National Press Club

A Veterans Day remembrance: Club's history closely linked to those who served

November 9, 2019 | By Ken Dalecki | kdalecki@hotmail.com

In famed photo, Vice President Harry Truman plays the piano for movie star Lauren Bacall during their impromptu performance at the Club’s canteen for servicemen during World War II.

In famed photo, Vice President Harry Truman plays the piano for movie star Lauren Bacall during their impromptu performance at the Club’s canteen for servicemen during World War II.

Veterans Day is a time to remember the hundreds of the National Press Club members who served in the nation's armed forces. Many prominent members were once citizen soldiers, including Club presidents who served in World War I and II and Vietnam. Others were on the front lines as war correspondents.

Four of the Club's rooms are named for World War II veterans: Frank Holeman, John Cosgrove, Peter Lisagor, and Sarah McClendon.

Holeman, president of the Club in 1956, was an Army counter-intelligence staff sergeant in the Pacific during World War II. He was among the first U.S. occupation soldiers to land in Honshu in 1945. A year later, while covering President Truman for the New York Daily News, he privately thanked Truman for hastening the war's end by authorizing use of the atomic bomb.

Cosgrove, Club president in 1961, survived eight kamikaze attacks on his destroyer escort off Okinawa in 1945. Cosgrove served multiple terms as commander of the Club's American Legion Post 20.

Lisagor was a sergeant in the Army during World War II. He was a correspondent and London editor for the service newspaper, Stars and Stripes, before making a famed career with the Chicago Tribune.

McClendon enlisted in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps in 1942 and worked as a lieutenant in the public relations office of the Army Surgeon General. Insisting on her rights as a first lieutenant, McClendon was the first Army officer to give birth at a military hospital, Walter Reed Hospital. She showed that same tenacity in demanding equal treatment as a female journalist.

The room named for McClendon is used for meetings of Legion Post 20, which she once headed and which currently has some 60 members. It is one of the oldest posts in the country and was founded at the urging of Gen. John J. Pershing, leader of American forces in Europe during World War I and an associate member of the Club. The Club will mark the Post 20's 100th anniversary with an evening reception Nov. 19. Register online.

Presidential vets

Veterans who joined the Club after its founding in 1908 hailed from as far back as the Spanish American War. Veterans of the World War I and II swelled the ranks of the Club after those wars and many become Club presidents.

World War I vets who headed the Club included Earl Godwin, a Washington Times reporter when he joined the U.S. Army. He was elected president of the Club in 1919 and became a popular radio broadcaster.

Raymond P. Brant of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was president of the Club in 1933. The former Rhodes Scholar served as a second lieutenant with the U.S. Army's 39th Field Artillery from 1918-1919.

George William Stimpson, president of the Club in 1936 while with the Houston Post, enlisted in the U.S. Army near the end of World War I while a student at Valparaiso University.

Charles O. Gridley of the Denver Post, 1937 president of the Club, is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He was a first lieutenant in the Army's 132nd Infantry Division during the war.

Arthur Hachten of the International News Service, also served and became Club president in 1939.

Also notable in the World War I era was Oswald F. Schuette, who was Club president for three months in 1913. As a Chicago Daily News war correspondent, he helped produced early newsreel coverage of the German army at the start of World War I. He reported on the Central Powers from January, 1915, until Germany's breaking of diplomatic relations with the U.S. Schuette was the last American correspondent to leave Germany for neutral Switzerland.

Presidents from WWII

After serving as Club President in 1940, Richard L. Wilsonn of the Des Moines Register and Tribune, traveled extensively as a war correspondent during World War II.

William H. Lawrence, Club president in 1959, covered World War II and the Korean War for the New York Times, including an assignment to Moscow in 1943. Battlefield reporting also took him to Okinawa, Guam and Japan. Future Washington Post sports writer Shirley Povich was a correspondent for the newspaper in the Pacific, where he became a close friend of legendary war correspondent Ernie Pyle for Scripps-Howard.

Club presidents who served in World War II include L. David LeRoy, president in 1967. LeRoy received a Purple Heart while serving as an Army captain.

Allan M. Cromley, Club president in 1968, left the University of Kansas for military duty in the war. He returned to the university after the war to finish his degree.

Vernon R. Louviere, Club president in 1971, served in the U.S. Navy during the war.

Warren Rogers, Club president in 1972, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1941 and was part of the first major offensive in the Pacific --the landings on Guadalcanal.

Donald R. Larrabee, Club president in 1973, was among the first U.S. Army soldiers ashore in Japan after its surrender. Larrabee's duties with an Army Air Corps public relations unit included covering Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of U.S. Forces in the Far East.

Other notable Club members and World War II veterans include photographer John M. Metelsky, a Murmansk-run Merchant Marine sailor who later served in the Army in Korea; Austin Kiplinger of The Kiplinger Washington Editors, a carrier-based Navy pilot in the Pacific; John Harllee, a Navy lieutenant junior grade whose house was fired on by a Japanese fighter at Pearl Harbor and a future head of the Federal Maritime Administration; JFK press secretary Pierre Salinger, who enlisted in the Navy in July 1943 and became skipper of a submarine chaser off Okinawa; and Ed Prina of the New York Sun, a Navy lieutenant during the fierce Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Truman and Bacall

During World War II the Club sponsored a canteen for servicemen. On one visit by Vice President Harry Truman, movie actress Lauren Becall sat on top the piano Truman was playing and prompted one of the most famous photos ever taken at the Club -- and the displeasure of Mrs. Truman.

A revival of the canteen during the dedication of the World War II memorial in May 2004 included a visit by actor Tony Curtis. He regaled his audience with stories about Hollywood and his service as a teenager in the Navy.

Curtis was in Tokyo Harbor when Japan signed surrender documents and two Club members, Edgar Alan Poe of the New Orleans Times-Picayune and Joseph Laitin, a war correspondent for Reuters, witnessed signing of the surrender documents aboard the battleship USS Missouri. So did broadcaster Bryson B. Rash, Club president in 1963, in a coast-to-coast broadcast by ABC.

David Hess of Knight-Ridder, Cub president in 1985, served in Army intelligence during the Korean War. He learned Korean at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, Calif., and spent much of his time at a remote mountain-top listening post intercepting North Korean and Chinese communications.

Another graduate of the language school was Andrew Mollison of Cox Newspapers, Club president in 1987. The Army sent him to Germany in 1963 as a signals intelligence analyst after he learned Russian, but he was put in charge of creating and editing a unit newspaper.

Myron Belkind of the Associated Press, Club president in 2014, served in the Army in Vietnam as a public affairs specialist.

These are just a few of the hundreds of Club members who served their country in uniform in war and peace. Many never talked about their time in the military, but those who did often spoke of how the stresses and responsibilities of wartime service made later challenges in civilian life seem trivial.