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Gammack, Gordon
(May 31, 1909–November 18, 1974)

–longtime reporter and columnist for the Des Moines Register and the Des Moines Tribune–made his mark as the state's leading war correspondent. Over his 40-year career, Gammack covered three wars, writing about Iowans and their experiences in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

    Gammack was born in Lenox, Massachusetts, where his father was an Episcopalian pastor. He went to the private Kent School in Connecticut and worked for its school newspaper. He then attended Harvard briefly, followed by a short stint at the Hartford (Conn.) Courant. In the depths of the Great Depression, Gammack's older brother Tom helped his unemployed younger sibling find a job, prevailing on John Cowles, an old college friend and then associate publisher of the Register and Tribune Company, to give his brother a chance at the Des Moines newspapers. Cowles complied, and in 1933 Gammack began at the Register as police reporter and sports writer. He later covered the Iowa House over several legislative sessions.

    But it was as a war correspondent that Gammack found his niche. In 1943 he was sent overseas to cover Iowans serving in World War II. With his plainspoken, straightforward style, Gammack sought out stories by approaching groups of soldiers and announcing, "I'm Gordon Gammack of the Des Moines Register and Tribune. Anyone from Iowa here?" His style was similar to that of Ernie Pyle, the famous Scripps Howard war correspondent, who reported the trials of average foot soldiers. Gammack's coverage, though, was narrower and focused on Iowans. Much to the delight of his readers, his stories sometimes contained personal messages from Iowa soldiers to their families back home.

    After reporting about the Iowa troops with the 34th U.S. Division in Italy, Gammack was with American forces when they liberated Paris, and he followed their progress across Europe to the war's end. He then returned home and became a columnist for the Tribune and the Sunday Register. His feature typically ran in the left-hand column of the front page and covered a variety of topics, ranging from the struggles of daily life in Iowa to profiles of interesting people.

    Shortly after the Korean War began, Gammack returned to his duties as a foreign correspondent. He made several trips to Korea during the conflict and was there when the first exchange of sick and wounded prisoners of war took place. Gammack gained an exclusive interview with the first American soldier released, Iowan Richard Morrison. The piece aired on radio and television across the United States.

    In the early 1970s the 60-plus-year-old Gammack was back in a war zone again, this time in Vietnam. His reporting instincts continued to lead him to big stories; he was one of the first to cover the invasion of neighboring Laos. Gammack's time in Vietnam also resulted in his 10-part series on Michael Kjome, an Iowa native and civilian teacher in Saigon who had been captured by the Viet Cong and became a prisoner of war (POW). The story was the first full account of the POW experience. It received national attention and garnered Gammack the National Headliners Club Award in 1971.

    Three years later, in 1974, Gammack died of lung cancer in Des Moines. He was survived by his wife, two daughters (one of whom would later write for the Des Moines newspapers as well), a son, a sister, and a brother.
Sources Many of Gammack's war stories are collected in Andrea Clardy, ed., Gordon Gammack: Columns from Three Wars (1979). For his obituary and articles about Gammack, see the Des Moines Register, 11/19/1974, 11/24/1974, 5/20/1979, and 6/17/2007; and Des Moines Tribune, 11/19/1974. For background on the Des Moines Register, see William Friedricks, Covering Iowa: The History of the Des Moines Register and Tribune Company, 1849–1985 (2000); and George Mills, Harvey Ingham and Gardner Cowles, Sr.: Things Don't Just Happen (1977).
Contributor: William Friedricks