Ray Boomhower's new book Dispatches from the Pacific dives deep on the reporting of World War II correspondent Robert L. Sherrod. In this interview, Boomhower shares some of what he learned about Sherrod and what his work means to people today.
Indiana University Press: If someone is coming into this book without knowing much about Robert L. Sherrod, what should they know?
Ray Boomhower: Robert Sherrod was a World War II correspondent. He wrote for Time and Life magazines. I kind of compare and contrast him to Ernie Pyle, where he’s kind of the Ernie Pyle of the Marine Corps and the War in the Pacific. He meant as much to the Marines as Ernie did to the average GI in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and France.
Sherrod was in the Pacific War almost from the start. He was one of the first correspondents to go to Australia and was there to greet Douglas MacArthur after he made his famous escape from the Philippines and vowed “I shall return.” Sherrod was there to hear that speech. Later he covered the fighting in the Aleutian Islands, and from there he concentrated mainly on the Central Pacific battles. He went to Tarawa, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, and followed the Marines as they fought against the Japanese in the Central Pacific.
IUP: How did you first encounter Sherrod and his work?
RB: I’ve always been interested in World War II, particularly in the Pacific Theater of operations. As a young man I was helped in that interest by reading Sherrod’s book Tarawa: The Story of a Battle, which was originally published in 1944 and was a bestseller at the time. It really fired my imagination because I too wanted to be a reporter growing up, and later was a newspaper reporter like Sherrod was early in his career. I was fascinated by the fact that here was a guy that was on the operation with the Marines, landed with them, was there for the entire three days of the battle, and his firsthand observations of the fighting just really captured my imagination. I wanted to be someone like that who could be there to offer these firsthand observations of what the fighting was like.
IUP: What stands out about his writing? What keeps you coming back?
RB: I think his identification with the men he followed into battle, his reluctance to be one of those he called “communique commandos,” a reporter who stayed behind the front lines and just took the handouts from the public relations officer and just made the reports from that. He wanted to be there with the men who were doing the actual fighting, and that’s what makes him stand out from the pack of reporters who covered the war.
IUP: How did you put this book together? What was your process like?
RB: Mainly there were two main collections of Sherrod’s work, one at Syracuse University archives and one at the Marine Corps archives at Quantico, so just making visits there, collecting the material. It’s kind of a slice of life biography. It’s not a full biography of Sherrod. I concentrate mainly on his work during World War II. I do talk a little about his early life and what happened to him after the war, but it mainly concentrates on his time in the Pacific during World War II.
IUP: What do you hope people take away from this book?
RB: I think the courage he displayed, the way that he covered the action in the Pacific. His contributions represents well what reporters bring to the war effort, reporting on it, trying to make people back home realize the gravity of the situation, what it would take to actually win the war, and get them to sympathize and identify with the men under fire.