Richard C. Hottelet, CBS Newsman and Last of ‘Murrow Boys,’ Dies at 97

December 18, 2014

By RICHARD GOLDSTEIN

December 18, 2014

Richard C. Hottelet, who covered the D-Day invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge for CBS and became the last survivor of the “Murrow Boys,” the network’s pioneering World War II radio newsmen who worked under Edward R. Murrow, died on Wednesday at his home in Wilton, Conn. He was 97.

His granddaughter, Maria Hottelet Foley, confirmed the death.

Mr. Hottelet, the youngest member of the Murrow Boys when he was hired and the last of them still with CBS when he retired in 1985, was a dogged reporter who so angered Nazi leaders while working for United Press in the war’s early stages that he was imprisoned by the Gestapo for four months.

Mr. Murrow, the chief of CBS’s news operation in Europe, who won fame for his broadcasts from London rooftops during the 1940 German air attacks known as the blitz, hired Mr. Hottelet in January 1944.

“Only 26 at the time Murrow hired him, the tall, thin Hottelet was, despite a disarming smile and an elegant voice, an aggressive and sometimes abrasive reporter who refused to be intimidated by any official, Nazi or Allied,” Stanley Cloud and Lynne Olson wrote in the book “The Murrow Boys” (1996).

As a CBS correspondent, Mr. Hottelet covered the major campaigns of the war in Europe, including the huge Allied airborne offensive across the Rhine known as Operation Varsity, during which he was forced to parachute from a flaming bomber.

After the war he reported from Moscow, West Germany and the United Nations as one of a cadre of Murrow’s wartime colleagues — among them Charles Collingwood, Eric Sevareid, Larry LeSueur and Howard K. Smith — who went on to prominent careers in television news.

“It wasn’t that we were supermen,” Mr. Hottelet told The Hartford Courant in 2003, referring to the 11 Murrow Boys, one of whom was a woman, Mary Marvin Breckinridge.

“It was not our job to inspire people, to educate, to move them,” he said. “It was our job to tell them what was going on. We were accredited war correspondents. That was it. We were serious people at a serious job. We were out in the field, flying, on the front lines getting shot at — along with a 100,000 other people.”

Richard Curt Hottelet was born in Brooklyn on Sept. 22, 1917, a son of German immigrants who spoke no English at home. His father had an import-export business that failed during the Depression. He graduated from Brooklyn College in 1937, then enrolled, at his father’s suggestion, at the University of Berlin, still unsure of his career plans.

At his first class, on the philosophy of Kant, his professor appeared in a brownshirt uniform with a Nazi armband and began the session with a Nazi salute and a “Heil, Hitler!” Mr. Hottelet, who had been living with a cousin of his father’s, a businessman who had risked his life to aid Jewish friends, was so repelled that he dropped out of school.

He was hired by United Press in Berlin in May 1938, and two years later covered the German invasion of Belgium and France, watching the British flee to the beaches of Dunkirk.

Mr. Hottelet angered the Nazis when he went out after raids on Berlin by British night bombers to check the damage. And he was briefly taken into custody after closely questioning Gestapo agents whom he saw loading Jews into a truck.

On the morning of March 15, 1941, the Gestapo arrested Mr. Hottelet at his Berlin home on “suspicion of espionage.” He was accused of sending German military information to his girlfriend, Ann Delafield, an Englishwoman who had worked in the British Embassy in Berlin and was then in a British diplomatic office in Spain.

Mr. Hottelet was held in the Alexanderplatz and Moabit jails in Berlin for the next four months. He and Jay Allen, an American journalist for the North American Newspaper Alliance, who had been imprisoned by the pro-Nazi Vichy government in France, were released on July 8, 1941, in exchange for three Germans held in the United States for illegal actions.

After working in the United Press bureau in Washington and marrying Miss Delafield in January 1942 (they would have two children), Mr. Hottelet joined the United States Office of War Information. He went to London for the O.W.I. in August 1942 to broadcast news to Germany, then moved to CBS two years later.

During the war Mr. Hottelet flew over Utah Beach at 4,500 feet in a B-26 Marauder bomber as the first waves of troops were coming ashore in the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944. He made it back to London that day and was the first CBS correspondent to broadcast an eyewitness report of the invasion:

“This is Richard C. Hottelet reporting from London. The Allied forces landed in France early this morning. I watched the first landing barges hit the beach exactly on the minute of H-Hour.”

In October of that year he described the street fighting at Aachen, Germany, leaning from a window and speaking into his wire recorder as shells whistled and machine guns blasted away. “Right down below us, the houses are still in German territory,” he told CBS listeners, “and if anybody is leaning out a bay window and draws a bead on this recorder, you will probably never hear it.”

In December 1944 he told of the heavy German attack in Belgium known as the Battle of the Bulge. “It’s icy cold on the front tonight,” he reported, describing men having to “chop at the ground with their axes and shovels.”

Mr. Hottelet bailed out of a burning B-17 bomber hit by antiaircraft fire while covering Operation Varsity in March 1945 and landed in a cow pasture in France, incurring only minor injuries. British troops in the area treated him to liquor and tea.

He also witnessed the momentous linkup of American and Russian troops on April 25, 1945, at the Elbe River.

“There were no brass bands, no sign of the titanic strength of both armies,” Mr. Hottelet reported. “The Americans who met the Red Army were a couple of dust-covered lieutenants and a handful of enlisted men in their jeeps on reconnaissance. That’s just the way it was, as simple and untheatrical as that. Just some men meeting, shaking hands.”

After reporting from the Soviet Union and Bonn, West Germany, during the Cold War and anchoring CBS television’s daily early-morning national news program in the 1950s, Mr. Hottelet covered the United Nations for CBS from 1960 until his retirement 25 years later.

Mr. Hottelet was later the spokesman for the United States Mission to the United Nations and the host of the weekly NPR interview program “America and the World.” He was also a foreign affairs analyst for The Christian Science Monitor, a visiting scholar at George Washington University and a contributor to a wide-ranging series of audiobooks with historical themes.

Mr. Hottelet’s wife, Ann, died last year. Their son, Richard Peter Hottelet, died in 2008, and their daughter, Antonia Guzman, died in 1999. Besides Ms. Hottelet Foley, Mr. Hottelet is survived by three other grandchildren, Henry, Caleb and Richard Peter Jr. (who is known as Pete) and two great-grandchildren.

In February 2006, the British reprised the era of the Murrow Boys when the state-run organization English Heritage honored Edward R. Murrow, who died in 1965, by placing a blue plaque on the building at 84 Hallam Street where he lived when he made his memorable broadcasts beginning, “This … is London.”

Mr. Hottelet unveiled the plaque.

He said that Mr. Murrow was “never one to angle for applause or recognition.”

But he added, “About this, I think he’d smile.”

Originally published by The New York Times