General Douglas MacArthur had not even entered the city when Tokyo was declared off limits to war correspondents in September 1945. To enforce the edict, roadblocks were set up and manned by grizzled veterans of the 1st Cavalry and 11th Airborne divisions. Given the security cordon around Tokyo, odds were stacked against any correspondent plunging into a strange and hostile city and getting a magazine printed, but Allen J. Fagans did it. It was just one of many adventures the veteran newsman experienced while getting the news to the troops as the pointman for Newsweek’s “Battle Baby” edition.
Fagans began his Newsweek career in 1938 in the circulation department. When the service editions of the news magazine were created, he was placed in charge of the magazine’s special Battle Baby edition for the armed forces. These weekly special editions were smaller than the normal magazine, carried no advertising and were printed for the exclusive use of service personnel overseas. They provided up-to-date war news, and perhaps most important, news from back home in the States.
In the beginning of the Battle Baby program, both Time and Newsweek printed their GI editions in the United States. “Later on it became apparent,” Fagans related, “that to secure the best quick distribution, it would be more practical to actually print the publications in some overseas area…as close as possible to the front lines.”
At first, this meant setting up shop in Honolulu and later, as MacArthur’s advance in the Southwest Pacific picked up steam, the presses for the Pacific edition of Newsweek moved to Sydney, Australia. It would not be the last move. After the fall of Manila in March 1945, production moved to the Carmelo and Bauerman printing plant in Manila. Having managed the Battle Baby edition from the States for years, Fagans recalled that “it was at this point [June] that I entered the scene and took charge of the Manila operation.”
From Manila it was Fagans’ responsibility to receive negatives of each issue that had been prepared in the United States and flown under priority to the Philippines.
“When the negatives were secured at the [Army] Air Forces base at Nichols Field,” Fagans said, “I would transport them to Carmelo and Bauerman to oversee their conversion into offset plates. We then printed the magazines and sent them out to the distribution points that would serve the troops at the front line, the Marines and the Navy.”
By all accounts, the homesick soldiers, sailors and Marines were eager to get their hands on the magazine as soon as they could. In one instance, Broadway columnist and movie producer Mark Hellinger was seated next to a young sergeant on an Air Transport Command flight across India, and as soon as the plane left the ground, the soldier took out his copy of Newsweek and began reading it carefully and systematically.
Anxious to catch up on the news from home, Hellinger waited patiently for more than an hour to have a look at the magazine, but the sergeant never lifted his head. Finally the frustrated columnist could contain himself no longer. “He hasn’t missed a comma,” he moaned. Newsweek correspondent Harold Isaacs, who was also on the plane, leaned over and touched the sergeant on the knee, and asked, “Do you always read Newsweek this carefully?” The sergeant looked up and said, “When I can get hold of it.”
In another instance, USO entertainer Keenan Wynn had an interesting story to tell of the magazine’s appeal and recounted the tale during a spot on the popular “Kraft Music Hall” radio program, hosted by Bing Crosby. Wynn, just back from a 38,000-mile tour of the Himalayas in the China-Burma-India Theater, had completed his part in the film See Here, Private Hargrove. Since it was his first featured role, he was anxious to hear about the film’s reception, but once in the Far East he could find no American newspaper less than several weeks old.
Then one day as he entertained the GIs at a post deep in the Burmese jungle, a plane circled low overhead to drop supplies, including a bundle of Newsweek’s Battle Baby that was published only one week behind the U.S. edition. Miraculously, it contained a review of the New York opening of the movie. Wynn went berserk; he had gained a very complimentary notice. He ran through the camp, showing it to every soldier in the area.
News was not the only thing that attracted the GIs to Fagans’ magazine. The boys also loved pin-ups, and Newsweek responded with the “Battle Baby Pin-Up, strictly for G-eyes.” Elaine Williams seemed to be a favorite, perhaps because she always responded to all those who requested a signed picture and asked for one in return. Jane Nigh was another popular choice, and was picked by many branches of the service as No. 1. One adoring fan commented that “Miss Nigh is a girl we would like to be stranded in the jungle with.”
As he worked diligently to get the news to the troops, Fagans faced many challenges, including printing a magazine amid the rubble of the Philippine capital where almost everything was in short supply, and fending off advances from competing magazines—and the various military branches he was attempting to serve. Carmelo and Bauerman was the only commercial printing plant still in operation when the Americans arrived in the city and Fagans’ chief correspondent, Bob Shaplin, had immediately contracted with the printer to produce Newsweek. Soon thereafter, representatives from Time and the armed forces also began asking Carmelo and Bauerman to print material for them. Soon, all three parties were fighting for time on the coveted presses.
“The various branches of the service had requirements where printed material could best be satisfied by printing them in Manila,” Fagans recalled. “Through MacArthur’s offices, these services commandeered Carmelo and Bauerman’s printing plant. There was such a furor over this that a conference was called to determine the facilities available and how they could best be used.
“As I was the only one who had made a study of all printing equipment available in the Manila area, I was invited to participate in the conference, although I had no official position. Through my knowledge of the capacity of these various presses, I was able to work out a program to satisfy the demands of all the various branches and continue to have Newsweek and Time printed on schedule.”
Although most of his time was devoted to getting the magazine to press, Fagans did take advantage of opportunities to actually report on the war. He was one of only two Newsweek correspondents to report on the little remembered flight of Japanese envoys to Ie Shima on Okinawa to begin negotiations for surrender to General MacArthur in August 1945.
In a colorful description of the event, Fagans wrote: “The silvery C-54 circled Nichols Field and gracefully swooped down on a runway at 5:55 in the afternoon. It drew up in front of the operations room and the engines idled and cut off. The reception committee, headed by Maj. Gen. Charles A. Willoughby, MacArthur’s intelligence chief, waited with an air of expectancy. Behind the barriers were some 2,000 spectators, mostly GIs and nurses and Wacs. Air Transport Command soldiers trundled the ramp into position and Col. Leo H. Dawson of the Fifth Air Command entered the plane to superintend the disbarkation [sic] of the emissaries. It took more than five minutes to straighten the protocol. General [Torashiro] Kawabe, heading the delegation, wanted to leave last, but the colonel finally persuaded him to get out first.
“Wearing a tight-fitting cap, baggy pants, a greenish tunic with campaign and decoration ribbons, the short, roundfaced general stepped briskly down the ramp with his long ceremonial sword dangling from his belt. He drew up before Col. S.F. Mashbir of the Allied Translator-Interrogation Section, hesitated and snapped a salute which the American returned. Kawabe stuck out his hand; Mashbir instinctively started to shake it and then jerked back his hand.
“The fifteen other Japs followed and the crowd became jocular. Spectators shouted: ‘Come on, we can’t keep MacArthur waiting!’ ‘Did you bring the white horse?’ ‘Banzai!’ But the reception acted with strict formality. Excepting the two generals and the admiral, the Japs carried bulging suitcases. All the officers wore swords.
“In twos and threes the emissaries entered seven staff cars with American officers and the caravan zoomed off under escort of military policeman who bore down on their sirens. The route to their quarters took them through the ruins of Manila, past great tent encampments and along Dewey Boulevard, where they saw masts of Jap ships jutting from the bay, which was packed with American supply vessels.”
While covering the surrender delegation on Okinawa was an emotional moment, it was only a prelude to the last big story of the war—the formal surrender of Imperial Japan and the occupation of Tokyo. And after many adventures, Fagans was one of the first to report it.
Fagans had originally been one of a handful of journalists chosen to go in with the leading waves of the invasion forces, but the unexpectedly quick end to the war following the atomic blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed the plans.
Instead of wading ashore under hostile fire to cover the greatest invasion in military history, Fagans and the other journalists made their way to Japan on a meandering flight that took them first to Okinawa. They remained there for two days until being allowed to continue on to Yokohama, where they were told they would wait until MacArthur had established his headquarters in Tokyo, which could take weeks.
Understandably, the correspondents chafed at being kept from reporting the news. Determined to get the word out, Fagans, along with NBC correspondent Merrill C. (“Red”) Mueller and three or four others, commandeered a charcoalburning truck in Yokohama and set out on their own. With luck and determination, they circumvented the GI-manned roadblocks and wended their way into Tokyo.
Not long after getting there, Fagans and Mueller took off on separate assignments. Fagans was gung-ho to get the Battle Baby edition of Newsweek, for which he carried offset plates, off the press, and Mueller was equally determined to find an open mike and make the first American broadcast from the defeated enemy’s capital. All the correspondents agreed that they would pool their resources to get their stories out.
Fagans wanted to get the job done, and he had with him the name of the Toppan Printing Company, but not the foggiest idea of its location or facilities. Undaunted, he began his quest at the offices of the Minichi Shimbun, one of the two largest daily newspapers in Japan, assuming they would be able to point him in the direction of the printer.
“I walked all by myself down the middle of the boulevard,” Fagans remembered. “I had my hand on a .45-caliber automatic all the way. I was scared to death—scared of the people on the sidewalks, and they were even more scared of me.” Inside Minichi Shimbun, Fagans came upon a startled telephone operator who put him in touch with a man named Tomoka, who went along with him to the printing company and interpreted for him.
With Tomoka’s help, Fagans worked out arrangements for printing 10,000 copies of Newsweek. In one of the earliest business deals between the former foes, the press had the magazine printed within 48 hours. This issue was predated September 3, 1945, and its true publication date preceded the actual surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri.
Meanwhile, Mueller had made his way straight for Radio Tokyo, the most powerful shortwave radio station in the world. “From there,” Fagans said, “Mueller broadcast that MacArthur was ashore in Japan. This was the first news on this that went out to the Japanese people.
“All of us,” Fagans explained, “had violated MacArthur’s rules by going to Tokyo. When I went back to the Imperial Hotel, I was picked up by a colonel. He had a half-dozen names of persons on unauthorized visits to Tokyo.
“We were given eight hours to get back to PR headquarters in Yokohama or be discredited and flown back to the U.S. I had made arrangements about getting the Newsweek copies delivered but didn’t know at the time if they would be.
“We certainly understood that General MacArthur wasn’t happy about our violating his rules, but he didn’t express displeasure personally. As the war had just ended and the general had more pressing problems on his mind, it was just allowed to blow over.”
Fagans’ printer followed their contract to the letter and had copies of the Battle Baby edition of Newsweek announcing Japan’s surrender prior to the actual surrender ceremony. Hat in hand, but no doubt with some satisfaction, Fagans distributed copies of the magazine in person to General MacArthur and officers of his staff. “MacArthur was sitting by himself in his office when I entered the building,” Fagans recalled. “A Marine guard said he was in his office and motioned me to enter. I walked in and stammered what I had come for, but the general was very cordial.
“I asked him to autograph my copy of Newsweek, but he graciously refused to autograph my copy until I autographed one for him. Following up on this, I then contacted other top-ranking officers and fellow war correspondents for their autographs as well. It was the first copy of an American magazine printed in Japan since 1939.”
Among the 50 signatures Fagans collected were a who’s who of Southwest Pacific military commanders: Robert L. Eichelberger, Eighth Army commander; William Chase, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division; Richard K. Sutherland, MacArthur’s chief of staff; Charles Willoughby, intelligence chief; LeGrande A. Diller, chief press officer; and Courtney Whitney, MacArthur’s military and political confidante and alter ego.
Following his coup over MacArthur’s security team and with the general’s displeasure evidently past, Fagans was present for the formal surrender ceremony aboard Missouri on September 2. “Most of us witnessed the actual signing seated on the superstructure, gun turrets, etc.— above the actual scene,” Fagans recalled. “It was a very brief ceremony; the whole thing was over in about two hours. Correspondents went out to the Missouri by destroyer escort, and we were herded up to an area that overlooked the whole thing.”
Fagans continued to work for the Battle Baby edition before returning to the States and resuming his career in publishing, his fascinating experiences in bringing the news to the troops on the front line behind him. In 1975 he was invited to the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Va., to attend a memorial service commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Japanese surrender. There he saw some of the people he had gotten to know during the war, including Brig. Gen. Diller, Bill Chase and Red Mueller.
Of all the memories the men shared during the reunion, however, the favorite was the story of how Fagans beat MacArthur to Tokyo and produced the memorable issue of the Battle Baby edition of Newsweek that nearly got him ignominiously sent home.
Originally published in the February 2006 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.