in the Machine
Ghost writer comes clean
ĎI donít think he realized his
words were written by a
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 Statesí 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 thatís where we pick up
Pearsonís story today:
Bob and Betsy Pearson.
Photo by Tony Evans
During the months leading up to
the Alliesí invasion at Normandy, Pearson served in Destroyer Escort
666, aboard the U.S.S Durik. His shipís 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. Leheyís speech
addressed the debate over how to spend the nationís 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 donít think he realized
his words were written by a sniveley nosed ensign."
FDRís speech commemorated the
transfer of six destroyers to the Russian Navy. Harry Trumanís 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
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 Pearsonís daughter, Wendy Daverman,
resides part-time in Gimlet with her husband, Jim, and their four
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.