- Ø When the Lincoln Army Air Base was booming during World War II it housed 30,000 men. The Journal heard repeated reports of abuses occurring in the stockade. Before we printed anything, a court martial was ordered. The base commander said we could not cover the court martial because it would be damaging to morale during wartime. We were barred from the base. We appealed to the War Department (now the Pentagon), which overruled the base commander. Again, Maurice P. Clifford was assigned to cover the proceedings. I took his dictated stories by phone for our afternoon editions. Two men (sergeants, I think) were found guilty of abuses, including running men in front of a Jeep until they dropped in the roadway. The guilty men served time in Leavenworth, a prison in Kansas.
- Ø We also learned that GI’s from the Air Base were complaining that they were being cheated at various gambling spots in the county. We could never get a handle on it, but one day a man came to the Journal and wanted to talk with an editor. I think he saw Raymond A. McConnell Jr., who was the managing editor. He told Ray that he was a professional gambler and he, too, was being cheated. “I can give you locations of the gambling spots and tell of their operations, but don’t use my name or I’ll end up in a ditch between here and Kansas City.” He was assured he would remain anonymous. We had several teams (two each and sometimes a man and woman) lined up to go to the gambling spots. Of course they had no bylines, but we had good stories telling of extensive gambling at the expense of many service men. The county attorney then pursued the gamblers and they were shut down.
- Ø Several planes went down on landings or takeoffs at the Army Air Corps base. We attempted to cover those crashes. More than once our photographers were chased from getting close-up crash photos when confronted by men with bayonets on their rifles.
- Ø The Journal led the way in speeding construction of Interstate 80 in western Nebraska. Many other individuals were involved, but the Journal helped slow large city freeways in favor of completing more western roadways. Omaha ended up with more than its share.
- Ø Removal of the Rock Islands railroad tracks through Lincoln and the creation of the Railroad Transportation District had the strong support of the Journal and Joe R. Seacrest’s heavy involvement. Joe R. was the Journal’s editor.
- Ø Creation of Wilderness Park had strong Journal support and the paper provided leadership in its creation.
- Ø The Sunken Gardens at 27th and Capitol Parkway are there primarily because of Seacrest benevolence and leadership.
- Ø Nebraska’s broadened tax base requiring sales tax and income tax while removing state property tax was heavily promoted by the Journal and opposed by the Omaha World-Herald.
- Ø Fluoridation of Lincoln’s water was strongly supported by the Journal, but the newspaper provided a full page to a Lincoln physician who strongly opposed it.
- Ø It was unusual for a newspaper of the Journal’s size to win a Pulitzer Prize, but this was accomplished in 1948 by its leadership and extensive coverage of the presidential primary that brought Taft, Stassen, Dewey and others to Nebraska for a primary ahead of Wisconsin’s. The award was for “the most meritorious and disinterested public service by an American newspaper in 1948.” (This is well covered in Betty Stevens’ book, “A History of The Lincoln Journal.”)
- Ø The Journal’s outstanding coverage of the Starkweather-Fugate murders resulted in a nomination for a Pulitzer, but it did not win an award. Neale Copple was city editor and I was news editor.
- Ø The Journal heard reports that some people were questioning the legitimacy of Back to Bible. Kandra Hahn, a reporter and daughter of a minister, was given carte blanche to investigate. She wrote a splendid report showing the religious organization was “clean as a hound’s tooth.”
- Ø In one of Mary Jane Nielsen’s books I wrote of the Journal block as being Lincoln’s Magical ‘Incubator’ Block. I listed Willa Cather, Warren Buffett, Gene Budig, Neale Copple and many others whose journalism or other careers started there. Several Hall of Fame inductees and Master Editor-Publishers worked at the Journal and the Lincoln Journal Star. Print journalism is important and newspapers have a high story count unmatched by any other medium.
Allen Beermann heads the Nebraska Press Association. Non-dailies, dailies and print media continue to cover news as no other medium does. Keep on reading!
The Journal’s publishers never knew what the newspaper would print until it landed on their desks. Phone calls to the publishers not to print stories I presume were politely told that the “people in the newsroom would decide what to print.” All the Seacrests were good people to work with and work for – indeed they were role models.
Fred Seacrest, co-publisher with his brother Joe W. Seacrest, once said to me, “I like to think we did some good in this world.”
I know we did.
Gil Savery is a retired managing editor of the Lincoln Journal. He celebrated his 100th birthday Oct. 10.