Journalist and historian Alvin Josephy Jr. died this week at the age of 90. He's most remembered for his writing on Indians of the American West. But in his earlier life as a reporter, he was best known as one of very few correspondents recording the sounds of World War II for the people back home. WNYC archivist Andy Lanset plays some of Josephy's old tapes for Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This week, historian Alvin M. Josephy, Jr. died. His obituaries emphasized his scholarly work about Native Americans. But what caught our eye was the part Josephy played in World War II. As one of a handful of combat journalists in the Marine Corps, Josephy lugged heavy primitive sound equipment into battles, making recordings that played on the evening news, bringing the war to the people back home. WNYC historian Andy Lanset archives everything, and he dug out an interview he did with Josephy a few years back. Hi, Andy.
ANDY LANSET: Hello, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So 15 years ago you spoke with Josephy about his 1944 landing on Guam. And at the beginning of the tape, he mentions something called "the half track" and a "CB." What are those?
ANDY LANSET: Well, a half track, as I understand it, is an amphibious or quasi amphibious vehicle which took the soldiers from the big ship onto shore.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And a CB?
ANDY LANSET: A CB is a helper. He's, he's part of the Marines.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, on the tape he describes this recording equipment and he talks about a tape, and he refers to a needle.
ANDY LANSET: The recorders were Recordgraph machines and they used what they called Amertype film. And you were looking at something that run like a 35 millimeter filmstrip. And the needle was in a fixed position, and I believe Josephy will tell you the rest.
ALVIN JOSEPHY: It was a very ingenious machine. It's not in existence any more. But the great asset was that the needle was in a fixed head, so it couldn't be jarred by any kinds of explosion or anything else. That was in the well of the half track. And I had 40 feet of wire and a hand microphone, and I had a condom wrapped over the microphone to keep salt water out of it, because when we hit the lip of the reef, I was going to get out and wade with the men. And about 26 of the 32 men in our little landing boat were hit crossing the reef.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How was it that the Marines ended up with this equipment to begin with?
ANDY LANSET: Well, the gear came to them initially from the Library of Congress because the Music Division at the time, the head of the Music Division thought, well, they're in the islands in the Pacific, let's get that folk music [BROOKE LAUGHS], let's get the people singing. The Marine Corps had other plans. They wanted a way to help publicize what their guys were doing on the front lines. And, I mean, as well, they fulfilled their end of the bargain. They got - [OVERTALK]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: They delivered some folk music?
ANDY LANSET: They did indeed.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So how many recordings ended up at the Library of Congress from this Marine Corps experiment?
ANDY LANSET: Well, from what I understand, there are about 2,000 recordings, and of that, it makes up about 500 hours of material.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, you have some of the recordings that Josephy made under battle conditions in a foxhole. And you talked about that when you spoke to him 15 years ago about how he came to make that recording. Let's hear a little bit of that.
ALVIN JOSEPHY: Well, this fellow Wheaton, the CB and I dug a two man foxhole so one could sleep for two hours or an hour or whatever, and the other'd stay awake. And I had the recording gear, usually would put it right next to my head and the hand microphone next to me. And I went to sleep and was sleeping on my back, and Wheaton suddenly began to nudge me. And then I came awake and I heard all kinds of noises going on. "Marine, you die!" they were screaming, the Japanese were yelling. And and then they came down. They came rushing down from the top of the hill, mobs of them. And I was trying to stay very quiet because I didn't want them to find our foxhole. [LAUGHS] I didn't know what was going on. So I had this hand microphone pressed right against my mouth and I was speaking into it. And when you do that, you speak very slowly and try to enunciate everything so it gets in there clearly. And it sounds like I'm being operated on or something, you know? [LAUGHS]
ALVIN JOSEPHY [ON RECORDGRAPH]: Well, I would like to be able to speak louder and with more clarity, but unfortunately the slightest noise, the slightest rustle will draw fire not only from the Japanese, who are someplace around us, but from our own Marines, who are hiding nearby in foxholes like this one.
ANDY LANSET: Josephy kept recording from battle to battle. He ended up on Iwo Jima. He was awarded the Bronze Star. He definitely was someone who you had a sense, really had his wits about him and could have survived well under such dire circumstances.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: All right, Andy. Thank you so much.
ANDY LANSET: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: WNYC archivist, Andy Lanset. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] copyright 2005 WNYC Radio