Sixty-seven years ago today, the German army surrendered to the Allied Forces in a little schoolhouse in Rheims, France. The news that the war was over was broken by the Germans in a broadcast between surrender signings in France and Germany. The first American reporter to break the historic news was Associated Press correspondent Edward Kennedy, who defied military censors and an embargo on the news to which he had agreed.
For his act, Kennedy was fired by the AP. Almost seven decades later, the AP chief, Tom Curley, has issued a posthumous apology to Kennedy and his family to coincide with the publishing of Kennedy's memoir by his daughter.
One of the reporters who was subject to the same embargo Kennedy signed was my father, Stars and Stripes reporter Charles Kiley. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower had appointed him the worldwide pool reporter for the surrender negotiations. For more than 20 hours, my father chronicled the back and forth between German high command and Eisenhower's senior staff, culminating with the actual surrender signing at 2:41 AM.
He was the only reporter on the scene until the signing ceremony. Kennedy and other reporters agreed to the embargo aboard a military aircraft that was bringing them to Rheims. Kennedy and the other reporters were given my father's pool report on the negotiations upon their arrival for the dispatches they would soon write.
The reporters were compelled to hold the official news until the Germans also surrendered to the Russians in Berlin, which would take place on May 8. The AP reported this week that the second surrender in Berlin was being "staged" for political reasons. Tell that to the 11 million Russian soldiers and 6.7 million civilians who were killed by German forces. That is a casualty count that out-numbers the number of American and British soldiers, plus the number of Jews killed in concentration camps. The Russian high command was not in Rheims, and would not accept surrender until the Germans did so in Berlin.
Until the Berlin surrender was completed, Truman, Eisenhower, Churchill, and other leaders would not officially acknowledge the Germman surrender and the end of the war. Were politics with Russia involved? Sure. But let's not lose sight of the fact that the Russians deserved their day.
Was the holding of the news ill-conceived? Sure. The obvious reason to get the news out was so that all sides stopped shooting. Moreover, the news was, in fact, spreading, because of a German radio broadcast on the morning of May 7.
I can only imagine the frustration felt by Kennedy. And my father understood it, because he felt it too. I heard first-hand accounts of the incident from my father, who died in 2011. (Kennedy was killed in an auto accident in 1963.)
My father did not leave his feelings about the incident behind in the form of a memoir. But he was one of 54 reporters, including the sixteen who maintained the embargo, who signed a protest over the fact that Kennedy defied the military censors by filing the news of the surrender before the Berlin surrender, which my father also covered for Stars and Stripes.
We discussed the events several times, and I can sum up his feelings this way: As a reporter, he understood Kennedy's actions, but didn't agree with him.
Though working for the military newspaper, my father was no stenographer. He was 31 years old, and had been a sports writer for the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J. He covered some of the biggest sports stories of the century, like the Joe Louis-Max Schmeling fight, Lou Gehrig's Yankee teams and his retirement day in Yankee Stadium. He did, in fact, enter the war as a draftee rifle carrier in the Army infantry, not as a reporter. But in 1942, before his unit was deployed to North Africa, he was requested by the Stars and Stripes to report to London when the paper went from being a weekly to a daily and needed additional qualified reporters. He worked with Andy Rooney with whom he was a life-long pal.
By the end of the war, my father had logged three years on the paper. He had established the first Continental edition of the Stars and Stripes, and written the two-page "Beachhead Edition" of the paper almost single-handedly from Normandy for the first few weeks after the invasion. He was part of a small team that got the paper going in France.
Kennedy was a wire reporter. That meant he was under constant pressure to beat his fellow newswire reporters at chief rivals Reuters and United Press International, among others. The pressure and competition was, and remains, fierce among newswire services. Even in my working life, I have known AP, Reuters and Bloomberg reporters who worked feverishly to beat their rivals by seconds--whether they had all the facts right or not.
After the war, my father was an editor for the New York Herald Tribune and then editor-in-chief of The New York Law Journal for more than two decades. He was sympathetic to the pressure Kennedy, whom he knew, felt. Yet, as an editor, he objected to Kennedy acting like a cowboy by not including his editors in the decision about whether to break the embargo. Kennedy simply filed his dispatch by phone, and his editors naturally thought he was clear to do so and that they were clear to publish.
AP chief Tom Curley says Kennedy "did everything just right," and he cites storied journalist A.J. Liebling as among those who believed Kennedy was correct to break the embargo pledge and say "to hell" with military censors.
Sixty-seven years later, it's easy to take the position that Kennedy was putting "the people's right to know" ahead of the alleged political considerations. The public today is pretty ignorant to press embargoes, and have come to get their news and information from bloggers, Twitter and the like, none of which we can imagine adhering to news embargoes dictated by government censors.
But 1945 was a different time technologically and in many other ways. And let's not think for a minute that Kennedy was motivated by "the people's right to know." Recalling my father's account, I know he said the following to me, though it is not on tape: "Kennedy wanted the scoop, plain and simple."
Not only did Kennedy put the AP in a bad spot, but his actions emboldened the censorship activities of the military on reporters in the Korean War.
All reporters want scoops, and they always have. And Kennedy defended his action by saying that once the Germans admitted to surrendering in the broadcast, the pledge he gave to Brigadier General Frank Allen, the public relations officer, in the presence of the other reporters was null and void. But that was a decision he came to on his own, without conferring with his own editors. He did appeal to the censors to lift their ban once the German broadcast had taken place, but to no avail.
Kennedy's dispatch came through to AP's New York office at 9:35AM Eastern War Time. The AP said there was no indication that it did not come through normal censorship channels. It was not until 11:15AM that that AP got the first inkling that it was unauthorized. Kennedy, it is not a stretch to say, lied to his superiors (even though it was a lie of omission) to get his scoop.
Other news organizations, still holding to the embargo, were allowed to cite the AP account until they could publish their own reports following the lift of the embargo. It was galling to the reporters who had covered the war for years, and wanted their opportunity to write the finale.
It is worth mentioning here that had Kennedy not agreed to the embargo, he would not have been admitted to the Rheims schoolhouse to witness the surrender, and would not have been given my father's pool report on the surrender negotiations. He would most surely have been left outside the building or at the airfield if he had not agreed.
In the aftermath, the AP dispatches from Europe were muzzled, and its access to high command and official military events was cut off. Kennedy was suspended, and fired the following November.
AP's Curley called Kennedy's dismissal "a great, great tragedy" and hailed him and the desk editors who put the surrender story on the wire for upholding the highest principles of journalism. "They did the right thing," Curley said. "They stood up to power."
Really? The desk editors were in the dark when they put the story up. They had no idea that they were standing up to power. And has Curley, who wrote the forward to the book published by Kennedy's daughter, perhaps given today's AP reporters greater license to flout the process that he oversees of reporters and editors working together to produce the best, most responsible and accurate news product?
Though my father had been beaten on a story he naturally felt he was leading on, he was not bitter in the least. Just as Kennedy later published an article titled, "I'd Do It Again," about his flout of the embargo, so did my father go to the grave proud of his service, his work, his integrity, and his place in history.
German Nazi Chancellor Adolf Hitler has written 'JA !' on his calendar on April 10, 1938 thus celebrating the success of his plebiscite asking Austrians to ratify the Anschluss and the annexation of Austria into greater Germany. AFP PHOTO / FRANCE PRESSE VOIR
VINCENNES, FRANCE - JANUARY29: Stylish women (C) look to horses, January 29, 1939 on Vincennes race course, a few months before the beginning of World War II. STAFF/AFP/Getty Images
German Nazi Chancellor Adolf Hitler (R) informs Czech President Emil Hacha of the imminent German invasion of Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939 in Berlin. Threatening a Luftwaffe attack on Prague, Hitler persuaded Hacha to order the capitulation of the Czechoslovak army. Hacha suffered a heart attack during the meeting, and had to be kept awake by medical staff, eventually giving in and accepting Hitler's surrender terms. AFP PHOTO / FRANCE PRESSE VOIR
A picture dated 1939 shows German Nazi Chancellor and dictator Adolf Hitler (R) with his companion Eva Braun (C) talking to a baby held by a nun. AFP/Getty Images
Picture dated on September 1939 shows German troops entering Poland after a 'blitzkrieg' (lightning war ) which swept into Poland on September 1, 1939. Seventy years ago, at 4:45 am on September 1, a Nazi German battleship on a goodwill visit opened fire on a Polish fort on the Baltic Sea. The thunder of the Schleswig-Holstein's guns in Danzig was the trigger for six years of global warfare whose controversies rage to this day. AFP PHOTO/Getty
During German air raids on open Belgium towns, this picture shows refugees leaving the city during the bombing of the town May 19, 1940. AFP/Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth (R) chats with a girl on April 18, 1940 when she visits an ammunition factory somewhere in Midlands. It was in the summer of 1940, during the London blitz, that Queen Elizabeth won the respect and affection of her subjects when she refused to leave for Canada with her daughters as German bombs devastated the British capital. AFP/Getty Images
Two young Dutch refugee girls arrive in London by train on May 19, 1940 after fleeing the German Army offensive during WWII. About 10 millions people fled toward the south during this period. AFP PHOTO/Getty
This file picture taken on August 25, 1944 shows people gathering around a tank from French General Leclerc's 2nd Armored Division near Notre-Dame in Paris. The 65th anniversary of the liberation of Paris will be celebrated tomorrow. AFP PHOTO/Getty
FRANCE: US-born singer-entertainer poses during World War II in an undisclosed location in France as a sublieutenant in the Women's Auxiliary of the French Air Force. AFP/AFP/Getty Images
George Herbert Walker Bush is pictured in the cockpit of his TBM Avenger during the World War II. Born June 12, 1924 in Milton, Massachussetts, George Bush graduated with a degree in Economics in 1948 from Yale, made a fortune drilling oil before entering politics in 1964. He served as U.S. Congressman from Texas (1966-1970), Ambassador to the United Nations (1971-1974), Special Envoy to China (1974-1975), Republican National Chairman (1975-1976), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director (1976-1977), Vice President of the US (1981-1959) George Bush was eventually elected President of the U.S. on November 8, 1988 against Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis. AFP PHOTO/WHITE HOUSE
This undated file picture from World War II shows young pilots from the Japanese Royal Navy drinking cups of water before their kamikaze suicidal attack mission, in which pilots crash-dove bomb-laden planes into enemy vessels. Kamikaze, which translates as 'divine wind,' is the word used in the West to describe the suicidal World War II pilots, but in Japan they were known simply as the 'tokkotai' or 'special attack unit'. AFP PHOTO/Getty
US-born singer-entertainer Josephine Baker poses in France during World War II with unidentified children. AFP/Getty Images
Photo shows the house where Anne Frank lived in Amsterdam and where she hid with her parents to escape from Nazis between June 1942 and August 4, 1944. AFP PHOTO/Getty
Picture dated September 1939 showing an English pub in London protected with sandbags before the English battle during the World War II. STF/AFP/Getty Images
A young French girl clings to her mother in May 1940 as French civilians flee the German Army offensive in the north of France during World War II. About 10 million people fled toward the south during this period. AFP PHOTO/Getty
Charles de Gaulle (C), Chief of the French Free Forces, inspects the French colonial troops during his visit of a military base in Great Britain on January 24, 1941 during World War II. AFP PHOTO/Getty
Picture taken in 1942 of Soviet soldiers during the battle of Volgograd. AFP/Getty Images