George Polk

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George Polk
George Polk, circa 1943
George Washington Polk, Jr.[1]

(1913-10-17)October 17, 1913
Diedca. May 15, 1948(1948-05-15) (aged 34)
Thessaloniki, Greece
Notable creditCBS
SpouseRea Coccins

George Washington Polk, Jr. (October 17, 1913 – May 1948) was an American journalist for CBS who was murdered during the Greek Civil War, in 1948.

Early years[edit]

George Washington Polk was born in Fort Worth, Texas as a son of lawyer George Washington Polk, Sr. and librarian Adalaide Roe. He studied, but did not graduate, at the Virginia Military Institute[2] and started working as a salesman in 1933. In 1938 he completed his undergraduate degree in English at the University of Alaska Fairbanks[3] and already started writing for the Fort Worth Press. After graduation he lived in Asia, joined the Shanghai Evening Post and married in 1939 with Kay Phillips. In 1940, he returned to the United States, working now for the Herald Tribune and teaching at New York University.[4][5]

World War II[edit]

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 August 16, 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 Citation for its service.[6] 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.[7]

Greek Civil War[edit]

Polk was found dead near the Port of Thessaloniki on Sunday May 16, 1948, shot at point-blank range in the back of the head, with hands and feet tied.

Polk had been covering the Greek Civil War in Greece between the Greek government and communists trying to seize control of the country. His intention was to meet the military leader of the communists, Markos Vafeiadis, for an interview.

In his articles, he had alleged that a few officials in the Greek government had embezzled $250,000 in foreign aid ($2.5 million in 2016 dollars) from the Truman Administration, a charge that was never proved. Polk, sympathetic to the communists, had been particularly outspoken in his criticism of the Truman government's unqualified support for resistance by the "rightist authoritarian regime" in Greece to the communist attempt to seize power.

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.[citation needed]

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 said that Adam Mouzenidis was already dead, having been killed during 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. In fact, it was later revealed that Mouzenidis had 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.[citation needed] 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 to prevent a communist take-over of the country. The British government had supported the Greek government throughout 1941–1945, but this became a financial 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 (George Polk's brother), William A. Price (Polk's cousin) and Homer Bigart. This was soon eclipsed in media coverage by the Lippmann Committee, consisting mostly of Washington journalists with Walter Lippmann as chairman and James Reston of The New York Times.

Within months of his death, a group of American journalists created 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 Guadalcanal, flew a fighter plane that shot down 11 Japanese aircraft and was awarded a Purple Heart. He concluded that it is not consistent with the available documentation. Frank said that "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."[8]

George Polk's brother, William, replied to this attack, which he called slanderous, in a letter to The Guardian March 19, 2007.[9] 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."[10]

In April 2007, Frank responded to William Polk's letters and to what he considered a baffling silence from journalists that greeted his charges.[11]

U.S. Postal stamp[edit]

On October 5, 2007, the United States Postal Service announced that it would honor five journalists of the 20th century 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.[12] Postmaster General Jack Potter announced the stamp series at the Associated Press Managing Editors Meeting in Washington.[citation needed]

Polk was related to US Presidents James Knox Polk and Andrew Jackson.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Auster, Albert (2000). Polk, George. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.1603284. ISBN 978-0-19-860669-7. Archived from the original on March 15, 2022. Retrieved March 15, 2022. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  2. ^ "George Washington Polk Jr". Historical Rosters Database. Virginia Military Institute archives digital collections. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  3. ^ "George Polk | UAF Centennial". Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  4. ^ Miller, Douglass W. (1941). "News Notes". Journalism Quarterly. 18 (3): 338–346. doi:10.1177/107769904101800325. ISSN 0022-5533 – via Sage.
  5. ^ "Polk, George (1913-1948), journalist and broadcast foreign correspondent". American National Biography. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.1603284. Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  6. ^ "HyperWar: Time of the Aces: Marine Pilots in the Solomons, 1942-1944". Retrieved September 22, 2023.
  7. ^ "Richard B. Frank : Celebrated Journalist George Polk's Real WW II Record". Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  8. ^ George Polk's Real World War II Record: The fictional career of a famous newsman. Richard B. Frank, Weekly Standard, February 16, 2007
  9. ^ 19.52 EDT (March 19, 2007). "Letters | Media". The Guardian. Retrieved March 4, 2015.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ A more detailed reply can be found at
  11. ^ "The Unanswered Case Against George Polk". The Weekly Standard. April 13, 2007. Archived from the original on December 3, 2008. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  12. ^ The Associated Press (2007). "Stamps Honor Distinguished Journalists". Associated Press. Archived from the original on October 30, 2007. Retrieved October 18, 2007.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.

External links[edit]