June 2022

An extract from Asia Ernie, by Patrick J. Killen

Asia Ernie is Patrick J. Killen’s book about Earnest Hoberecht (pronounced Ho-bright), a founding member of FCCJ and president of the club three times. A good ol’ boy from Watonga, Oklahoma, Ernie became a war correspondent for United Press toward the end of the WWII in the Pacific. He became well known in Japan during the first few years of the Allied Occupation (1945-52) by writing a series of best-selling books, translated into Japanese, at a time when American books were banned. He became a UPI vice president for Asia, married four times, filed the wrong picture of the Dalai Lama and was a confidant of General Douglas MacArthur. The book is a series of stories about Ernie and some other correspondents, not a biography. Ernie also had a hand in securing U.S. backing for Taiwan against Mao's China. The book provides background on why MacArthur didn't think President Truman would fire him. Two of the chapters take place inside the FCCJ. Below in an excerpt from one of them.

Ernie Hoberecht is dressed in a three-piece, black-and-camel houndstooth suit and sports a black homburg. He brandishes a new ebony cane topped by a gold lion's head with ruby eyes. Never mind the outfit. Ernie is a good old boy from Watonga, Oklahoma. He has been in Japan since 1945.

The year is 1957 and Hoberecht, 39, is the Vice President for Asia of United Press, a global distributor of news. He leads some of his UP colleagues in a walk from the office in the old Mainichi building in Yurakucho to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan located in the former American Club in Marunouchi. The club had moved there in 1955 after being turned out of its nearby original location at No. 1 Shimbun Alley. Three years later, the club would move again to more permanent quarters in the Chiyoda Building Annex. 

Once inside the club, Ernie checks with Mary Ushijima at the front desk to see if he has any messages. Hoberecht, who is the club president, asks Mary if she has any problems with telephone and library staff members. "No problems this week," she says.

Mary, who was born in Hayward, California, moved to Japan in 1933 with her family. She is a remarkable resource for the correspondents, helping them with news sources, shopping tips, even girlfriends. She has a disconcerting and sometimes embarrassing knack of tracking down correspondents wherever they are in the Tokyo area. A sort-of-spa place called Miyoshi's comes to mind.

The main bar is crowded, noisy and smoky. it is 1957, and almost everyone smokes. Along the bar, men are shaking dice cups and playing 'horses' for drinks. Ernie nods and says hello to chief bartender Hajime 'Jimmy' Horikawa, who later would become club manager. 

Ernie stops at a table to talk briefly with James Michener, the author and Pulitzer Prize winner. 

"Have you seen my latest affection?" Ernie asks Michener.

Michener examines Ernie's cane and laughs. "That's hard to beat, Ernie," he says.

Hoberecht sits down at a table with some of the UP people. They

include Asia news editor Arnold Dibble, Tokyo editor LeRoy Hansen and me, a visitor en route from Honolulu to Pakistan. We talk and drink. Hansen asks: "Is this two-martini or three-martini lunch?"

Ernie talks about the need to cut UP costs all over Asia, including in my Karachi bureau. I suggest naively, "Sometimes it takes money to make money." Hoberecht looks stricken, as if I had just punched him in the stomach. "Killen, the United States sends a lot of money in aid funds to Pakistan. Your job is to get some of the money back."

I retreat into my swordfish platter.

The topic turns to World War II and its sudden end in 1945.  Ernie says, "I don't like to brag but I was the first correspondent to land in Japan at the end of the war. Two days ahead of (General Douglas) MacArthur."

Dibble and Hansen look skeptical.

"I was on a carrier and the Navy didn't much like General MacArthur," Hoberecht continues. "Of course, later, I thought MacArthur was great during the Occupation. But right after the fighting ended, MacArthur had issued orders not to let any of the people with the Navy into Japan before he got here with his own Army people. That included us correspondents.

"(Admiral William) 'Bull' Halsey commanded the Third Fleet that had been bombarding Japan. His ego was nearly as big as MacArthur's and he chaffed at MacArthur's orders.

"MacArthur's order made Halsey madder than the dickens. So, he got on the radio and talked with Admiral (John) McCain, who was in charge of the Fast Carrier Task Force.

"Halsey said, 'Why don't you send those three correspondents (representing AP, UP and INS) to fly over there (to Japan) and let them have engine trouble?'

"So, we flew to Atsugi (a Japanese air base 22 miles southwest of Tokyo). All three planes had 'engine trouble' (and we landed). We got some grass to prove we had been there, in Japan, and flew back to the carrier. This was (Aug. 28) two days before MacArthur landed.

"I say my plane hit first. The AP's Dick O'Malley said his plane landed first. The INS correspondent, Julian Hart, said his plane landed first."

"What happened when you landed?" Dibble asked. "Did you talk to anyone?'

"Jeez, no. It was scary. We didn't know if we would be shot at or what. We only stayed about two minutes. We didn't know what was going to happen. Everybody was pretty nervous. We didn't see anybody. We landed and got the grass and left.

"MacArthur and his people landed at Atsugi on Aug. 30, two days later.”

Ernie had more to say. "Talking about the end of the war, that reminds me of the story I told Jim Michener for his Newsday piece (about Hoberecht).

"I got this from a friend. He was a Marine captain and he and his men landed near Hiroshima right after the war. He expected trouble, revenge for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. His men hit the beaches and were ready for almost anything. Instead, two Japanese girls in kimono greeted them. One of the girls bowed and said, 'Captain, you like make pompom?' The captain then shouted to his sergeant, 'Kelly, from here on you're in command.'"

Patrick J. Killen spent 30 years with UP and its successor, UPI. He is a life member of the FCCJ and a former editor of The Number 1 Shimbun.  He also worked for The Daily Yomiuri, the Nikkei Weekly and Kikkoman. Most important of all, he was coach of the FCCH softball team for several years. Killen is 92 and live in Dallas with his Japanese-born Korean wife, Miyoko, and their daughter Kimberly.