Friday, February 20, 2015

A New Direction

From childhood on, I've been fascinated by American history-specifically World War II. I would revel in the company of my grandfather as he shared stories of his time during the Battle of the Atlantic aboard the U.S.S. Croatan (CVE-25). Being part of a fleet, which was known as a ‘hunter-killer’ group, serving aboard a carrier ship tasked with locating and sinking German U-boats certainly brought about many exhilarating narratives on my grandfather’s part. As I grew older, crowd favorites such as Saving Private Ryan, Battleground!, or the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers carried great weight with me as I recalled my grandfather’s service and sacrifices, as well as the many others that did the same. With the launch of my book project, “Written Under Fire,” it was with much excitement that I began to dive into the archives and research The Sun's role in the fight to defeat the Nazis.

The Sun sent correspondents Lee McCardell, Holbrook Bradley and Price Day, among others, to cover the war in Europe. England, North Africa, Italy, and France were just the beginning for these eager journalists. Their travels also encompassed Holland, Belgium and Germany. With the war in the Pacific theatre not to be forgotten, The Sun sent Howard Norton and Phillip Heisler to keep Maryland’s residents in the know during wartime.

McCardell followed troops in North Africa and Italy. On the morning of D-Day, before troops had even landed, he flew with the Ninth Air Force on the first bomb run of the Normandy beachheads. He described this as the "curtain-raiser of the battle for western Europe.” Days later he landed in France and rejoined the fight, which, for him, began in the port city of Cherbourg. Moving on from there, he would be the first American reporter in Paris after the Allies liberated the French capital. Succeeding Paris, he followed Patton, aka "The Old Man," and his Third Army through Alsace-Lorraine, Fort Driant, Metz, Luxembourg, Bastogne, the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge), the Saar and the drive to Berlin. He was one of the first to report on the atrocities in the Nazi death camps, specifically in Neunburg, Bavaria. Later, he reported the momentous scene on the Elbe when the American and Russian forces met for the first time. 

Bradley followed the 29th Division on D-Day in Normandy, through the French hedge-rows, rode under fire in one of the first six tanks into Saint-Lo and was wounded in Vire. He returned to the battle-hardened Twenty-Ninth, shortly after checking himself out of the hospital, to continue in the breakout to Brittany, the siege of Brest (where he witnessed the capture of the Nazis' massive concrete U-boat pens) and continued on to Germany by route of the Siegfried Line, Aachen, Julich and the Elbe.

Preceding Europe, Day reported from North Africa, then Italy; specifically from the battles of Anzio, Cassino, and Rome. Later, when The Baltimore Sun was the sole newspaper worldwide to have its own reporter at the German surrender in Reims, Price Day was there to report every detail.

What adventure! What a story so deserving to be retold!

The Baltimore Sun archive contains over 900 photos taken on the frontlines by McCardell and Bradley. Considering this wealth of content, and 2014 being the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Europe, I pitched a WWII photo book idea to the upper echelons of The Baltimore Sun. After their deliberation, the book was approved, and I was in business. The digitizing process from 2010 captured the publication dates and photographer's names for each photo from the archive, but because there were no captions, for the OCR reader to scan, there was little to no chance of knowing who or what it was [as a viewer] you were looking at in each photo.

November 2013: I was still in the researching stages, for the book, when I realized that without adequate captions the only way to make it happen would require going into the microfilm archives. So I spent many long but rewarding days feverishly paging through the microfilm archives of The Baltimore Sun, The Evening Sun and The Sunday Sun using the publication dates on the backs of the photos to locate the captions, add them to the digital archive and ultimately to the manuscript.

As I was working on the captions, I encountered another problem: the long periods of time between each set of photos. For example, there were many photos from D-Day in Normandy, fighting in the Norman hedgerows and the Brittany campaigns (June-September, 1944), but then there were no photos to be found until the conclusion of the Metz campaign (November-December, 1944). What could I use to fill the gaps in the timeline? Then it dawned on me. I could create my narrative by filling the gaps with McCardell's, Bradley's and Day's numerous articles and dispatches. I'd been paging through them for weeks while gathering the photo captions, and they would solve my problem while complementing the photos within the book. This photo book would now be a more text-heavy piece, supplemented with photos. After the less than stellar performances of “Maryland Exposed” and “The Darkroom,” I felt that changing the direction from strictly photos to a narrative was a good move.

From that moment I embarked on a massive four-month stint of poring over Holbrook Bradley's book, “War Correspondent,” studying the timeline of the European theatre, researching the archives for dispatches that followed that timeline, and creating a narrative. All of the selected dispatches came from microfilm so there weren't any text files I could use to provide the designer. In addition to my normal daily responsibilities as manager of business development department, I spent most days, nights and weekends typing each dispatch word-for-word. I was typing so much that I wore out my keyboard and needed to have it replaced! But I didn't care. I was bringing the forgotten stories of McCardell, Bradley and Day, which hadn't been told in 70 years, out of obscurity. By the time the manuscript was proofread (three times) and the designer laid out the book, we had thirteen chapters and a 264-page book! 

Of the five books I did for The Baltimore Sun, “Written Under Fire” is the one I am most proud of, as well as the one I was most excited to work on and promote. I secretly hoped that after the book was published, Tribune Broadcasting would take interest in the story and do its own TV mini-series. I can dream!

From May 2014 through January 2015, “Written Under Fire” generated $65k in new revenue. Much of this success was due to the marketing campaigns I produced. We were back on track!

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