As we honor on Memorial Day those who fought and died in the nationâ€™s wars, the story of George Wellerâ€™s career makes clear that the reporters who covered those wars often displayed the same bravery and dedication.â€©Along with Ernie Pyle and A.J. Liebling, Weller (1907-2002) was one of the most eminent American correspondents of his time. â€©Winner of a 1943 Pulitzer Prize and a 1954 George Polk Award, both for foreign reporting, Weller began his writing career in the 1930s as a freelancer publishing reportage and fiction in the Nation, Esquire, Collierâ€™s, the Atlantic, the New Yorker and other magazines. He also published several novels.â€©But, while he was employed by the Chicago Daily News, it was his courageous and incisive eyewitness reports from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific that solidified his distinguished reputation.â€©George Wellerâ€™s son, Anthony Weller, a novelist and editor of a previous book on his fatherâ€™s writings, First Into Nagasaki (2006), has compiled the best of his fatherâ€™s World War II reporting in Wellerâ€™s War: A Legendary Foreign Correspondentâ€™s Saga of World War II on Five Continents.â€©Anthony Weller begins his book with his fatherâ€™s arrival in Lisbon, Portugal, in January 1941. As Hitlerâ€™s armies advance westward, intellectuals from across Europe â€” artists, writers, academics hounded by the Third Reich Ââ€” are attempting to escape to the United States, George Weller reports. These refugees â€œare mostly drab little people with thin overcoats and papier-mache suitcases â€” not important enough to be known in America but just sufficiently interesting to rate inclusion upon secret police lists of the authoritarian states.â€â€©Moving on to Barcelona, Spain, where the British blockade is successfully starving the unfortunate population living under Francisco Francoâ€™s pro-Axis regime, Weller describes the plight of poor Federico Vega, a dockworker. His â€œface and figure have changed in the last six months. His cheeks .â€‰.â€‰. have become sunken and pale. .â€‰.â€‰. Federico has never fainted yet .â€‰.â€‰. He refuses to weigh himself .â€‰.â€‰. His belt holes tell him all he needs to know.â€ â€©As these examples clearly indicate, Weller has a talent for closely focusing on the human costs of war. He also succeeds in spotlighting the lesser-known regions of World War II.â€©Weller is in Greece when the Nazis invade in April 1941 and is strafed by a German fighter plane: â€œI ran across the meadow, half slipped and fell against a stone wall. The Heinkel came down leisurely .â€‰.â€‰. and sprayed the barn tiles with bullets from 2000 feet.â€â€©In Belgrade, Yugoslavia, July 1941, Weller is detained by the Gestapo and is eventually excluded â€œby Germany from no fewer than eight countriesâ€ in Europe â€” a correspondentâ€™s nightmare in this ever-eventful war. â€©But he proves unstoppable in his reporting. We see Weller accompanying Emperor Haile Selassie and Belgiumâ€™s Congolese troops as they free Ethiopia from Italian forces in November and December 1941. And weâ€™re with him in doomed Singapore in early 1942 when the Japanese attack from the air: â€œFaces went down against the mud. .â€‰.â€‰. You could hear the bomb singing as it came down, singing like a bomb that loved its work.â€â€©Barely escaping Singapore, Weller lands on the island of Java just in time for its collapse to the Japanese in March 1942. From there he reports the story of how brave young American pilots delayed the islandâ€™s fall. Pilot Jerry McCallumâ€™s â€œplane faltered .â€‰.â€‰. smoked,â Weller writes. Parachuting out, â€œMcCallum was machine-gunned,â his â€œchivalrous enemy followed him down. .â€‰.â€‰. There were 30 holes in his chute â€” he had been hit twice each in his head and heart.â€ â€©In June 1943 Weller was granted permission by Gen. Douglas MacArthur himself to train as a paratrooper â€” subsequently becoming the first correspondent to parachute out of a plane. And in October 1944 he became the only civilian correspondent to participate in an air raid, riding in the nose of a Flying Fortress bomber over Italy as â€œdeadly black fistsâ€ of enemy flak exploded all around him. â€©Weller was the first foreign correspondent to report from the nuclear-devastated city of Nagasaki in 1945, but the story for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1943 was one about a 23-year-old Navy pharmacistâ€™s mate who was forced to perform an emergency appendectomy aboard a submarine in Japanese waters using only cooking utensils. â€©At 633 pages, Wellerâ€™s War is a long, continuous string of breathtaking World War II snapshots. But, much more than that, it is also a perceptive, impassioned chronicle of human suffering as told by an intrepid American correspondent. â€©Chris Patsilelis reviews military history and other books for several publications.
Review: 'Weller's War' brings to life a correspondent's dispatches from amid the action
© 2014 Tampa Bay Times
Wellerâ€™s War: A Legendary Foreign Correspondentâ€™s Saga of World War II on Five Continentsâ€©By George Weller, edited by Anthony Wellerâ€©Crown Publishers,â€¨633 pages, $29.95