Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Dana A. Schmidt '33: WWII War Correspondent

The news coverage of R. W. "Johnny" Apple '52 following his death in late 2006 reminded me that an earlier alumnus, Dana Adams Schmidt '33, garnered similar laurels in the world of journalism, but retired from the field and was little noted when he passed away in 1994. The fact that Schmidt covered the Middle East from posts in Jerusalem and Beirut and wrote books about that region may be enough reason to revisit his career.

Dana Schmidt spent nearly 10 years of his boyhood in schools across Europe. When he came
to WRA, it was reported that "he speaks like a furrinner." Schmidt was on the soccer and track teams while at WRA and wrote for the Reserve Record when LaRue Piercy was the faculty moderator. He was Record editor his senior year.

Schmidt went on to Pomona College in California where he was a feature editor and wrote a daily news column for the campus paper. Following graduation, he worked briefly as a reporter in Los Angeles before entering Columbia University for a master's in journalism.

In June of 1938, Schmidt was awarded the Pulitzer Traveling Scholarship which allowed him to go to Germany as an intern for United Press International. He was still in Berlin a year later when Germany invaded Poland and World War II began. He wrote WRA to say that he had a "terrific beat" with UPI and was living in a Berlin apartment with two attaches from the American Embassy.

As fighting increased, Schmidt was relayed to safer locations in Europe including Istanbul and Cairo, but he continued to report some of the war's leading stories. In 1943, he left UPI to join the New York Times.

After the Normandy invasion in 1944, Schmidt was covering the activities of the Free Fr
ench. He wrote: "This correspondent reached the capital of collaborationist France (Vichy) through the assistance of the French underground--the first American reporter here." His story grabbed headlines in the Akron Beacon Journal and other papers worldwide.

When WWII ended, Schmidt was posted to Paris, Frankfurt, Athens, Vienna, Prague, and later in the Middle East in Cairo, Beirut and Jerusalem. One of his most adventurous journeys was to Kurdistan in northern Iraq where he covered the Kurdish rebels. To get there, he borrowed a mule and secretly entered forbidden territory. His report on this regional conflict helped him win the Overseas Press Club's George Polk Award in 1963 and was published as Journey Among Brave Men (1964). Later, while covering a civil war in Yemen, Schmidt broke his neck in a Jeep collision and had to be airlifted out. He continued sending dispatches from a Beirut hospital. Some of this is in his book, Yemen: the Unknown War (1968). His final book was called Armageddon in the Middle East (1974).

Schmidt's last foreign assignment was to Beirut where he was in 1972 when he decided to leave the New York Times to join the Christian Science Monitor and do freelance writing. During the early 1970s, Schmidt's son, Dana Adams Schmidt, Jr. briefly attended WRA. Schmidt had retired from journalism and was living in Bethesda, Md. when he died at age 78 in 1994. His books are in the Ong Library's Alumni Authors Collection.