Joe Grigg's WWII Experiences

The following was compiled in 2001 by 1970s and 80s European-Mideast staffer Richard Roy, summarizing the career highlights of Joseph W. Grigg, who covered much European history for United Press and UPI over a nearly half-century long career.

The material apparently came from UPI logs and Grigg's own signoff message in 1982.

It includes Grigg's recollection of the arrest of UP's Richard C. Hottelet by the Nazis and many other items of interest. Hottelet, of course, later had a very long career with CBS.

At last report, Joseph Grigg was living in Georgia.


Joe Grigg joined the United Press in London in 1934. He covered the start of World War II from Berlin, saw Hitler's Wehrmacht march into Warsaw, was interned after Pearl Harbor, was torpedoed on an Atlantic convoy, and re-opened the UP's Paris bureau in 1944 from the bar of -- where else? As one Unipress log writer put it, the bar of the Hotel Scribe .

The raw outline of Grigg's postings and assignments hardly do justice to the immensity of his travels and experiences but the from that UP French re-start at the Scribe, he became manager for France, then manager for Germany, then Chief European Correspondent, a title he held for 25 years. As one Unipresser put it, he "welcomed, worked with and survived some pretty eccentric bosses and colleagues."

Grigg knew Hitler and Eisenhower, Stalin and Churchill, De Gaulle and Adenauer -- and they knew him. For many of us in Euromedaf, he was a link with the halcyon days of the United Press. He covered virtually every major news story in the division for almost 50 years.

When he retired in 1982 (when once more I was back with UPI, this time in Southern Africa) he said in a valedictory note to us all:

"Nearly half a century (shocking thought!) of laboring in the vineyard hasn't lacked lighter moments. Among them:

"Covering a rehearsal of King George VI's coronation in Westminster Abbery in 1937:

"A dozen flush toilets were installed in the depths of the building for the benefit of hard-pressed peers and peeresses. To check the noise level, the dean assigned an abbey official to each toilet with orders at a signal to pull all the chains simultaneously. The noise was horrendous. The dean rushed down the nave shouting 'My God, stop it; it's like the Niagara Falls!"

Several fliush toilets were removed before the actual ceremony.

"In January 1939 I was transferred to the UP Berlin bureau and made an advance reservation at the Hotel Prinz Albrecht where I had stayed in previous years. At Friedrichstrasse station, Ed Beattie of the UP Berlin met me.

"'Boy, he said. 'You'd have been in trouble. The Prinz Albrecht has been taken over by the Gestapo and the cellars converted into torture chambers.' I checked into another hotel.

"Less on the light side, two years later the Gestapo called at 7 a.m. at the Berlin apartment I shared with fellow Unipresser Dick Hottelet, now a CBS correspondent. He was hauled off to Alexanderplatz Secret Police headquarters and held in solitary for three months on a phony espionage charge. Later that day the Gestapo telephoned me at the UP office, said they had nothing against me personally but would like to search my apartment and, incredibly, could they make an apointment at my convienience.

"It goes without saying that I destroyed every scrap of paper before they arrived.

During World War II, Grigg crossed the Atlantic twice -- in a convoy in 1942 which took three weeks from Liverpool to New York, and back in 1943 aboard the 60,000-ton liner Queen Mary carrying 19,000 GIs from New York to the Clyde in five days.

"The convoy ship on which I travelled had a six-inch gun mounted on the fantail and volunteers were invited from male passengers to supplement the three-man Royal Navy crew. I volunteered. One freezing morning during gunnery practice we noticed one of our volunteer crewmen was missing. Moments later he was located -- sheltering from the wind inside the magazine among crates of shells, smoking a cigarette. That ended his career as a gunner."

As UP's Paris manager in the late 1940s, Grigg covered the rise and fall of some 20 French governments -- almost all at 3 a.m., the hour at which Fourth Republic cabinets fell and new ones were formed.

"On one such occasion, the prime minister of the time, an elderly politician named Henri 'Call Me Kelly' Queuille, went down to the Elysee Palace at 2 a.m. to hand his resignation to President Vincent Auriol.

"Time dragged on and Queuille didn't reappear. I whipped out dramatic leads, speculating that the president was trying to convince him not to quit. Alas, for historical accuracy, I learned from a presidential aide next day that in fact Auriol accepted Queuille's resignation at once and the two old boys then settled down to consume two bottles of champagne and an unknown number of brandies to toast the occasion. Queuille finally staggered out as dawn was breaking at 5 a.m. and another Fourth Republic government had fallen."

A second stint for Grigg as Paris bureau manager during the De Gaulle era in the 1960s was highlighted by Le Grand Charles' periodic mass set-piece news conferences. Not only did De Gaulle answer the questions but he wrote most of them himself and had them dished out in advance to "reliable" reporters who could be trusted to ask them.

"But the system failed once when a question De Gaulle wanted to answer about Algeria was not asked. At the end of the news conference he remarked with a twinkle, 'Did I hear a question about Algeria? Well', he said, 'If one had been asked, my answer would have been the following.' "He got his point across."

Grigg also brought to mind some of the hairier moments of a long career.

"A 3 a.m. visit by the Gestapo in Berlin soon after Pearl Harbour to drag me off to five months' internment.

"Being torpedoed on a convoy in mid-Atlantic in 1942. Luckily, it was a dud torpedo that failed to explode properly. As is well known the ship -- and I -- survived.

"Covering the final Nazi surrender at Soviet Marshal Georgi Zhukhov's Berlin headquarters at 3 a.m. on May 8, 1945 and battling the Red Army's "secret weapon" -- gallons of raw vodka it tried to empty down the throats of Western reporters." (Grigg, incidentially, was the only American reporter to cover both the first day and the last day of World War II in Berlin.)

"An equally deadly brew named 'Mao Tse-tung' concocted by crazy Polish crewers from a cargo of rotting oranges on a ship I visited marooned in the Suez Canal's Great Bitter Lake from the 1967 Six Day War to the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Other recollections:

* Ducking a hand grenade lobbed into a Paris restaurant where he was dining with his wife during the OAS (Secret Army Organization) terror campaign. The bartender, recalled Grigg, "had the presence of mind to fling it out again into the street before it exploded".

* "Trying to bash out a story in the UPI Algiers office in 1965 half overcome by tear gas pouring in from a riot in the street below."

* And "being picked up by the IRA in a Republican area of Belfast and accused of being a member of British Special Branch".

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