The Day The Words Died
Words were the music of Vince Mahoney's life. He brilliantly composed them, thoughtfully analyzed them, and wove them into stories of the most glamorous movie stars of the early sound motion pictures to analyses of the most complex political issues of his day. Sixty years ago this Sunday, Vincent Mahoney, a widely recognized journalist, and a dozen of his distinguished colleagues were returning from a fact-finding mission in Indonesia. The pilot of their airliner fought desperately against a torrential monsoon to no avail. The plane crashed. There were no survivors. It was "The Day The Words Died."
Michael Vincent Mahoney, Jr. was born in Dublin on July 1, 1902. His father was a railroad man, working many a decade as a freight and passenger agent of the Wrightsville & Tennille Railroad. His mother, the former Miss Lynette Hightower, kept the family household on South Calhoun Street, a home which was razed a baker's dozen years ago to make room for the parking lot of Capital City Bank.
Of all of Vince's friends, and he had many of them, Don Joiner was perhaps his closest and dearest friend, especially in their younger years in Dublin. Joiner described his friend as "a hard drinking Irishman who loved life." "He had more personality than anyone I have ever known and he was liked by everyone," Joiner recalled.
Don remembered the good times when Vince came to his house to visit. There were the wonderful times when the duo joined together to form a dance band, which played on Saturday nights in the club house of the original Dublin Country Club, which was located
on Hillcrest Parkway between Brookhaven and Claxton Dairy Road.
When his parents thought Vince was having a little too much fun, they sent him off to a Catholic school near New Orleans. After a year of expulsion from his home, Vince entered college at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.. Though some say he graduated from the prestigious institution, Don Joiner recalled that Vince never finished his education at Georgetown. He did add, "Vince could do more with words than any other journalist I have ever known or read."
Mahoney's journalistic skills led to stints with the Associated Press, New York News, United Press, The Los Angeles News and Time Magazine before the onset of World War II.
In the mid 1930s, Vince reported stories for the AP and UPI in Hollywood, California at the beginning of its glorious era of talking pictures and iconic movie stars, all the time the earth shaking underneath him at any minute. It was in Los Angles where Vince met and married his wife, Virginia Nissen of Glendale, California.
During the war, Vince took a job as Chief of the Bureau of Intelligence in the War Information Office supervising the Pacific Theater of Operations.
Vince Mahoney loved the Pacific and California. In April 1945 as the war was climaxing, he took a job as a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle as an editorial writer. Mahoney began to develop a keen interest in the politics of Southeast Asia, and in Indonesia in particular.
Fifteen of America's leading journalists, including Vince and two Pulitzer Prize awardees, were invited by the government of the Netherlands to investigate the political upheavals in the southeastern Asia country of Indonesia in the spring of 1949. The Dutch government promised the reporters freedom from censorship and unrestricted access to interview Republican officials, who were leading a political war against the colonial Dutch controlled government.
On July 12, 1949, after a six week long stay, tour director Lynn Mahan gathered the writers together for the long flight home. William Matthews and Dorothy Brandon chose to stay behind. Matthews decided simply to return home on his own. Brandon feared the plane might be sabotaged by insurgents. After all, the same type of plane on which they were boarding had crashed some three weeks earlier.
Although Indian Prime Minister Nehru, in a move of sympathy toward his neighboring country's plight against a European colonial government, banned the landing of Dutch planes on Indian soil, special permission to land in India on the return flight was granted by Indian air controllers.
The pilot of the Dutch KLM struggled to keep his craft in a circular orbit around the Bombay Airport. A blinding monsoon made his task more difficult, if not impossible. No one saw the 800-foot high peak of Ghatkopar Hill, four miles east from a safe landing, until it was too late. The four engine Constellation slammed into the mound, incinerating all of the Americans, Britons, Dutch, and Chinese aboard.
Strewn and scattered over the muddy ground, were broken pieces of typewriters, cans of food, packs of cigarettes ( some smoked and others not), and torn luggage filled with uncleaned laundry. Not a living soul was found among the disintegrated remnants of the aircraft.
The people of the Netherlands honored the memory of the unlucky thirteen journalists who perished in the crash with the establishment of the "William the Silent Award." A plaque bearing the names of the fallen was placed in the American embassy in Amsterdam to "those who gave their lives for a free press." A permanent national memorial to all fallen journalists was established in 2001 on the campus of Cal State at Northridge. Mahoney was honored a third time by the Freedom Forums Newseum Journalists Memorial.
In the early fall of 1949, Vince's ashes were returned to New York City. From there, they were sent home to the family, who buried them in the family plot in Northview Cemetery.
The typewriters were all broken. And the thirteen admired most, their phrases spoke to the ghosts, to the fallen we drink a rousing toast, the day the words died.