing officers and the Army Air Force B-24 bomber crew, with sound effects ranging from Gorrell’s typewriter to airplane engines, machine guns and bombs.
“I make my way back to the gunner’s turret, I have to take off my parachute harness, life jacket and sheepskin coat to negotiate the narrow catwalk in the bomb-bay… From where I sit, I count 25 cannon and bullet holes inside the plane…”
Seven war correspondents were aboard various bombers on the high-altitude raid, including an AP reporter named Edward Kennedy whose version of the story is preserved in Google’s scan of the Portsmouth Times. Gorrell was on “The Witch,” which Kennedy describes as taking the brunt of the German attack. The Pittsburgh Press (below) carried Gorrell’s own story.
The United Press “Soldiers of the Press” series was recorded in New York — with state-of-the-art radio sound effects and production values — while the U.P. correspondents were still in the European or Pacific war zones. The 15-minute episodes not only told war stories in a dramatic way, but helped promote the United Press, “The world’s best coverage of the world’s biggest news.”
“By braving enemy gunfire, by accompanying our troops, our ships and our planes into battle at the risk of their lives and freedom, Gorrell and other correspondents of the United Press enable American radio listeners and newspaper readers to know the facts, the truth of important war actions clearly, completely, quickly. They bring you the stories behind the headlines…” — announcer
Later episodes introduced Unipressers who went on to fame in radio and television years later, including a young Walter Cronkite. (Cronkite later told NPR listeners the series was “part wartime propaganda and part PR,” but an honorable effort to inform the public and “more or less true.” He said it sounded like an adventure series, “A variation of Gangbusters with war correspondents instead of G-men.”) Gorrell was featured several times, including one story covering the fall of Aachen and another telling a Christmas story.
More than half a century later, Kenneth Gorrell found the manuscript of his grandfather’s cousin Henry Gorrell’s memoir in a family attic and saw it through to publication. The book is titled “Soldier of the Press: Covering the Front in Europe and North Africa 1936-1943.”
After the war, Gorrell became publisher of a veterans’ newspaper, The Veterans Report, in Washington, D.C. He died of a stroke in 1958, according to obituaries in The New York Times and Washington Post.
For additional information about the radio series, see Dennis Nyhagen and Dee Neyhart’s Digital Deli Online website, which has researched program logs in newspapers to create a Definitive Soldiers of the Press listings page.
Audio episodes are also available from the Old Time Radio Researchers Group: Soldiers of the Press collection at the Internet Archive, which I use for audio playback on this site. The collection has some identification errors (such as spelling the location “Navareno,” or suggesting that the actual U.P. reporters narrated the series), but makes 40 full episodes available for download.
What was United Press trying to accomplish with the series? This advertisement pretty much sums it up… although it does not mention United Press’s own battle for subscribers, competing with the Associated Press, International News Service (with which it eventually merged to form UPI), Reuters and other wires.
— text of the advertisement —
Shoulder to shoulder with the fighting men on the war fronts of the world go the correspondents of the American press.
You will find them peering down from the bellies of bombers over New Guinea or Hamburg, scanning the swirling actions in Egypt from the scant cover of foxholes or from within baking, bruising tanks. You will find them on the bridges and sky-controls of cruisers and carriers off Midway and Wake and Malta as the enemy torpedo planes swoop. You will find them plodding through the steaming tangle of Burmese jungles, or sharing a look-out’s watch aboard a convoy ship heading blindly through the Arctic dark for Murmansk.
With the troops and crews and squadrons the correspondents face every hazard of war: gunfire and capture and pestilence, hardship and tension and tedium. They face these things at the risk — and sometimes at the sacrifice — of their lives and their freedom. They face them steadfastly, undramatically, like soldiers — like the soldiers that they are.
For while they must remain wholly aloof from any military part at the front, they are none the less fighters for the principles and for the needs of their country. They are chancing all they have and doing all they can to report to their country the truth. For its people to know the truth is a birthright implicit in the nation’s democratic ideal, a birthright which today is a necessity. With all the world tumult and confusion, we here must know the truth — clearly, completely, quickly — in order to plan and to act effectively for victory.
Pictured here are a representative few of that unarmed army of men whose dispatches bring us the truth. To them and their legion of associates in their own and kindred world-news services, to the soldiers of the press, the American war correspondents, this advertisement is a salute.