Reporting from the Front: Richard Tregaskis, War Correspondent

Tregaskis in Ca Mau, 1963. Richard Tregaskis Papers, Box 82, Folder Vietnam - Tregaskis in Vietnam, 1960s-1970s.

Although not members of the armed forces, war correspondents risk their lives on missions to inform the world about what is truly happening in war zones. One such war correspondent was Richard Tregaskis (1916-1973), whose papers are held here at the American Heritage Center. As a correspondent, Tregaskis covered many wars, including WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. He received the International News Service Medal of Honor for Heroic Devotion to Duty (1942-1943), and the Purple Heart (1944). He also traveled the world many times over as a writer for a number of magazines including The Saturday Evening Post, and wrote several screenplays.

At the start of WWII, Tregaskis was assigned to cover the Pacific Fleet operations as a correspondent for the International News Service. As a fleet correspondent, was aboard a cruiser that escorted the Doolittle Raiders and their carrier on the first raid of the Japanese mainland and he covered the Naval battles at the Coral Sea and Midway. He accompanied the operation to Guadalcanal and landed with the Fifth Marine Regiment, the assault wave of the attack, and stayed several months with the forces there. He wrote about this experience in his book Guadalcanal Diary.

He was then transferred to the European theater, where he went into the Salerno landings in Italy with the American 82nd Airborne Division and was seriously wounded by German mortar fire while serving with paratroops and US Rangers near Cassino.

Richard Tregaskis recovering from a head injury received in Italy, 1943. Richard Tregaskis Papers, Box 4, Folder 18.

He was hospitalized for five months, temporarily lost his speech, and had two operations during which a plate was fixed in his skull. After recovery, he joined American and British forces in France just before the breakout from the Normandy Beachhead. He remained with the American Infantry and Armored forces during the sweep through Northern France, Belgium, and into Germany. On the western front, Tregaskis became the first correspondent to fly in a fighter plane during a dogfight with enemy planes.

In 1945, on assignment for the Saturday Evening Post, Tregaskis joined a B-29 crew where he flew from Kansas to Guam, where they were based for assaults on Japan. He flew with the crew on five bombing missions, and was transferred to the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga where he flew with a torpedo bomber squadron in an attack on the Japanese battleship Ise. By the time the war ended, he had flown in 32 combat missions.  Tregaskis then joined the military government staff of General MacArthur’s forces at Manila as a correspondent. He was aboard the USS Missouri for the surrender of the Japanese and flew with MacArthur on the first airlift to Japan.  Tregaskis then covered the Chinese Civil War, and in 1953 he went to Korea to write and direct a documentary film titled “The Faith We Hold,” on the United Nations forces fighting there.

In 1957, Tregaskis first visited Vietnam when he drove a jeep the length of the country from Hue to Saigon.  In 1962, he returned to cover the war in Vietnam and flew 68 assault missions with helicopter-borne Vietnamese troops (flown by Americans). From this experience came Vietnam Diary, which won Tregaskis the CBS George Polk Award for Hazardous Reporting. He returned to Vietnam many times in the late 1960s-early 1970s to cover various stories there.

Tregaskis with Viet Cong POWs after an assault mission. The Viet Cong shot down a U.S. military helicopter. Richard Tregaskis Papers, Box 79, Folder Vietnam - POWs, 1962-1963

Although most known for covering wars, Tregaskis traveled the world many times over reporting on a variety of issues and topics. In 1946, he started a 45,000 mile trip on assignment for True Magazine. It was during this time that he covered the Chinese Civil War, at a time when the war between the Nationalists and the Communists was reaching its climax. This trip also took him to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Java, Bali, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Iraq, and Egypt. He also spent time in Australia writing about American migrants who had gone there to settle, and stayed with families in England, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Sweden. In 1955, he went on assignments to Japan, Hawaii, Germany, England, Hong Kong, Okinawa, and the Philippines along with his 2nd wife, Walton, who was now his photographer. In 1963-1964, He completed another ‘round-the-world trip with his 3rd wife, Moana (also a photographer), while on assignment for a number of magazines.

Tregaskis was also interested in air transport and the space program. In 1957, Tregaskis flew on the first flight of America’s first transcontinental jet transport, the Boeing 707. In 1959, he made the inaugural Qantas flight to Australia, and he flew to Tahiti in 1960 on the inaugural flight of the French airline TAI. In 1961, he wrote X-15 Diary about the work of the pilots, scientists, engineers, Air Force, and NASA pioneers in the space world as they developed and flew the X-15 rocket ship, the first space craft.

Tregaskis’ career ended tragically with his death in 1973; Tregaskis was swimming along the Hawaiian coast in August, 1973 when he drowned.

The Richard Tregaskis papers at the American Heritage Center are full of interesting material. Aside from both published and draft versions of his books and articles, the collection contains a large number of Tregaskis’s diaries and notebooks that he used on his travels and assignments to record his observations and research, including his time in Italy and France during WWII and his various trips to Vietnam. The collection also contains many wonderful photographs from his travels and assignments during WWII, Vietnam, China, Korea, and all around the world. Everyone should be able to find something to interest them in the papers of this fascinating individual.

–Emily Christopherson, Processing Archivist

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