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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 959


This is the grave of William Lindsay White.

Born in 1900 in Emporia, Kansas, White grew up in a famous family. His father was the legendary William Allen White, newspaper editor and Progressive. White Sr. had every intention of making his son follow in his footsteps, training him from the time he was a teen, when Jr. was given smaller stories to work on for the Emporia Gazette. Sr. took Jr. to France to witness the signing of the Versailles Treaty, which Sr. was covering. He then sent his son on to the University of Kansas and then Harvard. At Harvard he picked up some seriously ridiculous habits. He started speaking with a fake English accent and wearing a monocle. I mean, c’mon, talk about a poseur. I guess this made the yokels in central Kansas feel like he was a real sophisticate, but it’s hard to see this playing well in Cambridge, though given the number of poseurs at Harvard, maybe they liked it. Who knows. Anyway, White would eventually marry Katherine Klingenburg, a reporter for Time, and then spend half the year in Emporia and half in a fancy house in New York. I have to wonder how thrilled they really were to go back to Emporia…..

Anyway, White Jr. was not the man his father was. But he was still a reasonably important journalist and even a minor league politician. In 1931, he served a term in the state legislature and was long a relatively important person in the Kansas Republican Party, all the way to being a huge mover of votes for Eisenhower in the 50s. He worked for the Washington Post for awhile in the mid-30s and then for Fortune. CBS hired him as a war correspondent in 1939 and he was in London for the Blitz. He wrote a lot for Readers’ Digest, which is a terrible publication but was less terrible in the 40s. White took over the Gazette in 1944 and had a weird position in American life. He was a serious voice at CBS, often subbing in for Murrow when he was away. And yet he was running this small-town newspaper in the middle of nowhere and evidently actually paying attention to it and having thoughts about his home town.

Now, there’s only two things I knew about White before writing this grave post. One, his famous father. Two, he wrote They Were Expendable, which was made into a mediocre at best John Wayne and Robert Montgomery film in 1945, though some people legitimately like it, probably those few old whites who still see Wayne as some kind of hero. White actually wrote a lot of books, a few of which were best sellers, including They Were Expendable, a lightly fictionalized account of the last stand of American soldiers in the Philippines before the Japanese took over. Two of his other books were turned into movies as well, Journey for Margaret, a book about the Blitz starring Robert Young, and Lost Boundaries, starring Beatrice Pearson and Mel Ferrer and about a Black doctor passing for white starring of course all white actors. I doubt anyone has picked up these books in decades. In any case, I do not recommend They Were Expendable as a film. White’s specialty in his books seems to have been ripped from the headlines lightly fictionalized potboilers. Too bad Law and Order didn’t exist in the 40s. He would have been gold.

After the war, other than his Eisenhower support, White was on the board for the ACLU and did a bunch of other charity work. He also promoted a young Kansans he saw as the future of the Republican Party. His name? Bob Dole. Nothing bad ever happened again.

White died in 1973. He was 73 years old.

William Lindsay White is buried in Maplewood Memorial Lawn Cemetery, Emporia, Kansas.

If you would like this series to visit other writers of World War II books, perhaps my least favorite sub-genre of 20th century American fiction, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. James Jones, one of the only good writers of the genre, is in Bridgehampton, New York and Herman Wouk, who was much better as a pulp noir writer, is in Elmont, New York. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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