AP NEWS
Related topics

Wes Gallagher, an ex-war correspondent w

October 13, 1997

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) _ Wes Gallagher, an ex-war correspondent who led The Associated Press through America’s turbulent 1960s and into the electronic era of news, has died. He was 86.

The retired AP chief died Saturday of congestive heart failure at St. Francis Medical Center. Private services were planned this week and a memorial in New York later, his son, Brian, said Sunday. The younger Gallagher is deputy editorial-page editor at USA Today.

In 39 years with the world’s largest news organization, the resourceful young World War II reporter rose to become a decisive general manager and president who expanded AP’s frontiers in both news coverage and technology.

Along the way, he lost neither his drive nor his directness. ``He came in like a lion. He goes out like a lion,″ an AP correspondent wrote when Gallagher retired in 1976.

``Wes Gallagher was a journalistic giant,″ said Louis D. Boccardi, AP president and chief executive officer of a news cooperative serving more than 1,500 U.S. newspapers, 6,000 U.S. broadcast outlets and 8,500 international subscribers.

``People called him tough, impatient, demanding,″ Boccardi said. ``He was all of those and something more: a newsman, first and last, with an uncanny instinct for where to turn for the story. He was a personal inspiration to me and a role model for generations of AP people.″

Under Gallagher, AP introduced computerization of news delivery and advances in photo-transmission technology. But the crewcut Californian with bushy brows and booming voice took greatest pride in leading AP into new areas in news _ in investigative, lifestyle and other specialized reporting.

``As a great news manager, Wes Gallagher brought The Associated Press into the modern era of journalism, but he never forgot that first of all he was a great newspaper reporter,″ said longtime friend Herb Klein, editor and chief of The Copley Newpapers, which includes the San Diego (Calif.) Union-Tribune.

``He was also very sensitive about people, no one ever doubted his honor,″ Klein said.

James Wesley Gallagher was born in San Francisco and graduated from Louisiana State University in 1936. In the mid-1930s, he worked for the Watsonville, Calif., Register-Pajaronian; the Baton Rouge, La., State-Times; and the Rochester, N.Y., Democrat & Chronicle.

In 1937, he joined AP at its Buffalo, N.Y., bureau. He later transferred to Albany, N.Y., and then to the foreign news desk at New York headquarters. But it was in Europe that Gallagher made his mark.

In 1940, he covered the German invasions of Denmark and Norway, and then was assigned to southeastern Europe. The war in the Balkans honed the 28-year-old journalist’s skills as reporter and improviser.

At one point, when his train was halted at the Yugoslav-Greek border, Gallagher hired a handcar and pumped his way to Salonika to cover the Italian invasion of Greece. He later reported from the Albanian front, often by foot or muleback, until felled by jaundice.

Recovered, he made his way back to Athens, where he flashed first news to the outside world of the Greek capital’s fall to German troops in April 1941.

In a long, hazardous journey west, Gallagher reached Portugal in mid-1941, and later went to London to cover the war’s next stages.

In late 1942, he led the AP crew covering the U.S.-British invasion of North Africa, a six-month campaign climaxing with the Axis defeat in Tunisia _ and with a jeep accident in which Gallagher’s spine was fractured. The injury plagued him the rest of his life.

One of the young Army officers who rescued him was William Westmoreland, later to be U.S. commander in Vietnam.

In 1944, the young veteran became chief of AP correspondents covering the Allied invasion of Europe, reporting the action from D-Day to V-E Day. Out of that experience, he wrote a book, ``Back Door to Berlin.″

In a famous military-media confrontation at war’s end, AP correspondent Ed Kennedy bypassed U.S. military censorship to report the German surrender, news that Allied leaders wanted to delay by a day to let the Soviets stage a ceremony in Berlin.

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s headquarters immediately suspended the AP’s accreditation. Gallagher, after driving all night to headquarters, protested the action to Eisenhower and said he would have done the same thing as Kennedy.

``I would have thrown you in jail,″ Eisenhower told him. That would not have stopped the story, Gallagher replied. The AP suspension was lifted.

After the war, Gallagher headed AP operations in Germany, directing coverage of such major events as the Nuremberg war trials and Berlin airlift.

A photo from the war trials shows a loping Gallagher ahead of a pack of reporters, running for a phone to score a one-minute ``beat″ on the verdict. The phone line was being held open by his wife, Betty, a companion in many Gallagher adventures big and small.

He was brought back to New York in 1951 to take over the news service’s personnel department and, two years later, the embryonic AP Newsfeatures unit.

At Newsfeatures, he brought together some of the AP’s best writers and embarked on a crusade to enrich the feature reporting of a sometimes stolid, if solid, news service.

After he was named general manager, AP’s chief operating officer, in 1962, he continued his campaign. He formed a ``Mod Squad,″ for example, to report on the changes in American lifestyle that began in the late 1960s, a special unit in the 1970s to cover America’s urban crisis, and an AP division to produce ``instant″ books on major events.

As general manager and president, a title added in 1972, Gallagher faced some of his toughest challenges: a strike by AP staff in 1969, the pressures of swift technological change, the need to report evenhandedly on the divisive war in Vietnam.

In 1970, at the height of that conflict, Gallagher ``killed″ an AP story about looting and raping by American soldiers in Cambodia. He later regretted it: ``I just did it on the spur of the moment and I shouldn’t have.″

The same AP chief repeatedly rebuffed demands from the Washington leadership _ and some newspaper publishers _ that he ``soften″ the unpleasant news coming from Indochina.

``We are not a vehicle to serve the `national interest’ as defined by politicians, but to publish the truth as we see it,″ he told a national meeting of newspaper editors.

Gallagher’s journalistic leadership earned him numerous professional honors, including the William Allen White Foundation’s 10th annual national citation for journalistic merit in 1967.

He distilled his AP credo in a valedictory to the cooperative’s annual meeting in 1976:

``The AP goal is to be a clear, cool, impartial voice in a world which has become increasingly strident, irritable and irrational.″

He retired to a life of ``golf and gin rummy,″ as he put it, in Santa Barbara, determined to get his news from the newspaper, not from the ceaseless chatter of ``the wire.″ After all, the seasoned newsman said, ``39 years at the end of a phone is a long time.″

Gallagher celebrated his birthday one week before dying and was visited at home by CNN Correspondent Peter Arnett, Mrs. Gallagher said. Arnett won a Pulitzer Prize for his AP coverage of the Vietnam War.

Along with his wife, the former Betty Kelley of Detroit, Gallagher is survived by daughters Jane Gallagher of Cresskill, N.J., and Christine Gallagher of Los Angeles, and son, Brian Gallagher.

AP RADIO
Update hourly