Portraits from Our Past:
Southwest Virginia Authors
Don Whitehead (1908 - 1981)

Born on April 28, 1908, in the coal camp of Inman, Virginia, Don Whitehead's family moved to Harlan, Kentucky early in his life. At age 10, Don Whitehead wrote his first news story for the local newspaper about a murder that he had witnessed. The story was rejected because it was late. Whitehead learned an invaluable lesson about "getting the story while it’s hot" which he would use later in life. After attending the University of Kentucky, Whitehead worked for the Lafollette Press. He then became city editor of the Harlan Daily Enterprise, covering the 1930s Harlan County labor wars. In 1934, he went to work as a reporter for the Knoxville Journal and in 1935, he joined the Associated Press as a night editor in Memphis. Whitehead's skill as a feature writer earned him a promotion to the AP's New York Bureau in 1941—the eve of the United State's entrance to World War II. In 1942, he was sent by the AP to Egypt, where he was assigned to the British Eighth Army as it began its campaign against Rommell's Africa Corp. Next, Whitehead went on the invasion of Sicily and Italy. He was then transferred from the Italian front to London to join AP's staff preparing for the invasion of France. Whitehead landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944 with the First Infantry Division's 16th Regiment. He covered the fighting on the beachhead, the breakout at St. Lo, and the sweep across France. During World War II, Whitehead earned the nickname "Beachhead Don" because he was present at so many allied landings, five in all. For his work, he was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Truman.

In July, 1950 he was sent to cover the Korean War where he distinguished himself as one of the leading journalists to cover the conflict. For this, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1951, followed by the George Polk Memorial Award for wire service reporting. In 1952, Whitehead won another Pulitzer Prize. It was awarded for his international reporting on a secret fact-finding trip to Korea taken by President-elect Eisenhower.

Don Whitehead went on to write six books including the best selling The FBI Story a history of the FBI from 1908 to 1955. "Beachhead Don" is remembered as a reporter who valued accuracy in reporting, who was capable and hard working, and could always be counted on to get the story on time.


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