Rambouillet is a historic chateau community near Versailles southwest of Paris within cycling distance. Napoleon had one of his imperial homes there. But in August 1944 the Germans were there on-and-off — along with French guerillas, the Americans and British troops.
The liberation of Paris was in sight, and the Germans were making a last stand
Reporting the news for the Allies was a cadre of war correspondents that included famed writer Ernest Hemingway, representing Collier’s Magazine, who years later would move to Idaho; and Andy Rooney, writing for Stars and Stripes, who eventually became part of CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
They were joined by other names soon to be well known — LIFE photographer Robert Capa, movie director George Stevens, young CBS Radio reporter Charles Collingwood and others.
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Hemingway was on a landing craft at Omaha Beach but wasn’t allowed ashore. He saw the action, and then returned to the Dorchester Hotel in London that night to sulk about it.
He was even more upset when he learned his estranged wife, journalist Martha Gellhorn, made it ashore the following day.
It would be another 40 days before his feet were once again on the French soil he knew so well from his “salon days” in Paris in the 1920s, when as a young writer he was mentored by poet Ezra Pound from Hailey, Idaho.
Looking for a base of operations, Hemingway went to see Third Army Gen. Raymond O. “Tubby” Barton — who quickly referred him to a PR officer who in turn palmed him off to 22nd Infantry Regiment commander Col. Charles Trueman “Buck” Lanham.
They met in a small farmhouse near Le Mesnil-Herman in Normandy and immediately became pals. Press corps members were required to wear “War Correspondent” patches and were not allowed to carry guns. Neither requirement lasted long with Hemingway.
It wasn’t long before he’d ditched the patch, acquired a captured German motorcycle and sidecar, and a driver named Pvt. Archie “Red” Pelkey from Potsdam, N.Y. — a 29-year old cigar-chomping grade school drop-out who hated military discipline.
Then Hemingway strapped a pistol on his side, filled the side-car with grenades and the two rode out looking for action.
“Life was jolly, full of shooting and fighting over small hills, along dusty roads, in and out of wheat fields, with burned-out enemy tanks, wrecked Kraftwagens, captured 88s, and the dead from both sides,” Ernie wrote in a letter years later.
His unauthorized adventures soon angered the brass — as well as his fellow journalists.
Andy Rooney joined the Army in 1941, and applied for an opening on the military newspaper “Stars and Stripes.”
“I was not really a newspaper man, but I said I was, and I got the job.”
Veteran writers like Ernie Pyle and Walter Cronkite helped him learn how to be a war correspondent.
Rooney was a brash young Army soldier learning to be a reporter, and Hemingway at age 45 was already a seasoned writer.
Hemingway’s take-charge manner soon earned him the sobriquet “Captain” or “Colonel” — with some chiding why a man of his age was only a captain?
Hemmingway and Red rumbled toward the market town of Villedieu-les-Poêles, known locally as the City of Stoves where fierce house-to-house and enemy sniper fighting was underway.
Hemingway in perfect French asked some locals where the Germans were. They said some SS were in a house cellar several blocks away — and that’s where the dynamic duo went.
Hollering in broken German for them to come out with their hands up brought no response, so they tossed several grenades down the stairs and then left without checking the results.
Nevertheless, Hemingway later claimed he’d “Killed plenty of Nazis.”
The local mayor however was pleased and rewarded Hemingway and Red with bottles of champagne for “liberating” the town.
Not so pleased was Col. Buck Lanham for his writer-friend breaching the Geneva Convention — but was quietly happy with the results.
Hemingway was certainly a glory hound, and while his brawling, hard-drinking ways may have rankled some of his press corps compatriots and military officers, it also made him a fascinating character.
Andy Rooney clearly was not a Hemingway fan.
“He was not your ordinary run-of-the-mill jerk,” Rooney said of him. “He was a Big Jerk, and more often than not — a poor writer.”
Following a punch-throwing brawl between Hemingway and OSS intelligence Col. Bruce Grant, Rooney said he “could never take Hemingway seriously after that. I'd always liked him as a writer, but this was such a schoolboy thing.”
Rooney also didn’t like Gen. George S. Patton, calling both Hemingway and Patton “gasbags.”
“Hemingway was like that,” another commentator wrote. “Either his bigger than life presentations inspired you and was fun, or it turned you off and you were wary.”
After the grenade incident, Ernie and Red headed for Rambouillet — abandoned by the Germans, who were still lurking nearby.
His persona attracted a small band of French guerillas who adopted him as their “Capitaine,” and along with some American troops they ran into from the 2nd Infantry Regiment's anti-tank platoon under Lieutenant Irving Krieger of East Orange, N.J., they scoured the town looking for Germans while disarming minefields and booby-traps.
Neither Hemingway nor Rooney were first to reach Paris, but they were there to share the adoration of the French celebrating the city’s liberation.
Both men had a prickly side to their personalities.
Hemingway showed a draft of an article he’d written to neophyte CBS Radio reporter Charles Collingwood, and asked for his comment. Thinking the maestro really wanted his opinion, Collingwood answered, “Well, Papa, it sounds like a parody of Ernest Hemingway to me.”
Hemingway: “Collingwood, I suggest you pack your bags and leave.”
They didn’t speak to each other for 10 years.
While writing “A Farewell to Arms,” Hemmingway asked literary giant F. Scott Fitzgerald for a critique.
Hemingway answered Fitzgerald’s 10-page letter of suggestions with three words: “Kiss my ass.”
Andy Rooney had his crusty moments too — even fearlessly taking on his boss at CBS, Lawrence Tisch, who negotiated the sale of the network to Westinghouse:
“He turned the best broadcasting company in the business into one of the weakest and got even richer in the process.”
Both Hemingway and Rooney had one thing in common — they both were awarded the Bronze Star.
Hemingway was praised for his service as a war correspondent for exposing himself “freely under fire in combat areas in order to obtain an accurate picture of conditions. Through his talent of expression, Mr. Hemingway enabled readers to obtain a vivid picture of the difficulties and triumphs of the front-line soldier and his organization in combat.”
Andy Rooney’s citation said much the same, lauding him for reporting the news while under enemy fire at the Battle of Saint-Lô in Normandy.
Back in civvies after the war, Rooney grew bushy eyebrows and with wit, wisdom and thorny commentary pounded out stories on his old typewriter — mostly about people and things he didn’t like.
Hemingway’s wartime friend Gen. “Buck” Lanham wrote that Papa was “without exception the most courageous man I have ever known, both in war and peace. He has physical courage, and he has that far rarer commodity, moral courage.”
A final note about the Rambouillet days:
According to a National Archives story, Hemingway defended his actions during those times in France, writing in 1951 to C. L. Sulzberger at the New York Times:
“Certain allegations of fighting and commanding irregular troops were made but I was cleared of these by the Inspector General of the Third Army…I had an assignment to write only one article a month for Colliers and I wished to make myself useful between those monthly pieces.
“I had a certain amount of knowledge about guerilla warfare and irregular tactics as well as a grounding in more formal war and I was willing and happy to work for or be of use to anybody who would give me anything to do within my capabilities.”
It’s sad that those two iconic journalists of the Greatest Generation couldn’t get along.
Papa took his own life in Ketchum with a shotgun in 1961 at age 61, while Andy died at 92 in New York City in 2011 from complications following surgery.
America misses them both.
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Contact Syd Albright at email@example.com.
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Blood of a warrior…
Hemingway’s interest in war and violence appeared constantly in his life and writings — reminiscent of Patton’s words in the movie about the general, “I can smell a battlefield.” As one biographer explained, “Hemingway was committed above all else to telling the truth in his writing. To do so, he liked being part of the action, and the power of his writing stemmed, in part, from his commitment to witness combat firsthand.”
Among Hemingway’s personal treasures was a piece of mortar shrapnel that was removed from his wound in World War I in Italy where he was an ambulance driver. His experiences in Italy became the background for his novel “A Farewell to Arms.”
Praise for “Papa”…
Biographer Jeffrey Meyers praised Ernest Hemingway “as a cool, resourceful, imaginative, military tactician.” At Rambouillet and elsewhere, “Colonel Hemingway” gathered intelligence useful to the Allies, and saved several people accused of collaboration with the Germans by giving them jobs in a hotel — and also saved several women from having their heads shaved for the same alleged offense.
Brian: People always ask where your ideas come from.
Andy: Oh, ideas are a dime a dozen. There is nothing that is not an idea. I mean, I look at my desk here and it is just covered with ideas.
Brian: It looks like junk to me.
Andy: Everything is an idea. My couch over there behind you, and your sweater. There isn’t anything you can’t sit down and think of everything you know about that object and make a piece out of it. The people are interested.
Brian: But they don’t notice what you notice.
Andy: Well, because I am a writer, I make a point of noticing it,
And now a word from Andy…
“I try to improve myself. I try to lose weight. Weight is the most certain sign of defeat. I might think in optimistic moments that I’m getting to be a nicer guy. I might dream that after all these years I’m writing better than I used to. But when I step on the scale I can’t kid myself about my weight. I haven’t lost a pound. I conclude from this that I haven’t become a nicer guy or a better writer, either.”
Rooney on Rooney…
“I’ve done a lot of complaining here, but of all the things I’ve complained about, I can’t complain about my life.”