Honored War Correspondent
Higgins was the only woman among six reporters honored in 1951 for covering the Korean War. The Pulitzer jury noted: 'She is entitled to special consideration by reason of being a woman, since she had to work under unusual dangers.'In 1951 the Pulitzer Prize Board made an unprecedented decision: It awarded six separate prizes for International Reporting. The occasion was the outbreak of the Korean War. All the winners had gone to cover it.
The six were Keyes Beech of the Chicago Daily News, Homer Bigart of the New York Herald Tribune, Marguerite Higgins of the New York Herald Tribune, Relman Morin of The Associated Press, Fred Sparks of the Chicago Daily News and Don Whitehead of The Associated Press.
The Pulitzer Prize jury report cited Higgins’s “fine front line reporting showing enterprise and courage,” adding: “She is entitled to special consideration by reason of being a woman, since she had to work under unusual dangers.”
The gender reference reflected the disapproval she faced in Korea for both being aggressive and being a woman. Homer Bigart, her senior correspondent from the Herald Tribune, threatened to fire her if she didn’t leave the country. As he later told an interviewer: “She was a very brave person, foolishly brave. As a result, I felt as though I had to go out and get shot at occasionally myself. So I resented that.” A Marine general expelled Higgins from the front lines. She stood her ground against Bigart and successfully appealed the general’s ouster to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of United Nations forces defending South Korea.
A few years earlier, at the age of 24, Higgins had persuaded her editors to send her to Europe to cover World War II. On April 29, 1945, she was with the Army troops who liberated Dachau. Her report included this sentence: “This correspondent and Peter Furst, of the Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes, were the first two Americans to enter the enclosure at Dachau, where persons possessing some of the best brains in Europe were held during what might have been the most fruitful years of their lives.”
As the Herald Tribune’s Tokyo correspondent in 1950, Higgins was one the first reporters to reach Korea when hostilities broke out. She later reported from Vietnam, where she contracted a tropical disease that proved to be mortal. She died on Jan. 3, 1966, at the age of 45.
The Herald Tribune published Higgins’s report on landing with the Marines at Inchon on Sept. 18, 1950, three days after it happened.
‘Everybody get down, here we go’
By MARGUERITE HIGGINS
With the U.S. Marines at Inchon, Korea, Sept. 15 (Delayed) – Heavily laden U.S. Marines, in one of the most technically difficult amphibious landings in history, stormed at sunset today over a ten-foot sea wall in the heart of the port of Inchon and within an hour had taken three commanding hills in the city.
I was in the fifth wave that hit “Red Beach,” which in reality was a rough, vertical pile of stones over which the first assault troops had to scramble with the aid of improvised landing ladders topped with steel hooks.Despite a deadly and steady pounding from naval guns and airplanes, enough North Koreans remained alive close to the beach to harass us with small-arms and mortar fire. They even hurled hand grenades down at us as we crouched in trenches which unfortunately ran behind the sea wall in the inland side.
It was far from the “virtually unopposed” landing for which the troops had hoped after hearing the quick capture of Wolmi Island in the morning by an earlier Marine assault. Wolmi is inside Inchon harbor and just off “Red Beach.” At H-hour minus seventy, confident, joking Marines started climbing down from the transport ship on cargo nets and dropping into small assault boats. Our wave commander, Lieutenant R.J. Schening, a veteran of five amphibious assaults, including Guadacanal, hailed me with the comment, “This has a good chance of being a pushover.”
Because of tricky tides, our transport had to stand down the channel and it was more than nine miles to the rendezvous point where our assault waves formed up.
The channel reverberated with the ear-splitting boom of warship guns and rockets. Blue and orange flame spurted from the “Red Beach” area and a huge oil tank, on fire, sent great black rings of smoke over the shore. Then the fire from the big guns lifted and the planes that had been circling overhead swooped low to rake their fire deep into the sea wall.
The first wave of our assault troops was speeding toward the shore by now. It would be H-hour (5:30 p.m.) in two minutes. Suddenly, bright orange tracer bullets spun out from the hill in our direction.
“My God! There are still some left,” Lieutenant Schening said.
“Everybody get down. Here we go!”
It was H-hour plus fifteen minutes as we sped the last 2,000 yards to the beach. About halfway there the bright tracers started cutting across the top of our little boat. “Look at their faces now,” said John Davies of the Newark News. I turned and saw that the men around me had expressions contorted with anxiety.
I turned and saw that the men around me had expressions contorted with anxiety.
We struck the sea wall hard at a place where it had crumbled into a canyon. The bullets were whining persistently, spattering the water around us. We clambered over the high steel sides of the boat, dropping into the water and, taking shelter beside the boat as we could, snaked onto our stomachs into a rock-strewn dip in the sea wall.
In the sky there was good news. A bright, white star shell from the high ground to our left and an amber cluster told us that the first wave had taken their initial objective, Observatory Hill. But whatever the luck of the first four waves, we were relentlessly pinned down by rifle and automatic weapon fire coming down on us from another rise on the right.
There were some thirty Marines and two correspondents crouched in the gouged-out sea wall. Then another assault boat swept up, disgorging about thirty more Marines. This went on for two more waves until our hole was filled and Marines lying on their stomachs were strung out all across the top of the sea wall.
An eerie colored light flooded the area as the sun went down with a glow that a newsreel audience would have thought a fake. As the dusk settled the glare of burning buildings all around lit the sky.
Suddenly, as we lay there intent on the firing ahead, a sudden rush of water came up into a dip in the wall and we saw a huge LST (Landing Ship, Tank) rushing at us with the great plank door half down. Six more yards and the ship would have crushed twenty men.
Warning shots sent everyone speeding from the sea wall, searching for escape from the LST and cover from the gunfire. The LST’s huge bulk sent a rush of water pouring over the sea wall as it crunched in, soaking most of us.
The Marines ducked and zigzagged as they raced across the open, but enemy bullets caught a good many in the semi-darkness. The wounded were pulled aboard the LSTs, six of which appeared within sixty-five minutes after H-hour.
As nightfall closed in, the Marine commanders ordered their troops forward with increasing urgency, for they wanted to assure a defensible perimeter for the night.
In this remarkable amphibious operation, where tides played such an important part, the Marines were completely isolated from outside supply lines for exactly four hours after H-hour. At this time the out-rushing tides — they fluctuate thirty-one feet in twelve-hour periods — made mud flats of the approaches to “Red Beach.” The LSTs bringing supplies simply settled on the flats, helpless until the morning tides would float them again.
At the battalion command post the news that the three high-ground objectives — the British Consulate, Cemetery Hill and Observation Hill — had been taken arrived at about H-hour plus sixty-one minutes. Now the important items of business became debarking tanks, guns and ammunition from the LSTs.
Every cook, clerk, driver and administrative officer in the vicinity was rounded up for the unloading. It was exciting to see the huge M-26 tanks rumble across big planks onto the beach, which only a few minutes before had been protected only by riflemen and machine gunners. Then came the bulldozers, trucks and jeeps.
It was very dark in the shadow of the ships and the unloaders had a hazardous time dodging bullets, mortar fire and their own vehicles. North Koreans began giving up by the dozens by this time and we could see them, hands up, marching across the open fields toward the LSTs. They were taken charge of with considerable glee by a Korean Marine policeman, Captain Woo, himself a native of Inchon, who had made the landing with several squads of men who were also natives of the city. They learned of the plan to invade their hometown only after they had boarded the ship.
Tonight, Captain Woo was in a state of elation beyond even that of the American Marines who had secured the beachhead. “When the Koreans see your power,” he said, “they will come in droves to our side.”
As we left the beach and headed back to the Navy flagship, naval guns were booming again in support of the Marines. “This time,” said a battalion commander, “they are preparing the road to Seoul.”
Sources: John Hohenberg, The Pulitzer Prizes, Columbia University Press, 1974, pp. 193-94; New York Herald Tribune, May 1, 1945, Sept. 18, 1950; UPI obituary of Higgins, St. Petersburg Times, Jan. 4, 1966.