Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Ghost in the Machine - Part two

The Ghost
in the Machine

Ghost writer comes clean



‘I don’t think he realized his words were written by a
sniveley-nosed ensign.’



Second of two parts

By TONY EVANS
For the Express

Hailey resident and writer Robert Pearson, 87, made a name for himself working behind the scenes. But these days he is busy writing his own memoirs.

In last week in the Friday edition of the Idaho Mountain Express, Pearson related his earlier exploits ghost writing for college students and as a part of the Dutch Treat Club in New York. In 1941 following the United States’ entrance into World War II, he was commissioned into the Navy as a speech writer. He also was trained to seek out German U-boats, and that’s where we pick up Pearson’s story today:

Bob and Betsy Pearson. Photo by Tony Evans

During the months leading up to the Allies’ invasion at Normandy, Pearson served in Destroyer Escort 666, aboard the U.S.S Durik. His ship’s mission was to protect the multitude of vessels carrying men and materiel to Europe and the Pacific from a network of German U-boats that had been sinking allied vessels with impunity. The Germans relied upon a code machine known as "Enigma" to communicate with one another. The best hope of cracking the code had been in capturing a U-boat intact.

"Enormous convoys of up to 1,000 ships stretched over the horizon in both directions," he recalled. "And then suddenly we were assigned to escort a Navy tanker at flank speed from Gibraltar to some unnamed spot in the ocean. It was all top secret. When we got to our destination there were a number of Allied boats surrounding a surfaced Nazi U-boat flying a swastika. Above the swastika flew the Stars and Stripes."

The capture of U-boat 505 allowed the Allies to decipher "Enigma" just before the invasion on the beaches of Normandy. "I would not trade my Navy experience at that time for anything in the world," said Pearson. "And I know other veterans who also feel this way."

As a sailor, Bob Pearson wrote speeches for presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, as well as Admiral Lehey of the U.S. Navy and others. Lehey’s speech addressed the debate over how to spend the nation’s military resources following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

"Some thought we should invest in ships. Others thought we should spend on air power. Lehey read it word for word, dull as dishwater," said Pearson. "I don’t think he realized his words were written by a sniveley nosed ensign."

FDR’s speech commemorated the transfer of six destroyers to the Russian Navy. Harry Truman’s speech disclosed the secrets of radar technology.

"It makes sense that American taxpayers would not allow a president to spend three days writing a speech," said Pearson. "His time is just too important."

During the war, Bob Pearson married artist and illustrator named Betsy Dodge, also from Kansas. They have been together for 59 years, 25 of those years in the Wood River Valley. Betsy wrote and illustrated a syndicated daily column for the New York Herald Tribune for 17 years before Simon and Schuster published her collection of practical advice for young mothers under the title "An ABC for Mothers" in 1958.

"It was a good job," she said. "I could write from home while I was with the kids."

Bob and Betsy would oftentimes lunch at the Algonquin Hotel in New York, within earshot of Dorothy Parker, James Thurber and other famous literati of the 1940s New York "Round Table."

All of the Pearsons three children have spent time in the Wood River Valley over the past 25 years. In addition to sons Brad and Ridley, the Pearson’s daughter, Wendy Daverman, resides part-time in Gimlet with her husband, Jim, and their four children.

Bob and Betsy Pearson have a steady stream of visitors at their secluded home west of Bellevue, where Betsy continues to draw and paint. Bob Pearson is currently working on a memoir from his office in Hailey.


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