Paul Morton in 1944, war correspondent in Italy for the Toronto Daily Star. “He was a bit more complex than most of us, I’d guess. By times he could be able, elegant, difficult, articulate and improbable. And being all those things he got caught up in a bizarre episode of the war. At a crossroads in his life, the frailties of his past reached out and poisoned perhaps his best hour.” Douglas How, Editor Readers Digest.
I have tried to discover the truth about Paul Morton and his secret mission for more than ten years. In many ways I identify with Morton, since I was born Canadian, am a lifelong journalist with a deep respect for soldiers, prone to drinking too much, and often not good at communicating with my bosses. Like Morton, I covered a war behind the lines with guerrilla forces in El Salvador escaping with my life and a story for Newsweek–only to have the U.S. Embassy state that I was a liar for reporting a Salvadoran army massacre of civilians. So Morton’s experience strongly resonates with me, and made me try to find out why he suffered such an ignominious fate when he should have been hailed as a war hero.
It was August 27th, 72 years ago today that Paul Morton and war artist Captain Geoffrey Long of the Army of South Africa were dropped into a base for the Italian partisans.
Captain Long was an experienced combat artist who worked with actual combat instead of photographs. They were both 31 years old. With the partisans for two months they experienced dangerous encounters with German troops, but finally escaped to France and home again to Rome. But as fate would intervene, the incompetent General Harold Alexander, the allied commander in Italy, believed his erroneous intelligence that the partisans were largely a bunch of communists. Orders went out from General Alexander’s headquarters that no further reports would be allowed on the partisans just five days before Morton and Long returned from their mission.
Paul Morton’s story of the partisans would never be fully told. Although I have scoured archives from Turin to London to Ottawa, I believe files have been “sanitized” and more answers are still hidden in long lost government records. I’m still looking for them and when I find them I would like to publish a second edition of “Inappropriate Conduct.” Until then I hope you will read my book. It’s available on Amazon and most book web sites or I will gladly send you a signed copy in return for a $20 check sent to me at 11830 Larry Road, Fairfax, VA. 22030.
To be called a liar after risking his life for the story sent Paul Morton into a tailspin of depression emotionally and spiritually for the rest of his life. All he wanted was an apology from the Toronto Daily Star and restoration of his dignity, honor and reputation as a journalist. Instead a true war hero died a broken man.