By: M.L. Stein San Francisco Chronicle reporter by ship, Examiner reporter by plane in a 'race' to Europe to attend commemoration ceremonies on the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion sp.
THE GREAT RACE to Europe is on between the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner. Shades of Nellie Bly, some might say, including Examiner executive editor Phil Bronstein. Chronicle managing editor Dan Rosenheim says, "A race between a ship and an airplane? Give me a break." The ship is a World War II Liberty vessel, the Jeremiah O'Brien, whose passenger list includes Chronicle reporter Carl Nolte. At this writing, the ship is bound for England and France to take part in the commemoration ceremonies on the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion June 6, 1944. The plane is a World War II vintage DC-3 carrying, among others, Examiner reporter Eric Brazil, an ex-U.S. Army paratrooper. Both newsmen are filing dispatches back to their papers as they go. The Examiner also boasts a "spy" on the O'Brien, an anonymous crew member who also is writing about the voyage for the paper's readers. Bronstein said the Examiner's idea was to have a "little race" in the tradition of the longtime competition between the two newspapers, which has continued editorially despite their coupling in a joint operating agreement. "It's kind of a silly race," Rosenheim retorted. "How can there be a race between a plane and a ship? They [the Examiner] missed the boat in more ways than one. Eleven days after the O'Brien sailed, they put a guy on a plane and try to drum up interest." Still, the propeller-driven DC-3 is not exactly a Boeing 747. On May 16, a week after its departure, it had made it only as far as Reykjavik, Iceland, one of its several stops. Roseheim said Nolte's stories have drawn such strong reader interest that the paper can afford to ignore Brazil's efforts. He added that on the one day that Nolte was unable to file from the ship by radio-telephone, the paper received more than l00 calls from anxious readers. "He's writing wonderful stories and everybody knows it," the managing editor said. "They appeal to anyone who likes the sea, good writing and the old serial style of reporting." In addition to the Chronicle paying $60 a day for Nolte's passage, the reporter also does deck duty with the crew of volunteers, many of them World War II veterans. The O'Brien is the last seaworthy survivor of 2,771 Liberty ships built to carry troops and cargo during the war. It had not been to sea for 48 years before sailing from San Francisco on April 19. The skipper is 78-year-old George Jahn, who commanded Liberty ships in the war. Nolte detailed a history of the Liberty ships and interviewed crew members who had served on them. "In my wildest dreams, I never thought I'd be doing this again," he quotes a crewman at the helm. Brazil, in one of his dispatches, noted that the O'Brien was scheduled to arrive at Portsmouth, England, on May 22, three days after the DC-3 landed in Britain. The flight, he reported, had not been entirely a smooth one. Brazil recounted that a window blew wide open during rough weather between Bangor, Maine, and Goose Bay, Labrador. "Co-pilot Stewart Carson wrestled it closed," Brazil wrote. The DC-3 also has its place in history. According to Brazil, it was the flying command post of Air Force Gen. Henry "Hap" Arnold in the war. Meanwhile, the Examiner's "spy," who calls himself "The Eagle," was writing a personalized account that, to some extent, overlapped Nolte's reports. At one point, the mysterious ? except to Bronstein ? correspondent told of the ship's radio contact with another ship on the horizon. When told of the O'Brien's plans for the D-Day celebration, the other vessel replied tersely: "We are a German ship. Have a safe journey." Rosenheim scoffed at the Examiner's cloak-and-dagger approach to journalism. "I don't understand it," he said. "There are no secrets that I know of aboard the ship." But despite Rosenheim's dismissal of the competitive aspect of the story, the Examiner is playing it big. "The Race To England Is ON!" proclaimed the headline in one of the paper's house ads. Nellie Bly, that intrepid New York World reporter who raced around the globe to beat Phileas Fogg's 80-day feat, would have loved it ? to say nothing of her editor.