Soldiers of the Press

Soldiers of the United Press, that is…

Note: This page is a work in progress and will be revised. Please do not quote this early draft without contacting me.

by Bob Stepno

Page one newspaper June 6, 1944

By presstime on June 6, 1944, the evening Berkeley Daily Gazette on the West Coast had enough United Press stories of the dawn landing in Normandy to fill the front page. Bylines included a lead story by Virgil Pinkley and sidebars by Walter Cronkite, Robert C. Miller and Robert Vermillion. All four were featured in “Soldiers of the Press” episodes. U.P. War Editor Louis F. Keemle wrote the “Invasion Opens Final Assault To Destroy Axis” summary for the left column.

The scrappy second-place wire service United Press competed with the Associated Press, Reuters and Hearst’s International News Service for newspaper-company and broadcast-news subscribers for most of the 20th century. It eventually combined with INS to form United Press International, or U.P.I. As its centennial web page noted in 2007, “Imbued with a ‘we try harder’ attitude, Unipressers took on the better resourced AP with verve and ingenuity.”

During World War II, United Press correspondents were based on all battle fronts, providing third-person and first-person breaking news and feature stories. Someone came up with the idea of dramatizing the reporters’ “how I got the story” adventures in a weekly radio series with full “radio drama” production values. Radio collectors have identified more than 140 episodes and have made digital copies of 40 of them available through Internet discussion lists, CD sales, commercial websites and the free Internet Archive.

All “Soldiers of the Press” episodes opened and closed with promotional messages about U.P. news services. The series was coordinated with newspaper display ads and press releases profiling individual correspondents, announcing honors they received (an Air Medal for one, a Purple Heart for another), and promoting the company’s print and broadcast services. Was the radio series offered for free as a public service, part of a bundled deal with U.P. radio news, or sold as a separate product? My research is continuing.

United Press was used as a secondary service by Associated Press subscribers and large papers that fielded their own war correspondents, but it was the primary wire service for many smaller papers. Google’s two-year experiment in creating a digitized archive of newspapers left behind substantial collections for local and regional papers that made more use of U.P. reports than did The New York Times and Washington Post. Stories dramatized by “Soldiers of the Press” have been found in papers including the Spokane Daily Chronicle, Greensburg (Pa.) Daily Tribune, Pittsburgh Press and Berkeley Daily Gazette.

Unnamed script writers based each “Soldiers of the Press” episode’s dialogue on stories filed by the reporters. Professional radio actors — also unnamed, but sometimes identifiable to fans of classic radio — took the roles of reporters, officers, American troops, enemy soldiers and civilians. Airplane engines, bombs, guns and other battle sound-effects were state-of-the-art, especially on early episodes, although later broadcasts relied heavily on soap-opera-style studio organ accompaniment, perhaps a sign of declining budget.

Elsewhere at “Newspaper Heroes on the Air”

JHeroes.com blog posts feature media-player links, newspaper-page images and other background about the people and events dramatized in  “Soldiers of the Press” episodes:

The D-Day Invasion

United Press reporters behind-the-scenes reports on covering the D-Day landing at Normandy.

Henry Gorrell at Navarino Bay

U.P.’s Henry Gorrell flies on a bombing run in the Mediterranean, and wins an Air Medal.

Leo Disher in North Africa

Correspondent Disher, already injured at the start of a battle, survived multiple bullet and shrapnel wounds and filed his story from a hospital bed, later following up with a letter to the widow of one of the officers killed in the battle, which became another “Soldiers of the Press” episode.

William Tyree with the Pacific Fleet

Tyree was already based in Honolulu when Japan struck Pearl Harbor; he covered the war in the Pacific to its end.

Doris Johnston: Hideout in the Philippines

In Manila when the Japanese invaded, Johnston survived hiding in the mountains, then becoming a prisoner of the Japanese, and lived to write a book about it.

Sources and Resources

  • The golden-age-of-radio website Digital Deli Too has meticulously researched program logs in newspapers to create its Soldiers of the Press listings page.
  • The Old Time Radio Researchers collection at the Internet Archive has spelling and identification errors, but lets you play or download 40 individual programs: OTRR_Soldiers_Of_The_Press_Singles
  • Early radio collector J.David Goldin’s RadioGoldIndex log of 94 Soldiers of the Press episodes.
  • Deadline every minute; the story of the United Press, Joe Alex Morris; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1957.
  • “Bravo Amerikanski!” and other stories from World War II, by Ann Stringer (as told to Mark Scott); 1st Books Library, 2000.
  • High Tension: The Recollections of Hugh Baillie, by Hugh Baillie. NY, Harper & Brothers, 1959.
  • United Press International 2007 Centennial website.

Additional resources about war correspondents, beyond United Press.

Episode links, by reporter

These are unedited entries from the OTRR Soldiers of the Press — Singles page, rearranged to more easily follow the portrayals of individual correspondents. Click on the file size number to download the MP3 file. Some episodes may have spelling or date errors. Other UP reporters may appear in addition to the featured correspondent.

43-09-19 (046) Russell Annabel – Kiska Mission 11.0 MB
45-06-17 (137) Eddie Beattie – Prisoner Of War (with Robert Vermillion in closing scene) 10.7 MB
42-12-14 (006) Robert T Bellaire – Japanese Prisoners 6.4 MB
43-05-23 (029) Clinton B Conger – Night Patrol 11.5 MB
43-05-09 (027) Walter Cronkite – Dry Martini 3.4 MB
45-02-18 (120) Walter Cronkite – Symbol Of Caduceus 9.2 MB
45-03-25 (125) Walter Cronkite – Grease Monkey 11.8 MB
42-11-30 (004) Joe James Custer – with Battle Fleet 5.9 MB
42-12-07 (005) Leo Disher – Heroism in Oran 5.6 MB
43-02-22 (016) Leo Disher – A Letter To Mrs Marshall 12.7 MB
44-12-03 (109) Leo Disher – Drama In The Air 10.6 MB
xx-xx-xx (xxx) Robert L Frey – The Paratroopers (different from #99, paratrooper episode with Robert Vermillion) 10.3 MB
42-11-09 (001) Henry Gorrell – Bombing of Navareno Bay 6.3 MB
44-11-19 (107) Henry Gorrell – Hour Of Decision 10.5 MB
44-12-31 (113) Henry Gorrell – Christmas Greetings 11.2 MB
42-12-28 (008) Frank Hewlett – Fall of Bataan 6.6 MB
44-04-30 (078) Frank Hewlett – Merrill’s Raiders 10.7 MB
44-12-24 (112) Mac Johnson – Target Tokyo 10.7 MB
43-12-26 (060) Richard Johnson – Leathernecks At Tarawa 10.5 MB
45-04-15 (128) Doris Johnstone – Hide Out 10.9 MB
44-11-12 (106) Boyd Lewis – The Ghost Goes To War 11.7 MB
45-06-10 (136) Boyd Lewis – Victory In The West 10.9 MB
43-01-11 (010) Robert P Martin – Bombers over Haiphong 6.4 MB
xx-xx-xx (xxx) John McDermott – A Face To Remember 11.2 MB
42-11-23 (003) Richard McMillan – North Africa 6.2 MB
42-11-16 (002) Robert Miller – The Men At Guadalcanal 6.1 MB
43-03-01 (017) Robert Miller – A Son Of Bushido 12.2 MB
43-12-05 (057) Reynolds Packard – Battle Boomerang 11.1 MB
44-01-02 (061) Reynolds Packard – Phantom Enemy 11.1 MB
43-11-28 (056) George Palmer – Torpedo 11.2 MB
44-06-25 (086) Virgil Pinkney – Invasion 10.4 MB
43-01-04 (009) Ned Russell – The Seige Of Stuka Acres 6.2 MB
45-04-22 (129) Ann Stringer – Bravest Men In The Army 10.3 MB
45-02-04 (118) Ralph Teasworth – Communique 168 11.0 MB
42-12-21 (007) William Tyree – The Pacific Theater 5.2 MB
43-05-16 (028) Robert Vermillion – Atlantic Convoy
(also features UP’s Robert W. Richards)
11.6 MB
44-05-07 (079) Robert Vermillion – Anzio Diary 10.4 MB
44-07-02 (087) Robert Vermillion – The Road To Rome 11.2 MB
44-09-24 (099) Robert Vermillion – The Paratroopers 10.9 MB
45-06-17 (137) Robert Vermillion in closing scene of “Eddie Beattie – Prisoner Of War” 10.7 MB
44-09-17 (098) Joan Younger – The Return Of The Soldier 10.6 MB

8 Responses to Soldiers of the Press

  1. bob vermillion says:

    My dad was Robert vermillion and worked for upi during the world war 11 and korea.

    • Bob Stepno says:

      Pleased to meet you! He covered some amazing stories. Did he ever mention being played by radio actors in this series?

    • Bob Stepno says:

      I’ve added an alphabetized list of the Internet Archive collection of episodes so that readers can see how prominent a figure was in the Soldiers of the Press program. (The archive’s collection isn’t complete, but there are four episodes about Robert Vermillion and one or two where he is a secondary character. No one else has more than three episodes.)

    • Glenna Faust Geiger says:

      Bobby, this is your Dad’s cousin Glenna. I’ve been looking for you for a long time. Please get in touch with me. Your Dad’s Uncle Bill and Aunt Stella were my parents, and you lived with us when your Mom was ill after you were born.

  2. l says:

    My grandad was Robert Richards

  3. Michael Richards says:

    Robert Richards was my father.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s