America at war! (1941– ) (Part 1)

Clapper: More facts, please!

By Raymond Clapper

hang on… they had plastics back then… so why didn’t they use plastics for magazines… would have been much cheaper right or was plastic as expensive as metal back then?

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U.S. Navy Department (December 1, 1942)

Communiqué No. 207

Pacific and Far East.
U.S. submarines have reported the following results of operations against the enemy in the waters of these areas.

  1. One destroyer sunk.
  2. One 9,000-ton tanker sunk.
  3. One 8,000-ton cargo ship sunk.
  4. One 6,300-ton cargo ship sunk.
  5. One 2,000-ton cargo ship sunk.
  6. One 12,000-ton cargo ship damaged and believed sunk.
  7. One 6,000-ton cargo ship damaged.

These actions have not been announced in any previous Navy Department communiqué.

South Pacific.
On November 30, routine patrol activity on Guadalcanal Island was supported by artillery fire and fighter planes.

The Pittsburgh Press (December 1, 1942)

Bombers fire Bizerte Airport

Allied troops smash at ring of Axis forts around Tunis
By William B. Dickinson, United Press staff writer


Allied HQ, North Africa –
Allied bombers ranging over Tunisia have set afire the airdrome at Bizerte, Axis-held naval base, a Headquarters communiqué said today.

Attacking in daylight, the big Allied places set a hangar afire and left other buildings burning around the field, vital to Axis supplies and reinforcements.

The Allied bombers ranged the whole of Tunisia. The communiqué reported that another daylight raid at Gabès and a third at Sfax, on the Tunisian east coast. Large parts of Sfax were devastated Saturday by U.S. bombers.

Reports to Allied Headquarters said the battle for Tunisia has entered the critical stage with the Germans throwing in the best of their fighter aircraft in an effort to stop Allied columns. The Germans were reported to be holding their Bizerte-Tunis bridgehead strongly despite Allied air attacks.

U.S. sub in Jap waters blasts 12 ships, crew sees horse race ashore

Eight vessels sunk in record-breaking cruise close to enemy coast – people on shore see five of victims torpedoed
By Frank Tremaine, United Press staff writer

Curb clamped on all Boston night resorts

Governor suggests closing clubs, pending grand jury probe

Death trap in the Cocoanut Grove Nightclub fire at Boston which took 449 lives Saturday night was this swinging door entrance. Many of the victims were crushed and smothered to death in this tiny, 10-foot-wide vestibule.

Busboy’s match lights holocaust and 449 persons receive fatal injuries in the Boston nightclub fire of last Saturday. Stanley Tomaszewski, 16, who inadvertently started the conflagration, here tells his story to Boston Police Commissioner Joseph P. Timilty.

Boston, Massachusetts (UP) –
All Boston nightclubs, taverns, restaurants and hotels were ordered today to discontinue dancing, music and other entertainment pending a probable grand jury investigation of the Cocoanut Grove fire which took at least 449 lives.

The Boston Licensing Board was to meet later in the day to consider a suggestion by Governor Leverett Saltonstall that all such establishments be closed until they had been reinspected as regards fire hazards.

The board’s action came while dual inquests were in progress to fix possible criminal negligence in connection with the disaster.

Attorney General Robert T. Bushnell, directing state and county prosecutors, said “the investigation has already started” and indicated it would take the form of grand jury proceedings.

Fourth nightclub fire

The Licensing Board’s action followed charges by Boston City Councilman William A. Carey that during the past year, there were four costly nightclub fires, including one in East Boston last month which claimed the lives of six firemen.

Mr. Carey said:

We could well have a holiday in these so-called nightclubs and cafés while building and fire inspectors make a checkup of their conditions in the interest of public safety.

During a conference with the licensing board, Governor Saltonstall advised members to close such establishments pending a reinspection, and said that if there was any doubt as to the board’s authority, to:

…go ahead and let the question of authority come later.

Exit door order

Meanwhile, it was revealed that City Building Commissioner James H. Mooney had issued an order Jan. 8 that doors in all public places must open outward.

At that time, he ordered an immediate inspection of “churches, schools, moving picture houses, theaters, auditoriums, nightclubs, dance halls, taverns, cafés and commercial buildings with many offices.” In all these places, he ruled, exits should be equipped with doors that open “in the direction of exit” and no doors should be locked while persons were inside.

However, at Fire Commissioner William A. Reilly’s current inquest, police photographer Morgan C. Murphy today identified 20 pictures of the fire scene that he had taken, some showing a door on the Piedmont St. side with wood ripped away from a casing in such a fashion as to indicate it had been forced. Officials sought to introduce this as evidence that the door was locked at the time of the fire.

Eyewitness testimony

Another witness, who saw the fire actually start, gave a graphic description of the conflagration. He was Maurice Levy of Roxbury, Signal Corps Reserve man studying at Boston Trade School. His wife and two companions perished.

Mr. Levy said:

We got to the Cocoanut Grove at 9:15 Saturday night. We want downstairs to the Melody Lounge, walked completely around the bar of the lounge and came to the corner over on the left-hand side.

It seemed that a light was bothering a person sitting next to me. There was a palm tree to my right, with a light behind the palm tree. He [the other person] got up and loosened the bulb.

The waiter served our drinks, went back to the bar, then returned and said something about the bartender asking that the bulb be put back.

He [the waiter] got up, groped around and couldn’t find the bulb. It was very dark. He lit a match. Then he put the match behind the tree. That set fire to the tree and, by the time the waiter got down, there was a complete fire.

The fire didn’t spread through the tree, but hit the ceiling and went in all directions across the ceiling. Cpl. Harold Goldenberg [the other man in Mr. Levy’s party] tried to put it out with his hands. My wife and I ran up the stairs to the first floor where we came in.

Separated from wife

He said the ceiling of the lounge was completely covered by draperies about nine feet from the floor and that the fire raced through the draperies.

He said:

The fire spread ahead of me. I cut across the crowd. In the rush, my wife was pushed away.

He said he finally managed to get out of the building on the Piedmont St. side.

While the inquest was in progress, authorities disclosed that three years ago, a person of importance with the nightclub was warned that the building was a tinderbox with very bad exits.

Letter made public

The warning was in a letter made public by Assistant District Attorney Frederick T. Doyle prior to a conference of state and county prosecutors who were called together by Attorney General Robert T. Bushnell to “avoid duplication of efforts” in the investigation of Saturday’s fire disaster.

Mr. Doyle said the recipient of the letter, written Jan. 27, 1939, by Boston advertising executive Ernest J. Goulston, was “a person of some importance” at the nightclub. Part of the letter read:

There are several things you ought to give particular attention to. Your exits are very bad. You have a tinderbox construction. It should be in absolute conformity with the building rules.

Newspapers in action

Mr. Doyle said he did not now have any knowledge of what prompted the letter or whether the warning was heeded.

Meanwhile, Boston newspapers warned editorially against any effort at “whitewash” or “to cover up or protect somebody.”

A public inquiry underway before Fire Commissioner William A. Reilly had already developed testimony suggesting that Boston’s lax building and fire prevention ordinances, rather than an individual or individuals, were mainly responsible for the disaster.

Death toll now 449

Shortly before noon, the Boston Public Safety Committee announced that a thorough check had revealed 21 duplications, reducing the official death list to 449. The committee said only five victims remained unidentified. The recheck showed that 172 remained hospitalized, with 20 in critical condition.

The committee earlier had announced a higher total of deaths, but a definitive check of the list resulted in the elimination of several duplications.

Among the dead was Charles “Buck” Jones, star of Western movies, who died of his burns late yesterday afternoon.

Fix responsibility

Boston newspapers were forthright in their comment.

The Globe said:

Nothing could have made what happened at the Cocoanut Grove more bitter than a well-grounded suspicion that someone is trying to cover up or protect somebody else.

The Post said:

Whitewash of this horrifying tragedy will not be tolerated by an aroused public.

The Christian Science Monitor said:

Nothing should divert an investigation which will fix responsibility insofar as possible and carry through to the provision of adequate safeguards.

The Herald said:

Nothing happened at the Cocoanut Grove which could not have been and should not have been foreseen and prevented.

Decorations thought safe

The public hearing before Commissioner Reilly resulted mainly in a repetition of the tales of horror, confusion, and panic previously told by participants and witnesses. But it had also disclosed that an inspector of the Boston Fire Department had considered the decorations sufficiently fire-resistant to be safe and a building inspector had approved its construction, and the fact that it only had four exits.

Testimony developed that, in addition to being inadequate, the Cocoanut Grove’s exits were not marked.

Robert S. Moulton, secretary of the National Fire Protection Association, characterized Boston’s building and fire prevention ordinances as “chaotic” and charged that they were further weakened by “incompetent enforcement, political influence, and careless management.” He said the tragedy was “clearly due to gross violations of several fundamental principles of fire safety.”

Safety director at club

The hearing developed that John J. Walsh, executive director of the Public Safety Committee, in charge of counting and caring for the bodies, had been in the club when the fire broke out.

He was entertaining 12 guests and, upon seeing flames at the other side of the dining room, calmly led his party to safety.

Mr. Walsh told the board:

I got to the Cocoanut Grove at 7. I was sitting at a side table, midway on the floor. The room was crowded.

Takes exit opposite fire

We had finished dinner and were about ready to leave when I saw what appeared to be a puff of smoke and flame over the entrance on the opposite side of the building from where we were sitting.

Mr. Walsh said he quickly got his party together and led them toward the exit opposite where he saw the fire.

He related:

When I turned and looked again at that spot [where he first saw the smoke], it was a roaring mass of flames.

Step over bodies

I led the way and we had to pick our way over the bodies of people who were already lying on the floor where they had been trampled. I think it took us about a minute and a half to cross the room, and by that time, the entire room was a roaring mass of flames.

The crowd came from the rear and surged forward toward the stage. Not many realized there was a door in the direction that we were going. Everyone was screaming and yelling as we stumbled our way across the bodies.

Mr. Walsh said he and two men in the party forced the door.

As soon as I put my feet on the sidewalk, I pulled out at least 20 to 25 people.

Bartender John W. Bradley, who was on duty in the Melody Lounge where the fire started, wept continually as he testified in a tremulous voice. His face and ears were heavily bandaged.

Bradley testified:

I was behind the bar when somebody pulled out a light. I told Stanley to go over to the corner and make the customer put on the light.

Yells ‘take it easy’

Bradley continued:

I went back to my work. All of a sudden, somebody screamed “Fire!” I jumped from behind the bar. One of the palm trees was burning. Then a flash came. I tried to throw water on it. But the whole ceiling was ablaze. I hollered to everybody to take it easy.

The palm tree, Mr. Bradley said, was in a corner of the lounge near the kitchen and there was an immediate panic with everybody “hollering and screaming.”

He testified:

Somehow, I managed to get across the room and into the kitchen. Some of the cooks rushed in with fire extinguishers, and I went back in to help, but the smoke hit me in the face. I stood there shouting “Come out this door!” but nobody heard me.

Bartender’s hair on fire

At this point, Mr. Bradley broke down. Tears streamed down his face and his voice choked as he told how he finally managed to clamber out a kitchen window into an alleyway. There, he said, he beat out the flames in his hair with his bare hands.

Henry W. Bimbler, a waiter in the main dining room, testified that there was a lengthy delay in getting people out through the kitchen door because a dishwasher refused to give up the keys.

He said:

Flames were coming up the stairs from the Melody Lounge. I ran to the kitchen and shouted “Fire.” There were no flames on the kitchen stairs. I went up again and everything was in flames.

Shoves girls into icebox

I went down again and shoved nine girls into an icebox. I told them to stay there until we got a door open. I asked a dishwasher to give me the keys to the door but he told me, “I can’t give you the keys until the boss says so.” Four or five of us then pried the door open.

Leo S. Givonetti, acting as captain at the main entrance, said the main dining room was packed to capacity and that he had been turning away customers for an hour and a half before the fire.

The headwaiter was at the phone and I remember hearing a scream in the lobby. I thought there was a fight and ran into the lobby to call the police. As I got there, I saw flames coming from the coat room over the Melody Lounge. The headwaiter told me to run like hell and open the exit door on the opposite side near the bandstand. Everyone was panicky.

Mr. Givonetti said the exit door was red and was not covered. He said the crowd was so panicky that he and the headwaiter were pushed out into the street.

Headwaiter returns, dies

I tried to get back in to help, but couldn’t. The headwaiter did and lost his life.

Lt. Miles V. Murphy of a rescue company said flames and black smoke were pouring from an entrance and:

…as I got into the door, the bodies were piled high at the door leading to the lounge. I had to crawl over their bodies to get in there.

The busboy, Tomaszewski, told the board substantially the same story he had related to police earlier.

He said:

I was stationed in the Melody Lounge. I was told to go over and put on a light in the corner near the kitchen. I got up on a chair to put it on. I didn’t know where it was, so I lit a match.

Shakes, steps on match

The boy said he then stepped down, shook the match and dropped it on the floor, where he stepped on it. Just then, he said, he heard someone cry fire and he looked up and saw the flames.

I tried to pull it out, but the flames came so fast I couldn’t do anything. Bradley [the bartender] came over and threw a glass of water at the flames.

The boy said the flames drove him to the kitchen, from where he led some people to safety.

After escaping from the club, the boy wandered around looking for a fellow busboy and went home at 4:30 a.m. The next day, he continued the search and, while seeking information at police headquarters, told his story to officers.

Buck Jones, cowboy hero, dies of nightclub burns

Boston, Massachusetts (UP) –
Charles “Buck” Jones, cowboy movie star and idol of millions of American boys. was dead today, a victim of the Cocoanut Grove Nightclub fire disaster.

Attending physicians said they “had abandoned all hope of Jones’ recovery immediately after examining his burns.” He died alone yesterday afternoon in Massachusetts General Hospital from what doctors described as “smoke inhalation and burned lungs, and from third and second-degree burns on the face and neck.” His wife was reported speeding to his bedside when death came.

A checkup showed that of about two dozen guests at the testimonial dinner for the 50-year-old actor, 13 were known dead, seven – mostly women – were recorded as missing and presumably dead, and the others were in hospitals with burns or injuries that may prove fatal.

Jones’ manager near death

In another ward of the crowded hospital, Jones’ Boston representative, Martin Sheridan, lay in critical condition. Mr. Sheridan’s wife, who also attended the Jones party at the Cocoanut Grove, was dead.

An early report listed Scott R. Dunlap, one of Hollywood’s leading producers of Westerns and Jones’ personal manager, among the dead, but City Hospital reported that Mr. Dunlap was still alive, although near death.

Jones became a cowboy star because he couldn’t become an Army aviator. Born Charles Gebhart in Vincennes, Indiana, he went to Red Rock, Oklahoma, as a small boy, there his father bought a small cattle ranch and when Charles reached his late teens, he got a job on the famous Wild West show, Miller Brothers’ 101 Ranch, as a cowhand at $30 a month and chuck.

Joins U.S. Cavalry

Regularly every month, he would lose his payback to George Miller at poker. He decided that joining the Army might improve his poker playing, so he signed up in the Cavalry and was promptly sent to the Philippines. He was back home again in 1912, after a Moro’s bullet in one hip all but made a cripple of him.

Assigned to the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps, he became disgusted because they wouldn’t let him fly without a commission, so he went back to punching cows. World War I came along and he went back in the Army, in the remount service, breaking broncs to be sent to the British and the French. When the war ended, he became a rodeo rider.

While riding in New York’s Madison Square Garden, he met Miss Odille Osborne, a horsewoman. They married in the arena during a performance in Lima, Ohio.

Dunlap offers movie job

One day, standing on a street corner in Los Angeles, penniless Buck was approached by a man who asked him if he wanted a job. The man was Scott Dunlap, pioneer producer of Westerns.

That’s how Jones rode in his first Western picture. He insists this horse opera was titled A Tale of Two Cities, and that in some fantastic way, it was based on Charles Dickens’ stirring novel on the French Revolution – transferred to California!

In the picture, Jones had a closeup of himself rolling a cigarette with one hand while mounted. It was sensational: he was a star overnight. From then on, he made Western after Western, and a few dramatic pictures, including one hit, Just Pals, in which he played opposite Helen Ferguson. The late Carole Lombard was his leading lady when she was 16.

Eight pictures a year

The coming of sound slowed him up, but only temporarily, and in recent years, Jones was making a regular schedule of eight Westerns a year.

Ironically, Jones had visited another hospital to cheer a sick child only a few hours before he suffered the burns that cost his life.

Other Jones party guests who perished in the panic and flames were:

  • Edward I. Ansin, president of the Interstate Theaters Corp., which operates a New England movie chain;
  • Philip Seletsky, chief film booker for the M&P Theaters of Boston;
  • Charles Stearns, manager of United Artists Corp.;
  • Fred Paul Sharby and his son Fred Jr., Keene, New Hampshire, showmen;
  • Eugene Goss of Cambridge, one-time associate of Cecil B. DeMille;
  • Harry Asher of Boston, president of Producers Releasing Corp.;
  • Moses Grassgreen of Universal Pictures,
  • Bernard Levin of Columbia Pictures.

Heaviest battleship to be launched Dec. 7

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (UP) –
The heaviest battleship ever built, the USS New Jersey, will be launched from the Philadelphia Navy Yard Dec. 7, the 4th Naval District has announced.

Although her tonnage is a wartime secret, the Navy said the New Jersey would have a slightly greater displacement than her sister ship, the USS Iowa, launched at Brooklyn Navy Yard Aug. 27.

Minds on their work?

New York –
Two painters, Joseph Oswell and Charles Tague, were arrested for smoking on a pier after placing signs on the aside of a ship. The signs read: “NO SMOKING.”

Life-saving drug held up by OPA, official charges


Sooner or later…

By Florence Fisher Parry

In the middle of the night, a broken voice on the telephone asked me, from Richmond, Virginia, to find his sister, one of my employees. He had just learned that his daughter and her husband had been killed in the Boston café fire.

A typical young couple, the parents of a beautiful 6-month-old baby, he a captain in the Army, she a sweet young Southern girl, met in reunion to dance together and sit opposite each other and talk, close, to music, as all young things in love are like to do!

All over the country people are getting just such summons to speed east to find the charred remains of their young, loved ones. Four hundred and seventy bodies already counted, and most of them young, and many terribly in love and gallantly trying to be gay before the war parted them.

A busboy lit a match to screw in an electric light globe thoughtlessly removed by a prankish guest… and in a few minutes a catastrophe too horrible to dwell upon… a careless movement of the hand, a hair’s breadth, and tragedy stalking thousands of lives!..

Finite sight

Now we keep thinking of this. It is near, it is real, its horror sickens and appalls us. Yet for three years now we have been hearing of horrors compared with which this disaster in Boston is nothing. Every day in the paper, every hour on the radio, we listen to dispatches out of Russia telling of the death of thousands, thousands. We hear of the Jews and the Poles murdered; of the Greeks and the Chinese starved.

But somehow all this doesn’t spring to life. Its impact is dulled by a dreamy incapacity to accept it. It is still outside us. Only when it comes home does it become real. Even when we hear of the death of our own boys in far lands, or at seam we still can’t seem to encompass it. It has to be one of ours before we accept it realistically. And even so, it is a nightmare it is still touched with dreaminess and insubstantiality.

Yet let a disaster like this terrible Boston fire occur, and it sears into our minds: more than 400 dead! It seems more catastrophic than 40,000 in Russia or China or the South Seas.

But oh, if only accidents this this would serve to impress how vain it is to circumvent what is to be! We flay ourselves because our sons are now “in danger.” Oh, would that they were here, near, dancing in the arms of their dear ones, we waiting here at home happy once more! That’s how all the mothers of those Army and Navy men felt, their boys on leave, able to go to a gay nice nightclub up in Boston and be young and carefree for a while.

And then something like this Boston tragedy occurs, and we know that safety, danger, life, death, are not ours to cajole.

Why yes, there will be casualties in this war, they have just begun to come rolling in now. But we have had casualties at home, shameful and unnecessary casualties. Millions killed who need not have been killed. Thousands of auto deaths each year; thousands of deaths by alcoholic excess thousands of deaths in childbirth caused by neglect; thousands of deaths by tuberculosis because of carelessness and ignorance; thousands of deaths from social diseases; thousands of children dead who need not have been, had care been taken – or offered.

If only out of this war could come a new appreciation of the value of life! This slaughter, already running into the millions, is no less wasteful than that which we countenance in peacetime. Indeed, the cost of us in lives is now arbitrary, unavoidable. There is nothing we can do about it; it is in the hands of the military.

But we can avoid just such catastrophes as that which has put all Boston into mourning.

Trained for it

The interesting thing about the disaster is that the men in uniform there, the officers particularly were the ones to keep their heads and effect rescues. That was, of course, because of their discipline, this holocaust was but a duplicate of that for which they had been trained.

They had come to shore from corvettes, submarines, bombers, destroyers; from murderous tanks, from hand-to-hand fighting.

Even the horrors of that nightclub disaster were not greater, not as great, as those through which they were prepared to pass in battle with the enemy. Had the guests all been men in uniform, I doubt whether, even trapped, they would have lost their dignity and calm. There would have been fewer deaths, not because these trained men would have been braver, but because they knew the meaning of sudden death under horrific conditions.

Suppose, at each sinking of a ship, each blasting of a position, panic such as raged in the Boston nightclub were to seize our men in the Armed Forces?

I get a picture of these Navy officers, these Army men, there with their wives and sweethearts as the fire burst upon them. I get a picture of this young captain and his wife, whose bodies were found together, untouched by mark of hysterical violence.

He had learned how to take death. He had imparted his calm to his wife.

This war is teaching our men lessons, some of which they will carry with them all their lives through.

One will stand them in good stead: they will be able to take death.

It is a great asset, it should make life a braver, nobler thing.

Senator raps work ruling

Inconsistency laid to government agencies

U.S. cautioned to shun French political fight

Simms see grave danger that Washington may enter squabble
By William Philipp Simms, Scripps-Howard foreign editor

War rebuilding called U.S. job

British Laborite urges reconstruction planning

Jap guns and cargo vessel blasted in Solomon Isles

U.S. bombers attack port in Indochina

With USAAF, China (UP) – (Nov. 27, delayed)
A U.S. bombing squadron struck at Japanese-occupied territory in Indochina Saturday for the second time within a week, strewing a trail of demolition and incendiary bombs across Cẩm Phô.

The attack demolished the main power station supplying eastern Indochina’s largest soft coal mining area, destroyed large warehouses and started fires in the coal storage area. The project was developed by the Japanese the past two years as a war measure.

Coupled with the raid last month on Linshi, the new attack was designed to cripple Japan’s production of coal used to produce coke for steel manufacture.

Allies close in –
Fliers direct Guinea troops

Guide bayonet raids on Japs, bomb Buna lines
By Brydon C. Taves, United Press staff writer

U.S. bombs make hulk of French battleship

Pride of French fleet becomes hulk in Casablanca after bombs dropped by U.S. fliers in the occupation of French North Africa laid the ship wide open. This is the first picture of the wreck of the 35,000-ton battleship Jean Bart. Fire reduced her to this charred hulk after the bombs completely disabled the vessel at a wharf in the Moroccan port.

Gunner killed guarding crew of stricken bomber

Franklin sergeant stays at post ‘in case the Japs come at us again;’ 6 others escape
By George Weller

Congressmen may lose their anti-hot air systems