PARIS: When Allied troops hit the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, some legendary reporters and photographers were on hand to produce the first draft of history.
Unimpressed military brass kept Ernest Hemingway at sea, sticking him on a landing craft off Omaha Beach. Already well-known, he was part of the assault’s seventh wave, tracking the operation through binoculars amidst cases of TNT.
Hemingway would go on to witness the liberation of Paris, and win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Reports that he was the first into the French capital and “liberated” the bar at the Hotel Ritz remain unconfirmed.
Dubbed “The most trusted man in America,” Walter Cronkite (1916-2009) worked in the 1930s for the news agencies Scripps-Howard and United Press (UP).
He landed at Normandy and is said to have written the first dispatch from the beaches, bucking convention with first-person reports.
Cronkite later covered the Nuremberg war trials and was UP’s Moscow bureau chief from 1946-48. CBS Television lured him back to New York City, but of all the stories he reported on, from wars in Korea and Vietnam to the assassination of President John Kennedy, he said D-Day had marked him the most.
Hungarian-born photographer Robert Capa (1913-1954) shot the image most of us remember from June 6. Blurry and dark, it shows an infantryman crouched in the water amid tank traps, trying to stay alive as shells explode and bullets fly.
A veteran of the Spanish Civil War, Capa was the only photographer in the first wave on Omaha Beach, working for Life magazine alongside E Company, 16th Regiment, 1st Infantry Division with Leicas that produced a little more than 100 images over a six-hour span.
“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough,” is one of Capa’s enduring quotes.
Back in London, a lab technician’s drying error destroyed most of the images, leaving less than a dozen damaged ones to be viewed and sent around the world.
Cronkite once said of Capa that he seemed to be everywhere with his cameras, and wherever he was, bullets were flying.
Writer and filmmaker Samuel Fuller (1912-1997) was an army corporal on Omaha Beach with the 1st Infantry Division, “The Big Red One,” that later became the subject and title of his best-known movie, starring Lee Marvin.
Fuller’s training as a New York City crime reporter did not prepare him for the fighting he saw in North Africa, Sicily or Normandy, he said later.
He was wounded twice and won a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star for bravery.
Speaking to film critic Roger Ebert about The Big Red One’s gritty portrayal of war, Fuller said: “Lee Marvin plays a carpenter of death. The sergeants of this world have been dealing death to young men for 10,000 years.”
Fuller went on to make hard-boiled B series films, including “Shock Corridor” about a psychiatric asylum.
Born in 1900, war reporter Ernest Pyle died in April 1945 covering the US invasion of Okinawa, Japan, just after he had won the Pulitzer Prize. Working for Scripps-Howard, Pyle was in North Africa, Italy and France, and was there when Allied forces reached Paris.
His simple style focused on the grunts, and the civilians affected by war, and “The Story of GI Joe” by William Wellman with Robert Mitchum was based on his writing. He died before the movie was released.
Fuller called the film “the most authentic” of all those made about the war.