Merle McDougald “Doug” Werner, who is believed to be the last surviving journalist to cover the D-Day landings, died on May 19. Cause of death was not released. He was 91.
Born in Bladen, Neb., Werner earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. He worked as a reporter for newspapers in Nebraska and Wyoming before joining the Des Moines office of United Press, a forerunner of United Press International.
Werner was transferred to UP’s Washington bureau in 1941. Within a year, he was accredited as a war correspondent and transferred to the London bureau to cover the European theatre of World War II. His editor was Walter Cronkite.
Werner’s front-line dispatches told American readers about the German bombing blitz of London, the liberation of Paris and the U.S. occupation of Berlin. On June 6, 1944, he was one of 20 journalists to land on the beaches of Normandy with British, Canadian and American troops.
Hitching a ride to Utah beach with the U.S. 9th Air Force Engineers, Werner jumped into the water and dodged artillery shells as he waded 100 feet to shore. Carrying a portable typewriter and an extra pair of eyeglasses, Werner hit land and immediately dug himself a small foxhole. There he observed the battle then typed up a dispatch that was taken back to London the next morning. It was one of the first eyewitness accounts of the invasion to appear in American newspapers.
After the war ended, Werner covered the Nuremberg trials and the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia. He joined the Foreign Service in 1952 and spent the next 18 years serving as a press attaché at U.S. embassies in Austria, Korea, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sweden and Taiwan. Werner also wrote and edited stories for the Voice of America in Washington D.C., until his retirement in 1982.
Read Werner’s “First Wave” Dispatch