District Public Information Officer
The primary function of the District Public Information Office was cooperation with the press, radio, and photographic agencies engaged in disseminating public information to provide:
- Security of information, disclosure of which might be detrimental to the Naval Service and the national defense.
- Quick release of information and photographs to meet normal requirements of the press and other news-disseminating agencies in their paramount duty of public service.
- Development and publication of constructive facts and feature material relative to the Naval Service, its material and its personnel.1
In the beginning, the District Intelligence Office performed the functions of the Office of Public Information. (It was not until June 1945 that Public Relations was changed to Public Information; the terms are used interchangeably here.)2 On 9 May 1941, however, the Chief of Naval Operations established the Office of Public Relations as an independent unit and directed Commandants, Naval Districts, to transfer Public Relations Offices from the Naval Intelligence Branch to separate status directly under the Commandants.3 The District Public Relations Office was established in the Eighth Naval District in the same month.
By August 1941, branch offices had been established at Houston, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Nashville, and Mobile. These offices remained in existence, together with the Branch Office established in Algiers, Louisiana, in November 1944. Another Branch Office was set up in Jackson, Mississippi, on 4 January 1943, but this was closed on 2 May 1944, when a reduction in the recruiting program became effective. In September 1942 the Liaison Offices which had been established at Corpus Christi and Pensacola in 1941 were taken from under the cognizance of the District Public Relations Officer and placed directly under the Air Functional Training Commands.4
The District Public Information Office, under the Public Information Branch of the Navy Department, was expected to present a certain autonomy. The Branch Offices in the district were supposed to act, to a very large extent, independently of the District Office, but to refer to it any very important questions.
p The organization of the work of the headquarters staff fell into three main sections: Press Section, Radio Section, and Special Events Section. The Press Section prepared news releases on many different phases of Naval activities and distributed them to newspapers and other media, the scope of the distribution depending on the interest value of the release. Typical news releases were those dealing with appointments, promotions, transfers, casualties, recruiting and procurement objectives, launchings and commissionings of ships, awards
or decorations, and training programs. The Press Section also arranged for the newspaper and magazine representatives to obtain exclusive stories when they sought such material on their own initiative. This Section planned press conferences, enabling local representatives of the newspapers to interview Naval heroes who returned from combat as well as Naval officers and officials of the Navy Department traveling through New Orleans in the course of their duty.
As newspaper editors and reporters were very eager during the war not to violate security restrictions, they cleared through the District and Branch Public Information Offices all stories about the Navy's operations, activities, and personnel whenever there was the slightest doubt that the Navy might wish something to be omitted or revised. The District Office of Public Information had officers serve in rotation as a telephone watch from 0900 one day to 0900 the next, the purpose being to enable the newspapers and radio stations to clear material at any hour.
The Press Section planned and sponsored tours of newspaper and radio representatives to see various phases of the Navy's wartime activities. Reporters and commentators were taken on several shake-down cruises in the Gulf. In January 1945, on the invitation of the Commandant, a group of thirty-two was taken in planes from New Orleans to Washington for a special press conference with the Secretary of the Navy and for a visit to certain Naval activities on the East Coast. In the course of the tour they went aboard two aircraft carriers; on a carrier under way they saw the planes taking off and landing on the
flight deck. A similar trip to the West Coast was planned, but was not carried out because of the sudden ending of the war. As a result of tours of the type indicated, newspapermen and radio commentators greatly increased the amount of space and time devoted to the Navy in their respective media.
Officers of the Press Section, in conjunction with Intelligence Officers, interviewed survivors of merchant vessels torpedoed in the Gulf during the height of the submarine warfare. Preliminary notes on these interviews were dispatched to the Washington office, and later, accounts based on the data were sent in. The Washington office caused any objectionable passages to be deleted or revised. The articles were not released for publication in local newspapers until permission was granted by the Washington office.
There was no Photographic Section as such, only one Navy photographer having been assigned to the whole District; but this photographer was kept busy taking pictures of personnel and activities with which to illustrate the large amount of news disseminated by the office, in a photographic laboratory which averaged more than 600 prints a month, the photographer often had to work fast in order to meet the deadlines of newspapers going to press only an hour or two after a picture had been taken. In addition to making news shots, the photographer was constantly called upon to take pictures for the use of departments and activities which desired to use photographs for reports, surveys, and training aids.
The Radio Section was designed to prepare and produce radio programs directed toward improving the average listener's knowledge of
the Navy and its objectives. One of these programs was the Navy Scrapbook. From January 1942 the Scrapbook was distributed weekly to about 155 radio stations in the district. It was composed of a miscellaneous group of stories and anecdotes about life in the Navy, some serious and some light. Some of the radio stations used only parts of the Scrapbook to supplement regular programs, but others used it in its entirety as a fifteen-minute program.
The Radio Section prepared radio programs for all sorts of special occasions, such as Navy Day, the Waves' Anniversary, Red Cross drives, War Bond campaigns, and special recruiting efforts. Among these were numerous Waves programs in dramatic form, scripts for the Seabees, and scripts for Naval aviation. In connection with various recruiting programs in the Navy, the radio was a very useful medium for "spot announcements". For example, in accelerating the recruiting of shipyard workers to help repair damaged war vessels, radio stations carried a large number of announcements initiated by the Radio Section working in collaboration with the Office of War Information. Radio stations throughout the district continually called on the headquarters office for addresses by Naval officers. This section made arrangements for several addresses delivered by the Commandant. The Public Information Office prepared speeches for any Naval officers who desired such services.
As the war progressed, radio stations sought more and more transcriptions of interviews with Navy men who had had combat experience.
Some of these recordings were made on ships at sea; many were made in this country. Some very dramatic interviews were provided by wounded
men in hospitals on the subject of their experiences. These recordings were sent to the District Public Information Offices for distribution to the radio stations.
The function of the Special Events Section was largely one of coordination. This section did extensive work in promoting Navy Day, Flag Day, Memorial Day, and innumerable events designed to stimulate more sales during War Bond Drives. It was called upon to provide Naval personnel for all kinds of functions, ranging from color guards for parades to speakers at church meetings. It operated a Speakers' Bureau which early in the war was asked frequently by the Inspector of Navy Material to send speakers to war plants and shipyards. These speakers, most of whom had been in combat, helped to speed up production and cut down absenteeism. Frequently their visits were planned to coincide with the showing of exhibits of guns and other war material sent around the country by the Navy Yards to improve the morals of war workers.
The entire Public Information Office worked as a unit on any special event requiring synchronized publicity. For instance, at an Army-Navy "E" award, the Special Events Section organized the program, the Press Section made arrangements with the newsmen and photographers, and the Radio Section had charge of all broadcasting and recording facilities.
The District Public Information Office maintained contact with the Naval activities scattered throughout the District. The Commandant issued two District Orders calling attention to the responsibilities
of all activities in the district in regard to keeping the public informed about the accomplishments of the Navy.5 He directed that Public Relations Liaison Officers be appointed by all activities and that each of these provide the nearest Branch Office with any data of public interest about the activity or its personnel. The District Public Relations Officer, who was virtually the Commandant's spokesman in dealing with the press and radio, remained in day-to-day communication with the Commandant. He also kept in close touch with the Chief of Staff and other members of the Admiral's immediate staff.
For a Naval district which covers 580,000 square miles and which is populated by some 21,000,000 people, the district complement for Public Information was extremely small. A letter from the Senior Member of the Navy Manpower Survey Board to the Secretary of the Navy, dated 14 April 1944,6 recommended the following personnel for Public Information in the Eighth Naval District: 12 officers, 8 enlisted men, and 25 civilians. The recommendation was approved by the Secretary of the Navy. Until July 1945, however, the greatest number of Public Information Officers assigned to the district was 10; there were never over 6 enlisted men; and the greatest number of civilians was 19. For the dissemination of information about Naval Activities in so large a district, a greater complement would have been desirable. A more sympathetic attitude on the part of the Washington office was indicated in the fact that as of September 1945 sixteen officers had been assigned to this duty in the district, though the complement remained at twelve.
1. Dir. of Pub. Rel. Inst. Bul. No. 2-41. 2. AlNav 138, dtd. 19 Jul 1945. 3. CNO Ltr., file No. OCR, EN 1-14/A4-2 (410509), dtd. 9 May 1941. 4. SecNav AlShips and Stas OP-4O-A-KB/SO 825 99/Ser. 89340 of 11 Sept. 1942. 5. ComEight Dist. Order No. 27-44, dtd. 20 Dec, 1944, and ComEight Dist. Order No. 5-45, dtd. 3 Feb, 1945. 6. NMSB/CFB:pg, Ser. 1421, dtd. 14 Apr. 1944; End-1 by SecNav.
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