John Kelly’s Feb. 28 Metro column, “Aboard a torpedoed ocean liner was this reporter’s idea of somewhere to be,” about one of the most colorful characters in the annals of journalism, Floyd Gibbons, evoked the memory of this illustrious reporter who helped put the Marine Corps on Page 1 during World War I.
There were only 36 reporters officially accredited to the American Expeditionary Force in World War I. On June 6, 1918, Gibbons, a war correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, entered Belleau Wood in France. Gibbons, a noncombatant, could carry no arms. He was “armed” only with his notebook and pencil.
As the Marine unit he was with advanced across the wheat field on its way toward the wood line, Gibbons was repeatedly hit by German machine-gun fire. One of the rounds ricocheted off a rock and ripped out his left eye. With his eyeball lying on his cheek split in half and his left hand and arm numb and out of commission, Gibbons wondered if he was dead. Then, pinching himself for reassurance, he concluded he was alive. Earlier that day, upon arriving at the front, Gibbons had sent his staff car back to the rear with a dispatch to be taken to the censor’s office. It read, “I am up at the front and entering Belleau Wood with the U.S. Marines.” He expected the censor to delete the last part because, up to that time in the war, no newspaper correspondent on any allied front had been permitted to say which troops were on which fronts. Before the driver reached the censor’s office, word had reached it that Gibbons had been wounded and was dying. When the censor came to Gibbons’s dispatch, he concluded that it would be a crime to cut the last dispatch of Gibbons’s life, so he decided to let it go through as written. Because the censor let Gibbons’s dispatch go through, all correspondents were given the same privilege. For three days, the news traveled like wildfire through the United States that the Marines, “Devil Dogs” as the Germans were now calling them, were fighting it out with the enemy in Belleau Wood. At the end of the third day, censorship clamped down again.
Fred C. Lash, Springfield
The writer is a
former Marine public affairs officer.