Getting the Story Home:
Reporting World War II for the Local Audience
Chris W. Allen
Department of Communication
University of Nebraska at Omaha
Omaha, NE 68182-0112
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Presented to the RTVJ Division of the Association for Education in Journalism
Mass Communication for the 1997 Conference, Chicago, Illinois
Getting the Story Home:
Reporting World War II for the Local Audience
Chris W. Allen
Department of Communication
University of Nebraska at Omaha
Omaha, NE 68182-0112
[log in to unmask]
Three distinctive reporting styles can be found in examining the stories that
WHO Radio correspondent Jack Shelley wrote from the European Theater during the
Battle of Bulge of World War II. The first is the extensive use of names of
soldiers from the Middle West, communicating messages to families at home and
telling a little about the soldiers' experiences. The second style takes a
longer view of the war, especially as the Western Front is disrupted by the
German Advance. The third reporting style is commentary.
The paper also takes a look at the audience's reaction to the reports, and, as
far as possible, the military's view of such reporting.
Getting the Story Home
In May of 1944, some two and a half years after the United States entered World
War II, about a month before the D-Day invasion of Europe, the United States War
Department changed its policy concerning war correspondents. Having decided
there were now sufficient transatlantic circuits, it announced that
correspondents from individual stations would be accredited for war coverage in
all theaters. To that point, only network correspondents had been accredited
to go into any of the war zones, and although local radio correspondents had
traveled to England and sent reports home from there, none had been close to
combat. Newspaper reporters had been allowed at the front from the beginning of
the war, and with the War Department's announcement, radio reporters would
finally be given equal access.
Within months six stations had applied for accreditation for their
reporters, and records indicate 24 stations or regional networks eventually
sent reporters over. The first, Howard Chernoff, was accredited in early
June. Some months later, in October of 1944, Jack Shelley, news manager of
WHO radio in Des Moines, Iowa, was accredited and left for Europe.
WHO was then and still is a 50,000 watt, clear-channel radio station owned by
Palmer Broadcasting. It went on the air in 1924. Shelley, a 1935 graduate of
the University of Missouri School of Journalism, was hired the October following
his graduation, and became news manager (now called news director) in 1940.
This paper will examine the reporting styles this local reporter used in
telling his audience about the experiences of soldiers fighting on the Western
Front, and will examine what these reports meant to Iowans and the military.
The unit of analysis is each story Shelley wrote from the European Theater,
submitted to censors and short waved back to the United States for broadcast on
When the new policy was issued, WHO general manager Joe Maland asked Shelley if
WHO should send a correspondent. Shelley said yes, and when Maland asked who it
should be, Shelley replied he himself wanted to go.
I knew that it would be great for the kind of audience that we had,
as wide-spread as it was and penetrating into small towns and all of the
farms, if we could tell folks in Iowa, and for that matter, the
surrounding states where our signal was strong, that we had actually seen
their boys in service over there, and to be able to tell them something
about what was happening with these guys.
After the flurry of securing accreditation and getting the required shots,
Shelley left Des Moines by rail and arrived in New York City October 26, 1944,
where he had to wait more than a week for military transportation to England.
Shelley's job was to find soldiers from his listening area, get their stories,
and relay them back to the audience. Many newspaper correspondents were doing
the same thing, the most famous of all being Ernie Pyle, who covered troops from
the African campaign into Italy, then to the Western front in Europe, until his
death in the Pacific Theater in April 1945. This style of reporting was called
"Joe Blow" reporting, a somewhat derisive term given to those who were covering
local boys instead of the war itself.
WHO records indicate that 56 of Shelley's reports were aired in the three
months he was in Europe. At least seven others were not aired, perhaps because
of poor reception from Europe. On average, Shelley prepared and voiced nearly
five reports a week. A content analysis showed that 22 of the 56 aired reports
mentioned the names of Iowans or Midwesterners within the large WHO coverage
area. Six of the reports made some comparison to or mention of Iowa or the
Midwest. In addition, Shelley sent dozens of telegrams to WHO containing the
names of soldiers from the Midwest whom he had met and talked to. An exact
number is impossible, because some of the telegrams have been lost and, unlike
the broadcasts, WHO did not keep a log of them.
Although Shelley considered himself a "Joe Blow" reporter, his reports can
actually be categorized in three types: Names, war reports and
overviews/commentaries. Specifically, he was sent to cover the war from the
Midwestern soldier's angle. But because of the vagaries of war, it was not
possible each day
Shelley's first report from England was broadcast November 11, 1944, Armistice
Day. He wasted no time in going about his business. After describing where he
was, and very briefly drawing the stark contrasts between London and Des Moines,
Shelley started naming names.
I wish there were time to tell you more about the Air Transport
Command the people it carries to and from virtually every war front.
Among the people I met at one time or another was Chaplain Roy Cox, former
pastor of the Methodist Church at Spirit Lake, and whose family is now
living in Sioux City. Also there was Technician Third Grade Lawrence
Walock of Vincent, near Fort Dodge, a holder of the Silver Star for
bravery in the Mediterranean theater. Walock had taken advantage of a
30-day leave in the states to get married and spend a brief honeymoon.
And I also met Sergeant Dean Jackson of Kellerton, Iowa, who has been in
the Burma-India theater.
Shelley established his reporting style immediately. His descriptions take on
a literary style, and where he can, he makes comparisons to things his Iowa
audience can relate to. In describing the scene of the London underground,
where whole families sought refuge each night from the German air attacks,
Shelley wrote, "I saw one golden-haired little boy sleeping soundly, in spite of
the noise and the dirt and the constant drafts; and I though of my little son
Johnny and his mother, safe in their comfortable home in Des Moines..." This
was an image all Iowans could identify with, and suddenly made the suffering
Londoners more human.
Shelley knew his audience and how to reach them. A week later, in another
broadcast for the Corn Belt Farm Hour, Shelley described the food situation and
how some military officers were faring. His story about the Consolidated
Officers' Mess in the Grosvenor House Hotel included a patriotically
enthusiastic message for the farmers listening in. Most of the food for the
mess was shipped from the United States, he wrote. The meat was frozen and the
vegetables dehydrated, "But when they reach the table, they're as tasty as if
these products were fresh from the farm -- and one thing you midwestern [sic]
farmers can be sure of is that the foodstuffs and the meat you have done such a
fine of raising, are really coming through."
But Shelley was itching to move closer to the front. Independent radio
correspondents were accredited for a maximum of 90 days in the European
Theater and Shelley wanted to make the most of his limited time. However, he
ran into a disappointment. In meeting with the British officer handling press
relations for the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) in
London, Shelley was told that he was required to spend 60 days in Great Britain,
and only 30 days on the mainland. He protested that the war was in Europe, not
in England, and that, had he known of that restriction, he would not have come.
But the British officer refused to back down, and gave Shelley a choice of when
he wanted to leave for France. Shelley replied he wanted to go immediately.
On November 21, Shelley made his final broadcast from London, a program to
promote war bond sales on his station's War Service Board program. He detailed
how the British, as devastated as they were, were buying war bonds in huge
numbers. At the end of the broadcast he announced that he would soon be
reporting from France.
A few days later, Shelley arrived at SHAEF Forward headquarters in Paris and
put up for a few days with other reporters at the Scribe Hotel. There he met up
with Des Moines Register reporter Gordon Gammack, who had reported on Iowans in
the war since Africa. The two Iowans hung out together for a few days, Gammack
filling Shelley in on where he might find a lot of Iowa boys to talk to, and
Shelley soaking up the advice. Shelley thought Paris looked in much better
shape than London, even though Paris was closer to the front and had only
recently been liberated by Allied troops. And he quickly resumed his Joe
Blow style by mixing in the names of Iowans he met as he told his audience about
Paris. Shelly made it a habit, whenever he got around a group of soldiers, to
simply call out, "Anybody here from Iowa?" and about half the time somebody
would reply, "Yes."
The other day I stepped into one of the many clubs operated here
in Paris for men of the American and other Allied forces, hoping as
usual to meet servicemen from out WHO territory. And before many
minutes had passed, I had found the usual number of men from
midwestern [sic] states who were glad to talk to someone from the
radio station they used to listen to so often at home.
He went on to list seven soldiers from Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri and
South Dakota, telling a little about each.
But Paris still was not close enough to the action, and within a few days
Shelley and several other correspondents climbed into a jeep and headed for the
First Army headquarters in Spa, Belgium. About 50 reporters were bivouacked
there in the abandoned Portugal Hotel, and Shelley met United Press
correspondent Walter Cronkite, CBS's Howard K. Smith, H.R. Knickerbocker of
International News Service, UP's Jack Frankish and ABC correspondent Jack
Shelley's wide-eyed reaction to the German front was evident in his first
broadcast from there, recorded December 3 and aired December 7, a piece that
fits into the overview category.
As I look back on the last few weeks, I can't help being struck with
the speed of my transition from the peace and safety of America, to the
very edge of the struggle raging just a short distance over the German
border. . . . The country, for one thing, was so beautiful: hills and
sharply outlined valleys, and dense green woods, cut by rushing little
streams -- it all reminded you somehow of the Ledges [State Park near
Boone, Iowa], or some of our other state parks in Iowa.(Emphasis
He contrasted the yellow mud of Germany with the deep, black mire of Iowa farms
after a summer rain. The devastated city of Aachen was compared with Des Moines
in population, and Shelley said the havoc wreaked by the bombings were as if all
of Des Moines, including "the fashionable homes on the edge of the city," had
From Spa, Shelley had access to a good part of the First Army.
Just a few days after arriving at army headquarters, Shelley was making forays
into Germany, meeting up with Iowans. His report about a tank battalion that
had just swept Germans out of a village contained the names of 15 Iowans and the
medals some had been awarded after the battle. A few days later, Shelley wrote
about them again, assuring friends and family back home that the soldiers were,
for now, alive, healthy, and safely out of enemy fire.
Shelley's war reports do not tell about troop movements or big battles.
Instead, they try to give Iowans insights into the war, portray personalities
and talk about the men and the area in which they were fighting. In an overview
report, Shelley told his audience at home how the reports got to them from
Holland. Having no wire recorder with him, Shelley said he took notes of his
interviews, returned to Spa, and wrote the reports for transmission home. His
scripts went through Army censors and then he was allowed to sit down at a
Press Wireless microphone. The 400-watt transmitters were powerful enough to
reach Long Island, New York after sunset, where RCA receivers picked him up and
patched him through to NBC. Engineers there made a recording on a big electrical
transcription disk, much like a phonograph record, slid it into a mailing
envelope and shipped it to WHO.
At home, Shelley's reports were making news. Acting news manager Mel Nelson
wrote that the reports were attracting wide attention, and were "toprate" [sic]
with listeners. Then Nelson made a special request. He asked Shelley to put
together some sort of Christmas program, which WHO would devote 15 minutes to,
and would promote heavily. Shelley obliged.
The transmission to New York took place the afternoon of December 16, 1944.
This time, Shelley managed to gather about a dozen Iowans into the makeshift
Press Wireless studio to tell about themselves. But first, he had to script out
the entire program for Army censors. The result is a less-than-spontaneous
program. The men were obviously reading a script.
It is written as an interview, with Shelley asking each one his name and his
job in the army. He asked where each man is from, and the names of relatives he
wanted to say hello to. One, Corporal Ralph Shoultz, said hello on the
broadcast to his one-year-old daughter, who he'd never seen. And at the end,
they all gathered around the microphone to sing the "Iowa Corn Song." It was a
folksy conclusion to the broadcast that would seem out of place today. And
although it lacked spontaneity, the broadcast let Iowans sitting on farms and in
cities during that frigid Iowa winter hear the voices of their boys from
thousands of miles away. WHO aired the program at 10:30 p.m. on Christmas
By that December 16 program, Shelley had been in Europe about five weeks, and
on the mainland for nearly three. He had done at least nineteen voiced reports,
and in addition had sent dozens of cables packed with names of Iowans. But the
war was about to change, and so was Shelley's reporting.
Early on the morning of December 16, Shelley and the other reporters sat
through the early morning briefing for reporters, called the First Light Report.
They were told that the Germans had started scattered attacks along the front,
but not how extensive the damage was. Sensing there was something more to the
story, Shelley and ABC reporter Jack Frazier commandeered a jeep and headed
south through Malmedy to the 106th Infantry Division at Butgenbach. Later they
learned that, moments after passing through Malmedy, the road had been cut by
the German advance. Upon arriving in Butgenbach Shelley and Fraser saw it was
being abandoned, and that the Allies were in retreat from the Germans' last
offensive, which came to be called the Battle of the Bulge.
Shelley and Fraser joined up with a column of retreating units, rapidly passing
through open areas in small groups of vehicles to avoid snipers. They got back
to Spa just in time to see the First Army retreat. They were told to meet up
with the army at Chaudfontaine, but when they got there, the army headquarters
were nowhere in sight. So they found their way north to Maastricht, Holland,
and joined up with the Ninth Army.
Shelley's reporting style changed with the German offensive. He began to take
a longer view of the war, concentrating on setting the scene and describing
action. For five days, Shelley did not transmit a voice report, but he sent
reams of telegram copy back to WHO for the newscasters there to rewrite and
broadcast. The Battle of the Bulge scattered armies and reporters in a way that
most correspondents saw what no other correspondent saw out in the field, and it
became a unique story. On December 21, Shelley voiced a report devoid of
any names or hometowns, and opening with the mournful words, "This is going to
be the most un-merry Christmas that Europe and the rest of the world have seen
in a long, long time."
To be sure, no Christmas can really be merry in wartime; and for that
reason every anniversary of that sacred day since 1939 has been tinged
with sorrow -- but Christmas of 1944 is going to be the saddest of all.
For the hopes of war-weary nations that this desperate, sickening struggle
over here was all but over, are as blasted today as the blood- stained
pine trees of the Hurtgen Forest. (Emphasis Shelley's.)
He closed his report with a poignant message:
So, as Christmas Day comes, and as you gather around your tree at
home, think also of the dirty, tired, cold Americans who are gathered
around the "Christmas Trees" that grow in the forests over here, and whose
only Christmas lights will be parachute flares and artillery shells and
machine-gun tracer bullets. Think of them all day and every day: they are
making this Christmas possible for you and me. And you will never know
how much it cost them...how terribly, terribly much it cost them.
The next day, Shelley suffered a personal tragedy. He and three others were
riding in a jeep, headed toward Chaudfontaine to rejoin some fellow
correspondents. Ahead, they heard dull explosions, and saw planes pass over the
village. They had missed a German dive bomb attack by moments. Most of the
correspondents had found refuge in an old hotel. But in the driveway lay United
Press correspondent Jack Frankish, who had befriended Shelley when Shelley first
arrived, and with whom Shelley made his first trips to the front. Shelley was
the one to identify Frankish's body. The planes returned, but they didn't bomb
that area again. Shelley and the others climbed back into their jeep and were
driving away, when a German bomb exploded less than 100 yards away.
Obviously, being a Joe Blow reporter did not mediate the danger of reporting
from the front. Shelley's account of the incident never aired, possibly because
of poor reception that night in New York.
In the confusion caused by the German advance, the army apparently was not
worried that Jack Shelley had overstayed is 30-day allowance on the mainland,
and Shelley made no attempt to remind them. Instead, he sent home reports, via
telegram and shortwave, of the desperate, cold battle American troops were
fighting. His report of January 7, aired January 14, borrows literary styles
from Dickens to draw a stunning irony about the war in the Ardennes Forest. He
describes the serenely beautiful Belgian countryside, taking listeners on a jeep
trip up a mountain, past the dense forest, though a shattered village, into a
valley, across a stream and back up a hillside, describing each in exquisite
detail. Then he suddenly changes course, and told how the beauty of the
landscape has been a handicap to the American troops. In describing the
devastation the war has had on the land, he pointed out that time would heal
those scars, but not the loss of human lives.
But nothing will replace the loss of the men who die here. It will
take more than snow and new pine-trees, to hide the scars of those who are
wounded here. There is sadness compounded in this wounding and this
dying, amid such unbelievable, tranquil beauty. There is almost
insupportable shock at the sight of red against the white snow...because
there is only one way that red stain got there.
This is Jack Shelley, speaking from somewhere in Holland. (Emphasis
Several subsequent reports, in the war report category, were spent talking
about generals, one in particular a profile of British Field Marshall Bernard
Montgomery, and about battles. Then Shelley returned to the theme that brought
the war home to his Midwest audience. "I sometimes wonder . . . what our rich,
peaceful, fruitful Middle West in American would look like, if great armies had
ever locked in battle there," he wrote.
And then Shelley met up with the 113th and Fourth Cavalries, which originated
as an Iowa National Guard company, and consequently had a high percentage of
Iowans. In a series of six voice reports and scores of telegrams, WHO records
indicate that Shelley mentions the names of 109 members of the 113th, and 211
members of the Fourth. Although most were from Iowa, others came from Oregon,
Indiana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota and Illinois, among other states.
In Des Moines, WHO had hired two women to transcribe Shelley's voice reports,
and catalog all of the names mentioned in those and the wired copy. WHO would
often notify individuals by telegram when news about their son or husband was
about to be broadcast. Many people who missed the report, but heard about it
from others, wrote to WHO asking for details. They received a reply with a
summary of what Shelley had said about this or that person, all without charge.
Shelley's reports about conditions and the battles were cautiously optimistic.
He was never in doubt that American and Allied troops would defeat Germany, but
he constantly warned Americans, so far from the horrible conditions of Europe,
not to get overconfident. He talked of the bravery of American soldiers, and
how, foot by tortuous foot, they were repelling the German advance. But always
he emphasized the fighting spirit of Nazi troops, and he mentioned that victory
would come only after thousands of young American men had died, and many
thousands more had been wounded. He concludes a report on a propaganda document
confiscated from a captured German soldier: "Never forget one thing. Whether
he is "doped" with propaganda or not, the German is still fighting, and fighting
well. Over the long run, he hasn't a chance, but it will still take plenty to
knock him out." (Emphasis Shelley's.)
He persisted in that theme right up to the end of his time in the European
theater. In his last report from Holland Shelley described how conditions had
changed, physically and militarily, from the time he arrived there in November,
through the deep winter, and up to the beginning of February. The end was much
closer than it was when he first arrived, Shelley related, but it would not be
an easy end. "This is a savage foe we are fighting -- never, never
under-estimate him," Shelley concluded.
The army caught up with Shelly around February first. Ninth Army PRO Barney
Oldfield approached Shelley with orders to go home. Then Oldfield asked Shelley
if he wanted him to lose the orders. Laughingly, Shelley replied no, that in
fact WHO had called him home, to be sent to the Pacific Theater while WHO Farm
News Director Herb Plambeck replaced Shelley in Europe. On February 14,
1945, Shelley made his final broadcast from the BBC studios in London (the final
one aired on WHO on February 22), and in this one, Shelley abandoned the Joe
Blow role, and took on the role of commentator with a global perspective.
The theme for the final broadcast was food. He told how the European countries
had been stripped of food by the German armies. Allied armies had brought their
own food with them, and American troops has been forbidden to buy food lest they
deprive locals of food and drive up prices. But Shelley said the local
population was severely deprived of food, and that the problem needed to be
solved immediately. The first thing to do, Shelley said, was to rebuild the
transportation systems destroyed in the war so any food that remained in
outlying areas could be distributed. A second problem, not so easily solved,
was manpower. The liberated countries had lost millions of men. The field
themselves were laced with land mines. Cattle and draft animals had been killed
in the fighting (Shelley had told about that in at least one previous report).
Those were only a few of the obstacles to Europe being able to clothe and feed
itself once more, he said, and in all of this, America would have to help.
For if Europe is not reconstructed; if her people continue to go
hungry and cold, nothing in the world could prevent another war over
here. By this time, I think we Americans have learned that a European
war, sooner or later, involves us. And if there should be another war --
a war that almost certainly would be even more terrible than the one I
have just been watching at close-range -- I for one am afraid to think of
the fate of all mankind. (Emphasis Shelley's.)
The Reaction at Home
Listening to a Jack Shelley report from Holland was not always easy. The
problem was not the quality of writing or the delivery, but the quality of the
recordings. The reports that were short-waved to New York were recorded on
glass-based discs, which were easily scratched. Surviving recordings from the
disks also reveal many of the reports were filled with the sounds peculiar to
short-wave broadcasts -- whistles, interference, overlap of other signals and
the dit-dot of Morse code transmissions. Sometimes the other sounds overwhelmed
Shelley's voice, almost drowning him out and making the listener bend closer to
the speaker. Other times, Shelley's voice boomed through into the living room
Despite the difficulties, the broadcasts were popular. WHO was deluged with
mail, some of it thanking the station and Shelley for the broadcasts, other
requesting copies of the reports for people who had missed the broadcast.
Since the reports were recorded, and they were not terribly timely, WHO had
time to notify relatives of those mentioned in the broadcasts of the upcoming
report. Letters indicate that sometimes these relatives would in turn notify
the local newspaper so everyone could listen in.
Almost immediately people began writing the station. Shelley's reports had
apparently found something that the audience in Iowa and surrounding states
thirsted for. Some of the letters simply say thanks for providing the service.
But in some of them a much deeper gratitude is evident.
Mere words can't express the gratitude I feel toward you and
especially your foreign correspondent, Jack Shelley
Last Saturday night, Dec. 30, broadcasting from the Western front,
Mr. Shelley mentioned having spoken to my husband, Captain Emanuel
Brenton. . ..
I wish to thank you from the bottom of my heart in making it possible
that Keith Baker was one of the lucky Iowa boys to be interviewed by you
in Belgium Dec. 28 & we could hear his voice. It was great & we
recognized him as our very own Keith so far away. . . .Anyways [sic], no
one will never [sic] know what or rather how much it all meant to me & the
rest of the family, in fact our town folks appreciated hearing a home boy
on the radio.
This is to extend to you our heartfelt thanks for announcing the news
of a reporter talking to our son Cpl. Alvin Tuttle. Such acts of kindness
are a great inspiration to us in these trying times and I assure you is
[sic] highly appreciated. To my wife and I that was the best and most
thrilling news we have ever heard on the Radio.
When the letters requested copies of the programs, the newsroom sent back a
letter thanking them for the request, and then giving a summary of Shelley's
report about the person in question.
Newspapers considered a visit by Jack Shelley with soldiers from the area news.
The Boone News-Republic, printed the transcript (courtesy of WHO) of Shelley's
report on a tank destroyer battalion that mentioned two Boone men.
Not surprisingly, Shelley also came in for some criticism. One letter writer
complained that Shelley was wasting time talking about individual soldiers, and
wanted him to "tell us about the war and what he sees -- or come home."
Several letter writers accused Shelley of talking only to officers and ignoring
enlisted men. Perhaps the harshest criticism came in a letter to the editor of
the Des Moines Tribune:
For a week we heard over the radio that on Christmas we would hear
the voices of our Des Moines boys from overseas. But not one Negro mother
heard the voice of her son. I have a son overseas fighting along with
millions of others. Our sons are sent to distant lands to fight for
democracy but really we need democracy right here.
Years later, Shelley responded to that letter saying that, in a still
segregated army of 1944, few African Americans were fighting at the front, where
Shelley was. An African American fighter squadron was fighting in Italy, but
otherwise, blacks were generally in support positions behind the front. And,
Iowa being a state with a low minority population, the chances of finding an
African American from Iowa were slim. When he went to the Pacific, Shelley did
tell the story of an African American from Des Moines who had been
As for the criticism that Shelley only talked to officers, lists of people
compiled by WHO dispute that. Shelley did talk to officers; often they were the
spokespersons of their units. But the lists indicate he talked to and reported
on many enlisted men and non-commissioned officers as well.
In the 1940s, parts of Iowa still had not been electrified. Farm families had
been underserved by the communications media. People in small towns and
rural areas often did not subscribe to a daily newspaper. Their only news came
from the community weekly. Their appetite for war news was as great as
anybody's, and radio was the medium to deliver that news daily. Beyond that,
sons, brothers, husbands and fathers were fighting at the front thousands of
miles away. While the folks at home were interested in general news about the
war, its significance paled beside the type of stories people like Jack Shelley
and the Des Moines Register's Gordon Gammack were sending home. News that
Shelley or Gammack had met their boy at the front and he said hello to Mom was
precious, it Shelley used that to connect with his audience and bring the grim
picture of war home.
The Military's reaction
The military also valued the "Joe Blow" reporters as morale builders, not only
at home but at the front as well. Stories like the kind that Shelley told
usually resulted in letters from home telling the soldiers what had been said.
Clippings about the stories were sent. These raised the spirits of the fighting
men. Ninth Army PRO Barney Oldfield said the efforts of Shelley and those like
him were part of the motivational activities the army was undertaking.
While many reporters were assigned to cover the generals (or were content to do
so), reporters like Shelley went out looking for participants. Not only did
such reporting build an instant bridge between the war and the home front, it
also told the people back home that their sons were consequential in the effort.
It all resulted in morale.
This belief was held by those at the very top of power. General Dwight D.
Eisenhower once wrote to his generals that much of the war coverage had been too
general and impersonal. Opportunities to publicize the heroic actions of
individual units were being lost, he wrote. "A personalized presentation of
achievements of units of this great force would result in greater appreciation
at home and this, in turn, would have a beneficial result on the moral of every
organization." Six years after the war, Eisenhower reinforced that
sentiment, saying, "I know of no thing which so improves the morale of the
soldier as to see his unit, or his own name in print -- just once."
In some cases, Shelley's presence preceded him. Friends and relatives at home
wrote to the men at the front that Shelley was in the area, and hoped the men
would get to meet him. When they did, many of them were modest about their
accomplishments. Gordon Parks, communication officer of the Ninth Cavalry,
While Jack was interviewing the fellows, it was a privilege to sit to
one side and watch the enthused expression on their faces as they shook
his hand and explained, "Why, I've heard you lots of times" . . . Yes, it
is a credit to Jack, and to WHO, that he was almost more of a celebrity to
these fellows than these other war correspondents. It was also a pleasure
to see these fellow, whom I, myself, saw work in all kinds of weather and
under every adverse condition, many times heroically, grin and look down
and say, "Shucks, I never did anything much," when asked about their
silver stars and so on."
But to the army, that was exactly the point.
Vietnam is often called the "Living Room War," but of course, war had been
coming into American living rooms, in newspapers, since the Revolution. But
Jack Shelley and the other local war correspondents talked directly to their
audiences with an intimacy that newspapers cannot achieve. Jack's almost
melodic delivery, which by 1944 had become familiar to a large part of the
Midwest, helped overcome the impersonal tone that Eisenhower complained about.
But although the military was delighted with the "Joe Blow" form of reporting,
that was not the audience Shelley was aiming for. His audience was gathered
around a radio in cold, snowy Iowa, patriotic, weary of the deprivations,
fearful for the lives of their sons, fathers, relatives and friends.
Shelley's reporting style demonstrates that he knew his audience. When he
could, he talked about conditions or events by relating them to Iowa or the
Midwest. His writing also shows a respect for his audience. It was not
simplistic, but at times deep and descriptive. It shows variety as well. When
he could, he did whole programs simply naming names and telling about their
experiences. Other times, Shelley stepped back and gave the WHO listeners a
wider view, almost setting the changing scene from time to time as a backdrop
against which to tell more personal stories. He was equally comfortable writing
the four and a half minute voiced reports that were short-waved back to the
United States, and sending back, in clipped Western Union style, copy that his
WHO staff would rewrite and air.
He did not sit in the press camp and wait for bulletins to be handed him, but
traveled among the troops, sometimes spending two or three days with an outfit
before heading back to headquarters.
Two criticisms might be leveled at Shelley, in addition to the African American
mother's disappointment that no blacks were heard on the Christmas broadcast.
The first is that women were also not heard in Shelley's reports. Shelley's
position at the front may explain that; women were not stationed in forward
units. He did not do a story from Europe about hospitals, where most of the
women would have been found.
The second possible criticism might be that Shelley's reports were never
critical of anyone. It was not his job as he saw it to be judgmental of the
military or its leaders. On the other hand, he did not whitewash the war. Some
of his narrative details in stark language the conditions in which the men
lived, the carnage they suffered, and the death that filled the air that winter.
That Shelley's reports had an impact is demonstrated by the fact that, upon his
return, before he left for the Pacific theater, he was in huge demand as a
speaker. During the commencement season in Iowa, Shelley found himself giving
fifteen addresses in a three week period.
The war helped make the careers of people like Edward R. Murrow and William
Shirer, and demonstrated that, as a news medium, radio offered an intimacy and a
coverage that no other medium could. It was a defining event for radio, and
perhaps the high point as a news provider. Jack Shelley and the handful of
other local radio reporters who finally got a chance to write about the war
specifically for their audiences, put the fine touches on that
 1Sol Taishhoff, "Nets Pool Facilities to Cover Invasion," Broadcasting 8
May 1944, 7
 2"Six Correspondents Accredited to ETO," Broadcasting 10 July 1944, 10
 3Col Barney Oldfield, USAF (Ret.), Never a Shot in Anger, Battle of
Normandy Museum Edition (Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 1989) 312-334.
 4Chernoff to ETO for West Va Net," Broadcasting 5 June, 1944, 65.
 5Jack Shelley, interview by author, Tape recording, Ames, Iowa, 23
 6Jack Shelley, "7-minute Talk to WHO Corn Belt Farm Hour," London, 11
 7Shelley, "7-minute talk"
 8Jack Shelley, "BBC direct to WHO Corn Belt Hour," 18 November 1944
 9"Chernoff to ETO," 65
 10Jack Shelley, interview by Ken Eich and author, Columbia, Missouri,
April 3, 1994
 11Jack Shelley, "Script for Recording to be made Nov 21," London, 21
 12Shelley interview, 1994
 13Jack Shelley, Script for 10-minute Broadcast, script #1, Paris, France,
27 November 1944.
 14Shelley interview, 23 September 1944
 15Jack Shelley, Script for Broadcast, 29 November 1994, p 1.
 16Jack Shelley, Script for Broadcast, Spa, Belgium, 6 December 1944
 17Jack Shelley, Script for broadcast, 3 December 1944
 19Shelley interview, 3 April 1994
 20Shelley interview, 3 April 1944
 21Jack Shelley, Script for Broadcast, Ninth Army, 21 December 1944
 23Jack Shelley, Script for Broadcast, Holland, 24 December 1944
 24Jack Shelley, Script for Broadcast, Holland, 7 January 1944
 25Jack Shelley, Script for Broadcast, Holland, 19 January 1945
 26Jack Shelley, Script for Broadcast, Holland, 15 January, 1945 Emphasis
 27Jack Shelley, Script for Broadcast, Holland, 4 February 1945
 28Shelley interview, 3 April 1994
 29Jack Shelley, Script for Broadcast, London, 14 February, 1945
 30Ruth Brenton, Moline, Illinois, to WHO Newsroom, Des Moines, Iowa, 4
 31Mae E Baker, Wilton, Iowa, to Jack Shelley, Des Moines, Iowa, 5 January,
 32Mr and Mrs. John Tuttle, Fraser, Iowa, to WHO newsroom, Des Moines,
Iowa, 29 September 1944.
 33WHO, Des Moines, to Mrs Maude Mollenhour, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 22
 34"Boone Men Met By Shelley In His Tour Across West Front," Boone
News-Republic, 20 December 1944, page unknown
 35EP. Bellma, Pleasantville, Iowa, to WHO, Des Moines, Iowa, 14 December
 36Mrs Gertrude McCann, Des Moines, to Des Moines Tribune, Des Moines, 29
December 1944, page unknown.
 37Jack Shelley, interview by author, on tape, 27 October 1995
 38Shelley interview, 27 October 1995
 39Col Barney Oldfield, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), interview by author, on
tape, 18 October, 1995.
 40Oldfield, 1995
 41General Dwight D Eisenhower to Generals Omar Bradley and Jacob Devers,
cited in Oldfield, Never a Shot, 163n.
 42Eisenhower, cited in Oldfield, Never a Shot, 164
 43Gordon Parks, interview with author, on tape, 11 January, 1996