60 Years Ago: History Is Made

60 years ago today, on March 26, 1958, the U.S. launched Explorer III. Explorer III was the second successful launch of a U.S. satellite into Earth’s orbit atop a Jupiter-C rocket designed by Wernher von Braun. (Explorer I was launched on January 31, 1958). After the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I on October 4, 1957, Ed Koterba wrote critically of Eisenhower for not being more aggressive in speeding up the U.S. space program and winning the space race. He was understandably excited when he was afforded the opportunity to travel to Cape Canaveral (later renamed Cape Kennedy) to cover the Explorer III launch. Like a kid in a candy store, he savored every moment of this successful launch, as evident in the following article:

History Is Made (March 26, 1958)

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA—This was the day history would be made. “T minus 15 minutes,” the firm, vibrant voice said through the PA system on the rooftop grandstand. The Jupiter-C stood like a black-striped white pencil against the grey overcast. A jack rabbit hopped across the sand dunes. Two hundred newsmen and women milled across this perch known as Optic Building 3. “This is a precede,” said a reporter into a phone in one of the ten plywood phone booths. “Should this launching be successful, the United States will have out-stripped Russia with satellites in orbit.” This would be No. 3 for us.

They hauled us here by bus from Patrick Air Force Base 11 miles away. The rain had stopped.

“We have a ceiling of 8,000 feet,” Major Kenneth Grine of McKeesport, Pa., announced to the crowd.

“T minus 13,” said the loudspeaker. “T” meant kick-off time for Explorer III. A resonant voice in one of the booths: “This is John H. Bennett, KDKA. Hey, can you hear me?”

“T minus 12.”

“Say, where’s Verne Hoagland, the AP wants him on the phone.”

“T minus 10, holding momentarily.”

“What does ‘holding’ mean?”

“That means a temporary delay … something may be wrong with the missile.”

“I was afraid it wouldn’t go … Oh, God, I hope they make it.”

“Is von Braun in the block-house? He is? Fine.”

“Is the top section whirling? It’s supposed to whirl at minus 11.”

“It’s whirling now!”

From the loudspeaker: “Clear work on all frames. Starting to resume count. Minus 10 and counting … T minus 9.”

Someone into a phone: “The minute I see fire, I’ll say ‘go’ and you go … Just a minute while I look at it through the glasses.”

“Hey, can someone see the letters on the side of the rocket?”

“Yeah, UT.” “What’s the code on that?” “It means that’s the 24th vehicle to be launched from here.”

A local woman broadcaster into a tape machine: “I’m sitting on top of a building at Cape Canaveral … Explorer III is about to take off.”

“Minus 3.” And for the first time, tenseness. You hear the echoes, almost whispered, “Minus 3 .. minus 3 … minus 3.”

“Al,” says a voice into a phone, “the minute I say ‘there she goes,’ you can cut in the studio tape.”

“Two and one-half minutes.”

“How’s the weather in New York—freezing? It’s about 75 here.”

“T minus 2.” Silence.

“Ninety seconds.” Somebody behind repeats, “Nine zero.”

“Fifteen seconds … 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … Zero.”

Nothing happens. You’re ill in the stomach. But you hear a veteran say, “In three seconds, you should see the flame.” An orange burst swirls around the rocket’s haunches. The missile rises. Golden flames nudge the Jupiter up … slow, slow. The roar, it is deafening. Faster, higher. “It’s away!” Beautiful. In 30 seconds it glimmers into the clouds. The rest is history.

60 Years Ago: ON TOUR with Ed Koterba

Airstream trip (1)

60 years ago, before there was a Charles Kuralt, there was an Ed Koterba. In March 1958, Hall Syndicate promoted Ed Koterba as “the new Ernie Pyle,” and sent him on a six-month 25,000-mile tour in a 26-foot Airstream trailer from Washington, D.C. to Key West to Mexico to California to Alaska, and to New England before returning to Washington, D.C. His daily columns were covered by 115 newspapers across the country. The secret of his appeal was his ability to dig out colorful stories about the little things in life and to write them in a folksy, easy-to-read style.

The World Mourns the Loss of Billy Graham

The world  mourns the loss of Billy Graham. Not only did he save hundreds of millions of souls; he lived the Christian life he preached to others. Here is an article that was carried in many U.S. newspapers in August, 1955 when Rev. Graham appeared before his hardest crop of cynics — Washington correspondents (from The Essential Ed Koterba, Minneapolis: MCP Books, 2016).


Capitol Hauntings

As part of my research efforts in preparing the manuscript for The Essential Ed Koterba, I read all of my dad’s articles from newspaper clippings my mom saved. For this upcoming Halloween, I’m sharing the following original clipping of a 1956 article about “Capitol Hauntings.”


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Royal Reflections

In the popular 1950s column A Bit of Washington, Ed Koterba offers personal reflections of Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the U.S. 60 years ago, including insightful observations of Prince Philip, Mamie Eisenhower, and then Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.

Prince Philip


Ed Koterba greets Queen Elizabeth 60 years ago today

Since ascending the thrown in 1952, Queen Elizabeth II has visited the United States on five occasions. Her first visit to the U.S. was exactly 60 years ago today, October 17, 1957. Ed Koterba, one of 1,500 reporters to greet the queen, was busy brushing up on his etiquette a month before this historic visit.

Date with the Queen


On the day of the visit, Koterba details the “queenly handshake.” In his description of the queen’s appearance, one might say the writing is not quite in keeping with today’s PC standards (e.g., “. . . an attractive housewife with jewels”), but keep in mind, this was written in 1957.

A Queenly Handshake

One Year Anniversary of Book Release

Today is the one year anniversary of The Essential Ed Koterba release date. I have gained many new friends over the past year and am thankful for their support. I want to take this opportunity to thank them and all the other readers for their encouraging words.

Here is just a sampling of comments from readers:

“There is a longing, as well as mourning, for the sort of journalism that existed in days past. . . . [It was a time when] syndicated columnists were the only reason a great many people bought newspapers. One of those superstar columnists was Ed Koterba, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated former Washington Times-Herald and Washington Post reporter.” (Mary Stanik, Phoenix, Arizona)

“Koterba’s writings hold up extraordinarily well [in the twenty-first century], with insights into important political and public figures of the era as well as compelling snapshots of life in the US in the 1950s.” (Gerry Lonosga, Indiana University’s Media School)

“This compilation of the famous newspaperman’s columns, annotated by his son, is an engaging read which will take you back to the Cold War era, . . . show you firsthand the workings of Washington, D.C. during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, and give you keen insight into the adventures (and amusing misadventures) of one American family. . . . Koterba’s folksy style and astute observations of his fellow man combined with his son’s reflections on his father’s life and career make this volume a must read.” (Todd Dorsett, Waynesboro, PA)

“Seeing important historical developments through the intuitive, nice-guy, apolitical lens of Ed Koterba is refreshing — an intriguing alternative to the typical historical accounts.” (Ann Warner, Romney, WV)

“It is really hard putting this great collection of stories down. [Koterba’s] attention to detail, his craftsmanship with the English language, his love of the “average Joe” — it would be tough to say which was Koterba’s greatest gift. But thankfully he shared those gifts for many years through his newspaper column.” (Steve Bailes, Capon Bridge, WV)

“Awhile ago I sat down with [this book] to read for about 10 minutes. I was astonished that it turned into an hour and a half. I was thrilled, delighted, often laughing out loud. This is spectacular reading! It’s enlightening, historic, and amusing. This is a book [about the 1950s], yet it is timeless. . . . It recalls for me many important events, and brings back names of worldwide leaders of earlier times.” (Paul Chalfant, Shepherdstown, WV)

“This book meets all three of my criteria for a great read: I laughed; I cried; I learned something.” (Beth Zeilor, Romney, WV)

“The Essential Ed Koterba was a joy to read. The book made me laugh, smile, reflect and choke up. Each day I looked forward to another column and was never disappointed. Thank you Ed Koterba Morgret for bringing your precious father back to life and sharing him with us via this collection so sensitively put together.” (Elsie Ferrara, Stamford, CT)

“[The Essential Ed Koterba] is a delightful mixture of nostalgia, humor and pathos.” (Sanford Kluger, Englewood Cliffs, NJ)

Newspaperman Ed Koterba was NOT the “enemy of the people”

Mary Stanik, reviewer of the book, The Essential Ed Koterba, recently posted the following:

In a time when journalists are criticized for their work, it might be just the right time to read the story of a journalist who lost his life while in the service of journalism. Ed Koterba was a famed Washington correspondent who was lauded by President Kennedy the day after his June 1961 death. Koterba’s son, Ed Morgret (Ed Koterba Morgret), has compiled an extensive collection of his father’s columns. This book should be read by all who want to see what journalists do and why they do it. I was honored to be asked to review The Essential Ed Koterba.

My father, Ed Koterba, was a beloved journalist during the 1950s and early 1960s who had a following of over a million readers a day. He also served as a White House correspondent under the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations (up until his death in 1961). I believe he epitomized journalistic integrity of that time period. In his role as a non-partisan Government watchdog for the American people, he was hard-hitting but fair. His columns earned him respect across the political spectrum, as evidenced by multiple pages in the Congressional Record devoted to tributes to him from both Republican and Democrat senators and congressmen. President Kennedy referred to Ed Koterba as “a most outstanding newspaperman.” I, too, am longing for those days when a free press was considered a necessary component of a free democratic society rather than the “enemy of the people.”

The Khrushchev-Castro Hug

This AP photo of Khrushchev belly-hugging Castro on 9/20/1960 was reprinted today in newspapers around the world following Castro’s death. My father, Ed Koterba, was a Scripps-Howard reporter who covered the 1960 UN General Assembly in New York City. His description of that hug may be the most detailed account ever reported. His column appeared the next day. Following is a reprint of that article, also included in “The Essential Ed Koterba” (pages 411-12).

Hammy, but Effective (September 21, 1960)
(The reader is also referred to the articles on Fidel Castro in this chapter.)
NEW YORK—It looked ludicrous from this perch—the way Nikita Khrushchev belly-hugged Fidel Castro, and the pirouetting duet that followed on the floor of the assembly hall. The clammy chill that slipped up my spine came not from the cold draft of this aerial booth. It came from the realization that the frightful hands across the sea had, indeed, been fused in the flesh for the whole world to see. Until this very moment—this instant of infamy—the ominous love affair between Khrushchev and Castro was still a thing of distance and vagueness. No longer. The Soviet premier planned this UN drama with the precision that comes only from intuition. Hammy, yes. But effective.

For thirty-five minutes, as delegates poured onto the arena, Khrushchev marked time at his aisle seat, the ninth row back, the far-left section. Then, just moments before the fifteenth session of the General Assembly was gaveled to order—when the hall was good and full, and television cameras now hot—he rose. A Cuban accompanied him, and he bobbed briskly the one hundred paces to the front of the hall, up the stairs carpeted in velvet green, out behind the podium, and then directly to Castro, in the far-right front row of the vast hall, directly below me. In his wake, herds of photographers almost leaped over each other in a frenzy to be there first. They knew where he was headed.

The Kremlinite pulled the hairy, towering Cuban toward him, then turned him—to make sure all the cameramen in this frenzied arc got a clean shot of their embrace. Khrushchev seemed to be saying, haughtily—“If anyone had doubt about the Moscow-Havana axis before, you won’t have it now.” No question about it, this illicit love affair is now official.

Premier Castro, though, was nervous in the minutes preceding this display. Extremely nervous. After his entrance to the hall, six minutes behind Khrushchev, Castro was unable to control his tenseness. First he tumbled a Cuban box of wax matches, over and over and over. Then he picked up a long yellow pencil, twirled it, rolled it on the green baize of his desk. As if aware that his nervousness was betraying him, Castro tried to hide it. Finally, he slipped his hands under the table, but I could see him tensely crossing and uncrossing his forefingers.

As one witnessed this “spontaneous” expression of togetherness, there remained no doubt that this dictator duo had set the UN one for the weeks to come.