The Women Who Wrote The War, by Nancy Caldwell Sorel

by Nancy Caldwell Sorel (Arcade Publishing, Inc., 1999; 464 pp., $27.95 – ISBN 1559704934)

WWII was the first war in which American women news reporters were allowed to cover the war “at the front on a par with the men.” As war correspondents, they reported from the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific and provided readers back home with accounts of what they witnessed. The majority of the women reported from Europe, with the remaining from the Pacific and Asia. Their experiences were varied, intimate, devastating and heart-warming. Some were “close to fearless, others perpetually scared, most somewhere in between.”

Among them was Margaret Burke-White who covered the invasion of the Soviet Union, wrote about the survivors of a ship torpedoed and sunk in the Mediterranean, and was among the first to photograph Buchenwald concentration camp. In her story, “Women in Lifeboats,” published by Life magazine, she described the sinking and rescue of the survivors.

Martha Gellhorn, the wife of Ernest Hemingway, began her war reporting during the Spanish Civil War and continued reporting through WWII. In one story for Collier’s magazine, she reported the actions of the 82nd Airborne Division to capture the bridges at Grave and Nijmegen. Her marriage to Hemingway ended about the same time as the war in Europe.

Photojournalist Lee Miller photographed and wrote about Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest burning. “The mountainside was a mess of craters, Hitler’s own house was still standing with the roof slightly askew and the fire which the SS troopers set as a final salute was lashing out the windows.” Probably more famous is the photograph of Miller in Hitler’s bathtub.

Shelley Smith Mydans reported from China and wrote about Chiang Kai-shek and his wife, Chou En-lai, whom Mydans found charming. Mydans and her husband, Life photographer Carl Mydans, reported from the Philippines, were prisoners at Santa Tomas, and were later freed in a prisoner exchange.

Marguerite Higgins entered Dachau concentration camp before the American soldiers arrived and Dickey Chappell reported from Iwo Jima in March 1945. Twenty years later, Chappell died while on patrol with the Marines in Viet-Nam.

The author has written an absorbing narrative of women war correspondents who were as good as men when reporting WWII, thus providing them their rightful place in history.