Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, with the lack of news coming out of the Marines’ heroic stand on Wake Island, the Marine Corps recognized the need to have more news and photography emanating from the combat zones, and more assistance to civilian news media in getting into these combat areas and reporting the actions to the American people.
Brigadier General Robert L. Denig began to organize and head up the Corps’ first Department of Public Relations (DPR), supported by First Sergeant Walter J. “Joe” Shipman. They set about establishing a special recruiting program that was to cause great consternation in Washington, DC, media circles.
First Sergeant Shipman promptly donned his dress blue uniform and went looking for the pros where they worked — at Washington newspapers. His pitch:
“You’ll get combat duty and Sergeant stripes if you can successfully complete boot training at Parris Island.”
He had plenty of takers with his guarantee of combat.
So successful were Shipman’s recruiting efforts in Washington, in fact, that he practically denuded every city room in the capitol. The Times-Herald, as it happened, was hardest hit, causing its vociferous publisher, Cissy Patterson, to complain directly to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The president, in turn, passed the complaint to Major General Commandant Thomas Holcomb, who soon directed General Denig to do his future CC recruiting outside DC.
Although recruiting was already well underway, it was not until June 6, 1942, that an Associated Press story first reported: “Lieutenant General Thomas A. Holcomb, Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, announced today that newspaper reporters of not less than five years experience are being accepted for enlistment as combat correspondents. After six weeks training as fighting troops, they will be given the rank of Sergeant and sent overseas with combat units. General Holcomb said the Marine Corps is sacrificing none of its high standards, and combat correspondents must meet all physical requirements for regular Marines.”
Newspaper photographers were initially recruited for the program together with reporters and were similarly designated CCs, primarily because they very often wrote their own captions and stories to accompany their photographs. DPR conceived having reporter-photographer teams in the field with combat units, but not until the end of the war did this concept work out.
The combat correspondent program was so successful in World War II that the concept remains today — exclusive with the U.S. Marine Corps — and CCs continue to “tell it like it is” wherever
Marines see action. More than 40 CCs lost their lives in combat in WWII and subsequent actions.
The USMCCCA Today
The Association has come a long way since the first WWII CCs organized as a group in New York City after WWII. A similar group was formed by CCs in the West, then other parts of the country, with all of them eventually banding together to form the USMCCCA, which is incorporated in the State of New York. National bylaws, drafted and controlled by the membership, guide the Association.
Today, chapters are located throughout the United States, and hundreds more CCs are members-at-large residing in every state of the Union and in other countries.
The Association is managed by a nine-member board of directors, consisting of four officers (the Association president/board chair, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer), each elected annually by the membership; and five directors who serve two-year terms (three elected in odd numbered years and two in even years).
Membership categories in the USMCCCA include: Regular, Regular Life, Associate, Associate Life, Affiliate, Affiliate Life, and Honorary Life. A Regular member is a Marine or former Marine who is serving, or has served as a CC. Only Regular and Associate members may vote on Association business matters, hold national office. Associate members include former Marines who are now working in mass communications as civilians, and other civilian communicators who have been, or are now, professionally associated with the Marine Corps. Affiliate membership, a relatively new category, is reserved for those not eligible in any other category but who desire to be affiliated with the USMCCCA, including the spouses of Regular members. Honorary Life Membership is awarded only by the National Board of Directors.