A celebration of peace.
Although The Saturday Evening Post made no pretense of being a newsmagazine, editor Ben Hibbs in 1940 was confronted with an important question: Would readers be getting their nickel's worth if the Post failed to cover the predominant topic of that era--World War II? Although the war was already flaming on many fronts throughout the world, editor Hibbs found he had only one foreign correspondent--and that correspondent was in New York.
With the help of Martin Sommers, an outstanding newspaperman, Hibbs lost no time in answering his own question by organizing a staff of Post war correspondents. The core of this staff consisted of Demaree Bess, Edgar Snow, Ernest O. Hauser, John Bishop, Samuel Lubell, Charles A. Rawlings, Richard Tregaskis, William L. Worden, and MacKinlay Kantor. News photographer Larry Keighley became an accredited Post war photographer and turned in some notable picture scoops. The magazine published an increased volume of firsthand war observations from experienced writers, but the value of an organized foreign staff soon proved itself as U.S. forces mounted invasions in North Africa, the Mediterranean, Normandy, the South and Central Pacific, and the Philippines.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Joseph E. Davies contributed a highly prophetic article, "Russia Will Hold This Summer," for the June 20, 1942, issue. Admiral Thomas C. Hart, commander of the U.S. Navy's Asiatic forces in the early stages of the war, wrote the first authoritiative reports from any high commander in the Pacific for the October 3 and 10, 1942, issues of the Post. Correspondents Bess and Rawlings shed the first light on the murky, touch-and-go Battle of the Atlantic in consecutive issues. Bess also explained why Germany would lose the war unless she invaded Britain--another prophecy that came true. Foreign editor Sommers, after going unscathed through the North African campaign as an Army lieutenant colonel on leave from the Post, covered the Cherbourg landing from the battleship Texas as a Post correspondent and was nearly killed when an 11-inch Nazi shell scored a direct hit on the bridge.
C. S. Forester, the noted British author of the Hornblower serials, novelettes, and short stories in the Post, made a facile conversion from fiction writer to naval analyst with "How the British Sank the Scharnhorst"--his vivid classic of war reporting.
At 3:00 one July morning in 1942, cover artist Norman Rockwell jumped out of bed with an inspiration. For weeks he had been wondering how he could help the war effort; it suddenly occurred to him to paint the Four Freedoms to help America's millions visualize what they were fighting for. Rockwell and his artist friend Mead Schaeffer went to Washington. There, Rockwell presented his pictorial concept of the Four Freedoms to government officials. They encouraged his idea, so Rockwell next called on Ben Hibbs and asked to be commissioned to depict for the Post his ideas of the war goals. He estimated it would take three to four months. (Actually, it took six.) Although the project meant depriving the magazine of Rockwell's classic covers, which otherwise would have been painted during that time, Hibbs told him to go ahead. The result was perhaps the most graphic illustration of the nation's victory objective in existence. As Hibbs reported four years later:
"The result astonished us all. The pictures were published early in 1943, not as covers but as inside features, and each was accompanied by a short article by such well-known writers as Booth Tarkington, Will Durant, and Stephen Vincent Benet, saying in words what Rockwell was saying on canvas. Requests to reprint flooded in from other publications. Various government agencies and private organizations made millions of reprints in the form of posters, and plastered this country and many other parts of the world with them. Subsequently, the Treasury Department took the original paintings on a nationwide tour as the centerpiece of a Post art show to sell war bonds. They were seen by 1,222,000 people in 16 leading cities, and these people bought $132,992,539 in war bonds. I am proud of the job those pictures did in crystallizing the essence of the American creed during the dark days of the war."
The Treasury Department singled out the Norman Rockwell cover of a young soldier returning from the wars to his tenement home, his welcoming family, and his shy girlfriend as the official poster for the Victory Bond Drive. Retailers across the country displayed more than 300,000 posters made from the cover.
Joseph Auslander's five stirring poems in tribute to the "Unconquerables"--Greece, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Poland, and Norway--fired the spirit of the nation and the Allies in the fall of 1943. They were published in a full page, illustrated, in consecutive issues of September 25 and October 2, 9, 16, and 23. The ambassadors-inexile of the five nations officially endorsed the poems. They were widely reprinted to inspire the underground movements in the invaded nations and became the motif of the Fourth War Loan drive.
The war caused a host of backstage aggravations and headaches that Post readers never suspected. Typical of these was the case of Willie Gillis, the apple-cheeked American boy who personified an Army private on Post covers. Not long after Norman Rockwell spotted young Robert Otis Buck--his real name--to model for Willie, Buck entered the Navy. Throughout the rest of the war, Rockwell had to draw his famous Willie Gillis covers from photographs and memory.
One of the weirdest developments of the war--one that underscored the Post's knack for depicting the shape of things to come--occurred when federal operatives visited the editorial department and asked two things: the impounding of all back copies of the September 7, 1940, Post and the names and addresses of all persons requesting that issue. At first, so great was the air of secrecy, the operatives declined to say why they wanted these things done. The most they divulged was that national security demanded the steps.
The answer to the office mystery later fell upon the world at Hiroshima. The Post in question contained an article, "The Atom Gives Up" by William L. Laurence, who was perhaps the foremost journalistic authority on the atom. Five years before the first bomb, it calmly told of the discovery of uranium 235 and the possibility that science could manufacture an awesome new weapon from it. In keeping track of inquiries for the article, the Post, as it turned out, was assisting in anti-espionage measures. Laurence himself ran up against security when he entered the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, plant at government request to prepare releases on the A-bomb. In his briefcase was a copy of the 1940 Post. Guards took it away and told him it was a secret. "Secret?" Laurence exclaimed. "Why, at least 20 million people have seen it." That, he was told, made no difference. His article was locked up in a safe, and he had to ask permission every time he wanted to consult it.
At the close of the war, photographer Larry Keighley climbed to the top of a gun turret on the U.S.S. Missouri and snapped an unscheduled color photo of the Japanese surrender. Immediately hailed as a classic of photographic coverage, Keighley's historic picture won the National Headliner's Club award for the best "News magazine photograph" of 1945-46.
Although, as earlier noted, the Post made no pretense of qualifying as a newsmagazine, yet another unexpected incident would belie the title, at the same time boosting the morale of American soldiers engaged in fighting our global war.
It concerns an experience of Lt. Jack E. Manch of Staunton, Virginia, one of General James H. Doolittle's Tokyo bombers who made a forced landing in China after the bombing.
The greatest difficulty of the American fliers who landed in China was in identifying themselves to the Chinese people they met who could speak no English--our fliers, of course, being able to speak no Chinese. At first the Chinese people he met fled from Lieutenant Manch, but eventually he encountered a man who tried to identify him.
"First, the man drew a Japanese flag," Lieutenant Manch said. "I didn't know whether he wanted to know if I had bombed Japan or whether I was [Japanese] myself. I held my nose and waved the picture away. The Chinese grinned and then brought out a clipping of an old Blenheim and pointed to the English insignia.
"I shook my head. Then he brought out an old copy of The Saturday Evening Post with a picture of President Roosevelt. I grinned and pointed to Mr. Roosevelt and then to myself. He got the idea, and everybody in the room laughed, and we shook hands."
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|Title Annotation:||The Post Remembers World War II; includes paintings by Norman Rockwell|
|Publication:||Saturday Evening Post|
|Date:||May 1, 1995|
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|Next Article:||The four freedoms live on.|