George Polk, circa 1943
|Born||George W. Polk
October 17, 1913
Fort Worth, Texas, U.S.
|Died||ca. May 15, 1948
|Notable credit(s)||Columbia Broadcasting System|
World War II
During World War II, Polk enlisted with a Naval Construction Battalion. After the invasion of Guadalcanal, the first element of Construction Unit Base 1 (CUB-1), an advance fuel and supply base, landed on 16 August 1942. This element was commanded by Ensign George W. Polk, USNR, and consisted of five officers and 118 enlisted personnel, all navy petty officers of aviation support ratings. CUB-1 later received a Presidential Unit Citiation for its service. Polk also performed duty as a "volunteer" dive bomber and reconnaissance pilot. He was wounded, suffered from malaria and was hospitalized for almost a year.
Greek Civil War
Polk disappeared in Greece and was found dead a few days later on Sunday 16 May 1948, shot at point-blank range in the back of the head, and with hands and feet tied. Polk was covering the civil war in Greece between the right wing government and communists and had been critical of both sides. He alleged that a few officials in the Greek government had embezzled up to $250,000 in foreign aid (equivalent to $2.3 million in 2011 dollars) from the Truman Administration, a charge that was never proved.
He had been particularly outspoken in his criticism of the Truman government's unqualified support for the rightist authoritarian regime in Greece. In the late 1970s, the story emerged as to how AMAG (American Mission for Aid to Greece) authorities helped the Greek police frame two young communists for his death.
A communist journalist, Gregorios Staktopoulos, was tried and convicted of helping Vaggelis Vasvanas and Adam Mouzenidis, members of the illegal communist army, commit the murder. The communist guerilla radio station stated that Adam Mouzenidis was already killed in an aerial bombing by the Hellenic Air Force when Polk was murdered. Staktopoulos himself maintained that the confession that led to his conviction was obtained through torture, and in fact it was later revealed that Adam Mouzenidis arrived at Salonica, where he was allegedly introduced to Polk, two days after Polk's murder, and Vasvanas was not in Greece at the time. An investigation by James G.M. Kellis (also known as Killis), a former OSS officer with knowledge of Greek political circles and power brokers, concluded that Greek communist circles lacked the power and influence to commit the murder and cover it up. Kellis worked on contract for the Wall Street law firm of William 'Wild Bill' Donovan, the former head of OSS, who was hired by journalist Walter Lippman to investigate the case. Following Kellis' conclusion that it was more likely Polk had been murdered by right-wing groups within or affiliated to the Greek government, the investigation was halted and Kellis recalled to Washington. At the time the US government was financially supporting the Greek government mainly to prevent a communist take-over of the country. The Greek government had been supported by the British Government throughout 1941-1945 but this became an impossibility after the war.
Polk had married Rea Coccins (also known as Rhea Kokkonis), a Greek national and ex-stewardess, seven months prior to his death. They had no children. After being allegedly harassed and threatened by the Greek government, Rea fled to the U.S. where she was debriefed by Donovan's law firm. She became friendly with Barbara Colby, the wife of William Colby, a former OSS officer attached to Donovan's firm, who later would become director of the CIA.
Reporters in New York city started a fundraising project to send an independent investigation committee to Greece, and from this effort the newsmen's commission was formed. Members included Ernest Hemingway, William Polk (Polk's brother), William A. Price (his cousin) and Homer Bigart. This was soon however eclipsed in media coverage by the Lippman Committee, consisting mostly of Washington journalists with Walter Lippman as chairman and James Reston of the New York Times.
Within months of his death, a group of American journalists instigated the George Polk Awards for outstanding radio or television journalism. These awards were modeled after the Pulitzer Prize which is awarded for outstanding print journalism in newspapers.
In February 2007, Polk's "status as a symbol of journalistic integrity" was challenged by historian Richard Frank, who concluded that Polk made false claims about his service record in World War II. Frank examined the claim, repeated by Edward R. Murrow, that Polk had commanded a unit of 119 Marines on Guadacanal, flew a fighter plane that shot down 11 Japanese aircraft, and won a Purple Heart. He concluded that it is not consistent with the available documentation. Frank said, "the inescapable conclusion is that George Polk did not simply verbally recount false tales of his wartime exploits to his family and to his journalist colleagues, he actually forged documents to buttress his stories." 
George Polk's brother, William, replied to this attack, which he called slanderous, in a letter to the Guardian Monday March 19, 2007. http://media.guardian.co.uk/mediaguardian/story/0,,2036930,00.html He pointed out that Frank did not discuss a single article Polk ever wrote and that his military record is amply substantiated in a range of military documents, including a picture of Polk being decorated by Vice-Admiral John McCain on November 30, 1943, on behalf of the "Airplane Cruiser Detachment for their heroic role during the Battle for the Solomons." A more detailed reply can be found at http://www.williampolk.com/pdf/2007/open%20letter%20to%20winners%20of%20the%20geo%20polk.pdf
In April 2007, Frank responded to William Polk's letters and to what he considered a baffling silence from journalists that greeted his charges: http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/013/506hdoal.asp
U.S. Postal stamp
On October 5, 2007, the United States Postal Service announced that it would honor five journalists of the 20th century times with first-class rate postage stamps, to be issued on Tuesday, April 22, 2008: Martha Gellhorn, John Hersey, George Polk, Rubén Salazar, and Eric Sevareid. Postmaster General Jack Potter announced the stamp series at the Associated Press Managing Editors Meeting in Washington.
- U.S. Navy All Hands magazine April 1944, p. 32. and TIME OF THE ACES: Marine Pilots in the Solomons
- Richard B. Frank : Celebrated Journalist George Polk's Real WW II Record
- George Polk's Real World War II Record: The fictional career of a famous newsman. Richard B. Frank, Weekly Standard, Feb 16, 2007
- The Associated Press (2007). "Stamps Honor Distinguished Journalists". The Associated Press. Retrieved October 18, 2007.[dead link]
- Prados, John (2003). Last Crusader: The Secret Wars Of CIA Director William Colby. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-512847-8.
- Bernhard, Nancy E (1999). U.S. Television News and Cold War Propaganda, 1947-1960. Cambridge University Press.
- Keeley, Edmund (1989). The Salonika Bay Murder: Cold War Politics and the Polk Affair. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
- Marton, Kati (1990). The Polk Conspiracy: Murder and Cover-Up in the Case of CBS News Correspondent George Polk. Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York.
- Unger, Sanford (1990). "The Case of the Inconvenient Correspondent", Columbia Journalism Review 29 (November/December 1990).
- Vlanton, Elias, and Zak Mettger (1996). Who Killed George Polk? The Press Covers Up a Death in the Family. Temple University Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
- Seattle.indymedia.org at seattle.indymedia.org
- Who Killed George Polk? at www.vlanton.com
- Democracy Now! | The Story of George Polk at www.democracynow.org
- http://dlib.nyu.edu:8083/tamwagead/servlet/SaxonServlet?source=/newsmens.xml&style=/saxon01t2002.xsl&part=body[dead link]