Women at War

by Bob Stepno

The United Press radio series “Soldiers of the Press” included stories from several of the wire service’s women correspondents, most dramatically one who was imprisoned by the Japanese in the Philippines. Although the stories were delivered in the first person, the reporters were played by radio actors in these 15-minute studio-produced episodes.

Doris Rubens Johnston – Hide Out

“This woman is dangerous to Japan. We will find her! … The woman is a writer and her words may find their way out to the enemy.”— Japanese officer

“A courageous woman correspondent who refused to give in to the Japs” is how the April 1945 episode describes Doris Johnston, but her exact role with U.P. in the Philippines isn’t clear. She had worked for U.P. in China before the war, but apparently was not on the payroll when she was captured. Released, she filed stories about the liberation of her prison camp before returning to the U.S. and writing a book about her experience. (For more discussion of her story, see my separate blog post, A ‘dangerous woman’ of the press.)

Ann Stringer – Bravest Men In The ArmyIn this episode, Stringer interviews soldiers who were ordered to disarm German demolition charges on the Adolf Hitler Bridge on the Rhine, operating under heavy fire. The troops were awarded the Silver Star, with a citation that noted they were the first men of an invading army to cross the Rhine in 140 years.

“Gosh, war is getting almost civilized,” a captain says after being introduced to Stringer.

While there are no testimonials to Stringer in the episode, there are several in her as-told-to autobiography, making me wish “Soldiers of the Press” had more of her reporting. Walter Cronkite described her as “one of the best reporters I have ever known”; Pulitzer-winner Harrison Salisbury called her “simply superb, the best man (I’ll say that even if it sounds chauvinistic) on the staff… all reporter–not ‘girl reporter’–straight reporter. She was a two-fisted competitor.” Ann was the widow of another reporter, Bill Stringer, killed during the Normandy invasion. She joined U.P. and reported throughout the war, including filing an eyewitness account of the liberation of a the Nordhausen concentration camp. A collection of her papers is archived at Ohio University.

Joan Younger – The Return Of the SoldierUnlike most “Soldiers of the Press” episodes, this one is from the home front. Younger is assigned to tell the story of injured soldiers breaking the news to their families and sweethearts that they are returning as amputees. The radio production struggles to tell its painful and emotional story with flashbacks to battlefield scenes full of screams of agony, punctuated by chords on the studio organ then common in radio soap-operas. Today they may seem jarringly cartoonish in a story about real-life war casualties.

Eleanor Packard — Adventure In Voltera
U.P. correspondent Eleanor Packard tells of being under suspicion of being a German spy in this episode, according to radio collector J. David Goldin’s log of the program. This episode, and one featuring Packard and her husband, another U.P. reporter, are not available in the Old Time Radio Researchers Group collection of Soldiers of the Press episodes used for JHeroes audio players.

Stringer and Packard are also featured in the book, The Women Who Wrote the War: The Compelling Story of the Path-Breaking Women War Correspondents of World War II by Nancy Caldwell Sorel.

Eleanor was married to U.P. reporter, Reynolds Packard, who was the subject of at least two other Soldiers of the Press episodes. Together, they wrote the book Balcony Empire about Italy during the war, and (according to Goldin’s log), both were featured in a Soldiers of the Press episode, “Mission to Rome.”

The Library of Congress list of accredited World War II women war correspondents includes Packard and Stringer among four United Press reporters. The list was part of a 2010 Women Come to the Front exhibit.

  • Harriet C. Hardesty
  • Hazel Hartzog
  • Eleanor C. Packard
  • Elizabeth Ann Stringer

If Hardesty and Hartzog were ever profiled on Soldiers of the Press, the episodes are not among those listed or circulating widely among old-time-radio collectors.

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