Strawberry Shortcake at War

Alas, the liberation story shown in this Google newspaper archive clip never made it to the radio, as far as I know, but it hints at the first-person style of husband-and-wife United Press correspondents Reynolds and Eleanor Packard.

The “Soldiers of the Press” broadcast you can listen to below is an earlier item, the story of a news-feature almost too good to check, by one of World War II’s best-known reporters.

It is not an eyewitness account by Reynolds Packard, but his as-told-to Italian-front yarn worthy of Hollywood, with the title “Battle Boomerang,” and the password-of-the-day “Strawberry Shortcake.”

When veteran foreign correspondent   Packard died in 1976, ​his New York Times obituary contained a passage with a hint of another flavor… sour grapes…

During his reporting career, Mr. Packand was often an irritant of fellow correspondents, who charged that some of his reports were less than authentic. They frequently made such charges in explaining to their editors back home why they had been scooped.

Mr. Packard once gave this pithy definition of his reporting:

“If you’ve got a good story, the important thing is to get it out fast. You can worry about details later. And if you have to send a correction, that will probably make another good story.”

“What I want to do,” he said at later time, “is to let my readers participate in my experiences in collecting news, whether it’s real or phony.”

There are certainly plenty of details in the “Battle Boomerang” story, from the rank of the injured soldier to that password… and the recipe involving battlefield biscuits. Were they improvisations by the radio scriptwriter, interview details from Packard’s notebook, or embellishments to help tell the tale?  So far, I haven’t found a published version of Packard’s U.P. dispatch for comparison, the way I have with some of the radio series’ bigger stories, such as the D-Day invasion.

“Soldiers of the Press” dramatizations, usually based on one or more wire stories sent to subscribing newspapers, were reworked extensively by radio script writers, then recorded by actors in a studio, complete with sound effects like the clacking typewriters, gunfire and other battle noise in the background of this episode.  The series helped promote the scrappy and competitive United Press wire service — never as big as the Associated Press — as well as informing and entertaining the homefront audience.

I wonder if Reynolds and Eleanor Packard ever heard or commented on the broadcasts, like fellow U.P. reporter Walter Cronkite, who lived to write about the strange experience of hearing a radio actor playing him in a Soldiers of the Press episode, saying “This is Walter Cronkite” decades before American TV audiences learned the sound of his voice. (Did United Press correspondents ever tell their own stories on Soldiers of the Press? I don’t know, but the recordings clearly have the production values of New York studio work and were broadcast while the reporters were presumably still overseas in the war zones. I’ve found precious little written about the series at the time, primarily trade-magazine advertisements using the program to promote U.P. itself to radio stations. The broadcasts themselves included no credits for cast or crew.)

The Packards wrote several books, which I haven’t read. If you have, and have seen references to their appearances on “Soldiers of the Press,” please add a comment below!

Packard’s obituary doesn’t mention his books, but WorldCat can find them for you, from “Rome Was My Beat” and “Balcony Empire: Fascist Italy at War” to “The Kansas City Milkman.”

For more about the Packards, see Reporting War: How Foreign Correspondents Risked Capture, Torture, and Death to Cover World War II by Ray Mosely.

For more about the series, see the “Soldiers of the Press” page and links on that page.

(Note: This episode of [] Newspaper Heroes on the Air was written and links inserted entirely with the WordPress app on an Android phone. I will probably edit it later using a more substantial computer to fix any oddities in the fonts, formatting, spelling or linkage.)

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who found computers & the Web in grad school in the 1980s (Wesleyan) and '90s (UNC); taught journalism, media studies, Web production; retired to write, make music, photograph sunsets & walks in the woods.
This entry was posted in 1940s, foreign correspondents, reporting, Soldiers of the Press, true stories, United Press, Walter Cronkite, World War II and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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