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The film tells the story of an Omaha-born reporter’s D-Day jump to Normandy

Robert Reuben dozed off and on with the soldiers crammed into the cabin of the C-47 Army transport as it crossed the English Channel into occupied France.

The Omaha-born war correspondent for Britain’s Reuters news service found a seat on the first planeload of American Allied troops falling behind German lines in Normandy in the hours before dawn on June 6 1944 – known since then as D-Day.

Reuben awoke as a red light in the dark cabin signaled four minutes to the drop zone. He connected his static line, gave it a few jerks, checked his chute.

A green light signaled the “go” time. A soldier jumped, then a second and a third. When it was his turn, Reuben pushed through the cabin door.

“A burst of flak, a ball of red fire – next to the plane we were running into the propeller burst. The tracers cut red arcs across the sky in a stunning display of color and sparking bullets,” Reuben wrote years later in a memoir.

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“Pretty much the next thing I knew … was the rattling of my gutter opening,” he continued. “I swung high in the heavens and then floated swiftly down to earth.”

This daring leap made Reuben, 25, the first Allied war correspondent in Normandy. Shortly after hitting the ground, Reuben submitted a dispatch, written on cigarette paper and attached to a pod on the leg of a carrier pigeon. It says: “Landed in Normandy Reuben Reuters.”

“Most people run from the fire of war. Robert Reuben ran to her,” says UNL journalism professor Barney McCoy, who produced, directed and narrated a new documentary about Reuben’s six-month ordeal covering the Allied invasion of northern Europe.

The film, called “Running Towards the Fire: A War Correspondent’s Story,” premiered May 23 on Nebraska Public Media. It will air four more times this week: 8:00 PM Tuesday and 4:00 AM Thursday on NE-PBS and 6:00 PM Wednesday and 7:00 AM Friday on NE-World. It can also be streamed at NebraskaPublicMedia.org.

The documentary is built around Reuben’s 389-page memoir, written in the 1950s but never published. McCoy learned that a copy saved by one of Reuben’s friends was in a Reuters archive in London.

“I’m glad we were able to find that manuscript and make (his story) come to life,” he said.

He first learned of Reuben through his research on Colonel Barney Oldfield, another Nebraskan. A newspaper reporter in Lincoln before the war, he became an indispensable—and colorful—press aide to General Dwight Eisenhower during World War II. Oldfield later advertised for Hollywood stars including Elizabeth Taylor, Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan.

While working on Eisenhower’s staff in London, Oldfield recruited several correspondents, including Reuben, to take aerial training and make five training jumps – banishing the prospect of jumping with the troops.

“He’s been trying to recruit every reporter on this project for months, and now he’s got a trio of naive stragglers,” Reuben joked in his memoir.







Robert Reuben War Correspondent

As a Reuters war correspondent, Robert Reuben jumped into Normandy with the 101st Airborne Division before the dawn of D-Day and spent nearly six months at the front covering the Normandy campaign, the liberation of Paris and the battles for Liege and Aachen. His story is told in a new documentary, “Running Towards the Fire,” produced by UNL journalism professor Barney McCoy.


AMAZED photos BARNEY MCCOY, UNL


“A woefully invigorating kind of thing”

Even apart from the D-Day jump, Reuben lived an extraordinary life.

He was born in Omaha in 1918 to Jewish immigrants who had fled persecution in Eastern Europe. His family moved to Fort Dodge, Iowa, when he was a boy.

A year after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Iowa in 1939, he landed a job as a reporter in the Washington DC bureau of the United Press.

Reuters hired him in 1942 as a military correspondent, then as bureau chief and White House correspondent. The following year he transferred to London to cover the war—carrying with him a letter of reference from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

After the end of the European war, Reuben was transferred to the Pacific. He covered the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay and worked in major Asian capitals for Reuters and NBC. In late 1946, he traveled to Antarctica with polar explorer Rear Admiral Richard Byrd, before working for NBC in New York, then in Europe.

Aged just 32, Reuben gave up journalism in 1950 and moved to Los Angeles. Two years later, he established Pen & Quill, a popular restaurant and nightclub near Los Angeles International Airport. He was the owner and host there for the rest of his life.

However, none of this earned a mention in his memoirs, which cover his experiences from 1944 – from his initial jump training, to D-Day and the life-changing months of combat that followed.

“You had the feeling of a gambler betting his last chips on the table,” Reuben said in his memoirs. “Only the last chip on the table was a priceless one. You were putting your life in danger.”

Early on, he shared a tent with the famous war correspondent Ernie Pyle, who told him about the addictive horror of war. Pyle lost his life near the end of the war.

“He told me that no matter how often you go through it, it’s still a hell of an exhilarating thing,” Reuben wrote. “And later, as battle after battle went by, I had to learn that for myself.”

The documentary describes his reactions as walking through the battle-ravaged Normandy village of Montebourg. He saw no one there except two children walking among the rubble.

“They and a dog were the only signs of life in the streets,” he wrote.







Robert Reuben in Normandy

Reuters war correspondent Robert Reuben, a native of Omaha, stands outside a French castle in Normandy.


AMAZA BARNEY MCCOY, UNL


In the Battle of Liege, Belgium, he saw a grieving Jewish woman in hiding, screaming at captured German soldiers who had left her childless.

“You butchers, you Nazi pigs!” she screamed. “You killed my children!”

After covering the grim battle for Aachen, Germany, Reuben contracted a virus and was sent to the hospital. From there, he wrote empathetically about soldiers suffering from “shell shock” – now called post-traumatic stress.

“Many of these dazed and shocked children were quite brave and carefree boys before,” he wrote. “But they gave in, and their bodies couldn’t take it anymore. They couldn’t help but think they lost their nerve and became cowards. They don’t realize, only a fool wouldn’t be afraid.”

Reuben recovered and was transferred out of combat in the fall of 1944. Only one other of the 58 D-Day correspondents remained in the field that long.

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McCoy said Eisenhower considered reporters critical to the war effort, telling the stories of soldiers to their families on the home front. He issued them uniforms and assigned them drivers.

“They were traveling with the troops they were covering, doing foxholes,” McCoy said. “They were very, very much in the elements.”

“I didn’t realize how brave he was”

Through Reuben’s experiences, “Running Towards the Fire” tells their story.

Several of Reuben’s relatives traveled to Nebraska last month for an advance screening of the film May 1 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, including his niece, Joan Schwartz of Oakland, California.

He was in his late teens when Reuben, then a successful restaurant and nightclub owner in Manhattan Beach, California, died of cancer in 1964 at the age of 45. succession in the early 1960s.







Robert Reuben after the war

Omaha World-Herald In 1952, Robert Reuben gave up journalism to open the Pen & Quill restaurant and nightclub in Manhattan Beach, California, near Los Angeles International Airport. The Omaha native owned it until his death from cancer in 1964 at age 45.


JOAN SCHWARTZ


But she had never heard his war stories.

“Nobody ever talked about the war or the Holocaust,” Schwartz said. “I didn’t realize how brave he was. I’m amazed he survived.”

She said her mother also had a copy of Reuben’s memoir and tried unsuccessfully for years to sell it to a publisher.

“I wish my mother had seen. She tried so hard to tell his story,” Schwartz said. “It was quite emotional to watch.”

McCoy said a number of people who saw the preview responded after the show.

“We’re still talking about it,” one audience member said in a text. “I have to say it left me a bit numb, unbelievable what our parents/grandparents went through. Thank you for bringing it to view.”