William J. Dunn · 1994
War correspondents have long been known as eyewitnesses to history, and William J. Dunn certainly was that. But Dunn also was a participant in one of the most storied events of World War II: Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Philippines.
Not only was Dunn there in 1944 to report that event to his CBS radio audience back home, but he also is one of seven men made famous in a photo of MacArthur’s party wading ashore at Leyte Gulf. Dunn is at MacArthur’s left, typewriter tucked under his arm. Besides the photo, Dunn’s likeness is memorialized in one of seven bronze statues that are part of the MacArthur Memorial at the landing site.
Dunn had met MacArthur three years earlier. “I found him a gold mine of information on Asia in almost any of its varied aspects,” Dunn wrote. “The `fifteen-minute’ interview decreed by a member of his staff came closer to two hours before he suddenly rose from his seat and came out from behind his desk, hand outstretched, with a big smile. It was his customary method of terminating an interview.”
That, to be sure, was not the only distinction for Dunn, who was born in 1906 in Rosedale, Ind., and who died in 1992 in Rhinebeck, N.Y.
Dunn was the only broadcast journalist to cover the entire Pacific War from its beginning in 1939 until the Japanese surrendered aboard the U.S.S. Missouri in 1945.
That trek to the Pacific theater began in 1937 when Dunn joined the fledgling CBS News department in New York and became its first news editor. In 1939, sensing that war was imminent in the Pacific, CBS sent Dunn overseas, where he covered all major battle theaters for the next six years.
Dunn’s career in journalism began when he was 9 when he set type in his brother’s print shop in South Bend, to which the family had moved from Parke County.
Dunn attended South Bend High (now Central) and he was making $18 a week as a soda jerk in a drugstore.
Upstairs was the News Times. One night the sports editor told Dunn things were hectic in the newsroom, President Harding had died and the paper was putting out an extra. Dunn went upstairs to watch and was hooked. “This is for me,” he thought. So he traded the soda fountain for a sports writer’s typewriter, at a $13-a-week cut in pay.
His first assignment was to cover a local college football team: Knute Rockne’s Notre Dame. His first story was about the Irish’s 74-0 victory over Kalamazoo College in 1923.
“They told me not to get too close to the team,” Dunn told South Bend Tribune Managing Editor Ed Perkins in 1990, “because my editor didn’t want `Rock’ to know what a young kid they had covering the game.”
Soon Dunn had become sports editor.
In 1926 he left South Bend, which he always considered as his hometown, and went to work for United Press in Indianapolis. Later he worked for the Associated Press, International News Service and the Detroit News. He also left journalism briefly to work in public relations for American Airlines.
Then it was on to CBS. And on to history.
“When World War II broke out,” South Bend’s Perkins wrote, “the voice of `Bill Dunn reporting’ became a nightly visitor to thousands of American homes.”
After the war, he helped rebuild the Manila Broadcasting Co. in the Philippines and then pursued a new career in public relations, advertising and book writing. He also returned briefly to war reporting, covering the Korean War in 1950 for NBC.
Among his books were a recounting of the war called “Pacific Microphone” and travel and cookbooks.
Late in his life, he summarized his life for the publication Contemporary Authors: “Have been a traveler and bon vivant all my life; resided on four continents; circled the globe five times, across North Pole twice; covered the Burma Road on a truck (food was lousy) and have sailed or flown over … about thirty-five seas, at least. Motivating force is unquenchable curiosity, love of good food, wines, music, and books. Inexcusably lazy but have a knack for meeting deadlines…. Fortunately, my wife is footloose and hungry as myself.”
Dunn is survived by one daughter, Patricia Simmons, who lives in England.