UPI Broke Story on Start of Korean War

NOTE: The following was compiled by Dick Harnett:

The Korean War, which started in 1950, found United Press ready with numerous correspondents and editors who had covered World War II.

UP achieved an historic beat on the start of the war. Jack James, in Seoul, made the first report of the invasion of South Korea by the North on June 25, 1950. Not even the U.S. Government or the United Nations had any report of the action until United Press dispatches began moving. It was a two hour, 40 minute beat.

In New York, Eugene Patterson, Charlie McCann, two veteran editors, were on duty. "Bulletin! Break 'em Up!" Patterson shouted. It was on the wire in seconds. This was late Saturday and near closing time for Sunday morning newspapers.

Patterson recalled: "AP as usual tried to pee on it with one of their patented doorholders: 'We are checking reports that . . .' But Julius Frandsen in Washington was already informing Gen. Omar Bradley of the Joint Chiefs that they had a war on their hands."

The New York Times, in a historic case of journalistic arrogance, refused to print the story because AP had not "confirmed" it. The Times editor later wrote United Press an unusual letter of apology "for letting AP talk him out of printing our scoop and thus missing an edition on the start of a war," said Patterson.

James' beat was partly luck. But it was not pure luck. As a conscientious bureau manager he went into the office every Sunday morning to check the wires, while most correspondents took the day off.

James had planned a picnic later in the day, but was going to the bureau first. It started to drizzle and he remembered he had left his raincoat at the U.S. Embassy press room. He would stop and get it.

A U.S. military attache saw James hastening to the press room. Assuming the UP correspondent knew about the North Korean invasion, he asked, "What do you hear from the border?"

Up to that point James had heard nothing about the invasion, but the officer's question gave him the slight scent of a story. "Not much. What do you hear?"

"I hear it's started everywhere but Eighth Division Area," the officer told James. That was enough. The picnic was forgotten.

There had been warnings of a communist buildup north of the 38th parallel which divided the country after World War II, but on that weekend there was no indication of anything imminent. Half the Korean army was on weekend leave. Experts thought if an invasion occurred, it would likely be after the rainy season, in August.

James began phoning around. He hesitated to file anything to New York until it was coppered. There had been many false alarms. Dependable information was hard to come by. Telephones to the border area were down. Military radio facilities were swamped.

Going over to the Korean Defense Ministry, James found generals asking him what he knew about the invasion. After two hours of digging he was certain something was going on at the border, and he knew it was deadline time for Sunday morning newspapers in New York. He filed a bulletin saying the North Koreans had "launched general attacks along the 38th parallel." He advised the desk not to call it a war at that point because it might be no more than a probing action.

A half hour after filing the bulletin, James saw North Korean airplanes dropping bombs on Seoul. This removed his doubts.

UP's six-hour break ahead of all opposition at a crucial time for U.S. newspapers strengthened the agency's credibility. An aggressive effort was launched to stay ahead on the war that President Truman called a "police action" but cost 50,000 American casualties.

Reinforcements were quickly sent, Rutherford Poats and Peter Kalischer from Tokyo, Charles Moore and Glenn Stackhouse battlefront staff also included Ralph Teatsorth, Bob Vermillion, Doc Quigg, Joe Quinn, Robert C. Miller, Pete Webb, LeRoy Hansen, Fred Painton and Murray Moler. Earnest Hoberecht, Tokyo chief, was backed up by Frank Tremaine and Ralph Teatsorth.

Charles Corddry, UP's aviation expert in Washington, was sent over to do stories on the air war. The American Unipressers were aided by the Japanese staff in Tokyo and by Korean George Suh in Seoul, who was able to provide reports from Seoul after the city was taken until the communist invaders arrested him. He was not released until Seoul was liberated.

Within two days of the outbreak of fighting, Hoberecht arranged to lease the only 24-hour radio-teletype circuit from Korea to Tokyo for UP's exclusive use. This gave the service an advantage throughout the war. Other correspondents had to wait in line to use military communications when available or wait their turn on the single telephone line to Tokyo. Several hundred correspondents showed up and communications became chaotic.

United Press spent $1,000 a day just getting copy from the war front by telephone, radio and cable. Reporters called from anywhere they could get access to a telephone.

Hoberecht also bought around-the-clock radio-teletype service from Tokyo to New York. News was sent to a receiving station in California. The circuit was called the "Jagcast."

At Moraga, east of San Francisco, dispatches were transcribed and relayed instantly on a special cross-country wire that UP also leased especially for the Asia news. Commercial radio-teletype facilities of Press Wireless, Mackay and RCA, were also used. Urgent copy went two or three separate routes to ensure prompt delivery.