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The Years Were Good: The Autobiography of Louis B. Seltzer

Chapter 23

IN A WAY the war years, in spite of the global dispatches that crowded our pages, were the most personalized years of our newspaper. It was evident from the beginning that, since we are the kind of newspaper our tradition makes us, there was a twofold obligation imposed upon us. One of these obligations was, of course, to do everything possible for the servicemen and women -- when they were called up, while they were in training, and during their actual service at the front. It was our purpose to follow them straight through from the time they left Cleveland until they returned and, in those tragic instances where they did not return, to do for their families whatever within our power it was possible to do. The other of these obligations was to keep up the spirits and morale of the

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people at home, and to help keep the community itself moving along in high gear, in both its civic and industrial aspects.

Throughout the war The Press adhered to this program, making a record that would justify putting the paper itself on the "Honor Roll" it created for the men and women of our community.

Even in normal times The Press is unique among the world's newspapers in the number and variety of services it performs for its readers. Some may seem unrelated to the business of publishing a daily newspaper, but all fit into our policy of providing "every possible public service" in addition to complete, accurate, and courageous news reports. The Press Public Service Bureau undertakes many projects merely because they're the neighborly thing to do. Others are large-scale projects which are highly desirable for the entire community, but which might never be undertaken without the leadership and financial support of a daily newspaper. When World War II came upon the country, these services were not only expanded, but almost totally remodeled.

One of the first wartime demands was that for speedy and accurate reporting of the draft lottery results. In most expected situations, such as the draft lottery, The Press operates on the assumption that planning in advance is nine-tenths of the success of the coverage. Planning paid off in this case by making The Cleveland Press the first, by a substantial margin, to get the information, the pictures, the background of the men whose numbers were called.

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The Press lost no time in setting up a Military Department which, as was generally acknowledged within our business, was surpassed nowhere. A huge file of photos and facts was assembled on boys in service and where they were assigned. It was thus relatively easy throughout the entire war to follow them in their military exploits. Many newspapers sent their representatives to Cleveland to study our system and adapt it to their own cities.

"The Home Front" was started as a weekly feature. It was a quarter-page digest of the week's news which relatives could clip out -- and by the thousands did clip out -- and send by V-mail to their servicemen.

"Heir Mail" was another Cleveland Press "first," designed to help morale overseas. Pictures of wives of servicemen with their infants were printed on V-mail blanks so that they could be mailed to their dads, who, in this way, saw their children for the very first time. Many of these pictures were carried by servicemen fathers from almost the beginning to the end of the war.

The Cleveland Press created an "Honor Roll" for all the servicemen and women of the Greater Cleveland area. This was a leather-bound volume, as big as a desktop, illuminated with the American colors and inscribed to the men and women of the service. It was dedicated at a great public meeting held in front of The Cleveland Press building, at which both the Governor and the Mayor signed it as heads of the State and the city. For almost the entire period of the war fathers and mothers, wives and sweethearts made a sacred pilgrimage to the lobby of The Cleveland Press and

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with their own hands wrote the names of their loved ones, the military units they served in, their date of entering service, and the names of their families. It was necessary to add many volumes to the "Honor Roll" before the war ended. They now repose in the Cleveland Public Library, and many servicemen have gone there to see their names lovingly written in by their relatives.

As the casualties of war began to be returned home, and placed in the big Veterans Hospital named after Cleveland's famous World War I surgeon, Dr. George W. Crile, The Cleveland Press made an appeal to its readers for funds with which to equip the hospital with bedside radios. In a brief and spirited campaign almost $200,000 was raised for this purpose. We arranged with radio people from all over America to join forces in providing what was then considered the best such bedside installation in any American hospital. To this day the approximate one thousand patients at Crile Hospital, veterans of both World War II and Korea, hear music and other entertainment over this radio system. It has a master control station where hundreds of selected records are made available upon the request of the patients.

Many of the best of the world's entertainers, upon coming to Cleveland, have made the trip to Crile to broadcast over the bedside network. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby "took over" there one Sunday afternoon and so completely lost themselves in their entertainment for the veterans that they missed a plane. They never for a moment regretted it.

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When the war came to an end, The Cleveland Press set out to raise a large sum of money to finance a suitable memorial in honor of the community's servicemen and women. The Memorial, now being built, is a beautiful fountain within view of the Public Square, situated on Cleveland's Mall, a landscaped stretch between the important public buildings and the lakefront. Around the four corners will be portrayed the basic religions of the world, and at the base will be etched imperishably the name of every Greater Cleveland serviceman and woman killed in World War II and Korea.

One afternoon a young veteran stepped into my office. It was obvious that he was troubled. He fidgeted uneasily with the cap he held in his hands. He had something to say, but he didn't seem to know how to say it, or where to begin. I got up from my desk and went over to sit beside him.

"I don't know what you want to say, Son," I said to him, "but whatever it is why not just let it come out natural?"

It came out -- a tragic story that wrenched at my own heart and brought tears to my eyes.

"I just came from the hospital," he said. "My wife has had our first baby. My wife is all right, but when I asked about our baby, I could tell something was wrong by the way the doctor and the nurse acted. They seemed to sort of put me off. Then I told them to let me see my baby -- and they took me to the nursery window."

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The young veteran began to weep. As I later learned, he was twenty-six; he had a job driving a truck and was very happily married. He told me how he and his wife had dreamed and planned for the arrival of their first-born. They would name him James. They wanted him to be "Jimmy" because the name fit so well their idea of the happy, active boy he would be.

But when the nurse slowly removed the blanket, he saw that his child had no arms from a point below the elbow. One leg was missing from just below the knee, and the other was bent and twisted. When the baby tried to cry he screwed up his face pitifully, and the doctor explained that the baby's tongue was attached to his lower lip.

The young father broke down completely, as he told me how he had gone to his young wife and tried gently to break the news to her -- how her heart almost broke for them all -- how in her grief she had said at first, "Don't bring him to me. I will not look."

They had no real home. They had only two furnished rooms at a $65 monthly rent which, with medical expenses piling up, was too much for his $50-a-week pay. There was no hospitalization insurance. The world had already crushed in on him. He was desperate.

I talked with the doctor. He told me it was one of the inexplicable paradoxes of birth. Everything had seemed all right, so far as they could tell. There was no injury at birth. Except for the limbs and the mouth, the baby was normal. But there would have to be major surgery and lots of it -- some of it uncertain. There

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would have to be special appliances. There would have to be many months of special care.

If ever there was a heartache baby born to the world this was it -- little Jimmy, their first-born, the dream child of the impoverished truck-driver veteran and his young wife. So much needed to be done, and there was so little with which to do it. And the young father and mother wanted the baby with all the fierceness of protective love.

That afternoon I told the young father to go out to the hospital and tell his wife that they would have a home for their son, Jimmy, that there would be doctors, that all he needed would be provided for him. And then we moved into a campaign to raise the required amount of money to provide all this care for Jimmy, to make possible a home outside the city where neighbors wouldn't stare at the tragic little fellow -- where the young couple and their son would have a chance.

We started a "Heartache Baby" Fund. Within a few days the fund rose to $12,000. People were helpful in other ways as well: they made land available; they helped to build the house; they volunteered medical and surgical services, needed appliances and household devices. The community showered the "Heartache Baby" with everything but the normal body he didn't have, and had it been within their power to do so, they would gladly have supplied that, too.

Within our memory no appeal so stirred the people of Greater Cleveland as that of the "Heartache Baby"

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in January of 1949. Jimmy's young parents were beside themselves with gratitude.

"It was not we at The Press," I told them. "We were simply an instrument. We simply told the people of Greater Cleveland the facts about your little son, Jimmy. They did the rest. The people are the ones to thank."

They did thank the people of Greater Cleveland in a statement which they themselves prepared.

"He is ours," the young mother said. "We will take care of him. We thank you for helping us to do that. We will never forget what you have done."

Little Jimmy is now seven. He is a vastly improved little boy. He makes himself understood. He manages to get around. The doctors say that he will over a period of time overcome some of his physical handicaps. He is already a good, fine child, and very bright. His parents have since brought other, normal babies into the world to join Jimmy, and the family is united in a bond of love that the people of Greater Cleveland have helped to forge around the "Heartache Baby."

The Press likes to be that kind of newspaper. It also likes to be a crusading newspaper, fighting constantly for a better Cleveland.