John H. Rich Jr.
August 5, 1917 – April 9, 2014
John Rich, Jr., 96 CAPE ELIZABETH - John Hubbard Rich, Jr., veteran NBC News war correspondent and Maine native, died on Wednesday, five weeks after the death of his wife, Doris Lee, of 60 years. He was 96. Born August 5, 1917, in the summer camp that was built by his father and still stands today on Hannaford Cove in Cape Elizabeth, he grew up in Portland just behind the present-day Ballpark and attended Deering High School (’35) and Bowdoin College (’39). At Bowdoin, he was editor-in-chief of the school paper, president of his fraternity, and captain of the tennis team. He started his career as a reporter with the Kennebec Journal in Augusta after college and joined the Portland Press Herald about a year later. He got his start as a war correspondent even before the war began when, as a reporter for the Press Herald, he interviewed the survivors of the destroyer USS Reuben James, the first U.S. warship sunk in World War II, five weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. With the outbreak of the war, he parlayed his college French major into a commission with the U.S. Marine Corps, exchanging French for Japanese, which he learned at the Navy Language School in Boulder, Colorado. As a Second Lieutenant with the Fourth Marine Division, he participated in four battle landings in the Pacific, in the bloody amphibious landings at Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima. His bravery earned him the Bronze Star. He remained in the Marine Corps Reserve, attaining the rank of Major. Immediately upon the close of the war in the Pacific, he returned to Japan as a correspondent for the International News Service. He contacted the families of some of his former prisoners of war, traveling on his own to one family, who became lifelong friends, to tell them that the son and husband whom they had buried was alive, in U.S. custody, and would be returning home soon. He covered the International War Crimes Tribunal in Tokyo, interviewed “Tokyo Rose,” and was once called upon to serve as impromptu interpreter for wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo and his American lawyer. Under the occupation rule of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the Emperor of Japan, historically considered divine, was “encouraged” to go out among his people. More than 40 years later, John wrote for the Boston Globe: “It was mid-February 1946. The Tokyo cold penetrated our war correspondents’ uniforms as we waited in the jeeps we had driven from the Foreign Correspondents Club a few blocks away. At precisely 9 a.m. the imperial motorcade snaked slowly out of the trees shrouding the entrance to the inner palace and wound back around itself as it crossed the stone arches of the famous double bridge spanning the moat. First came serious-faced security guards in elaborate uniforms and visor caps riding antique motorcycles with sidecars. Black limousines followed carrying palace officials, and then came Emperor Hirohito in a vehicle with the 16-petal chrysanthemum imperial crest. He looked small, frail and very lonely. Could this be the man Japanese soldiers screamed out as they hurled themselves into our rifle and machine-gun fire on Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima? … I stood 3 feet from this thin-faced monarch with his small mustache and rimless eyeglasses. I could hear him breathing heavily. He was extremely nervous. This was new and precedent-shattering for him.” From Japan, he covered the Chinese civil war, narrowly escaping Shanghai down the Whangpoo River on a U.S. gunboat as it fell to the communists in 1949. “I’ve spent 11 years in the Far East altogether. From Saipan to Dien Bien Phu,” he later wrote in an NBC ad in Time. “The Communists nearly caught me when Shanghai fell, but I hitched a ride out with the Navy.” Quipped the ad, “John Rich, you’re a pretty lucky fellow.” Within a week of the North Korean invasion of South Korea on June 25, 1950, he sailed from Japan to Pusan with the 24th Division Artillery and covered the Korean War for the next three years, broadcasting the signing of the armistice at Pan Mun Jom in 1953 for NBC, which he joined six months into the war. In the midst of that arduous war that claimed more than 36,000 American lives, he wrote on Christmas Eve 1952: “The deadly business goes on. Across the front, it’s a clear cold night. The light of a half-moon glimmers across the barren frozen hills [and] in damp frontline foxholes, lonesome men [peer] northward, waiting for the enemy.” Although not a professional photographer, he took almost 1,000 photographs of the Korean War in color, a medium not yet used by mainstream war photographers. This unique, color record of the war will this year become part of the permanent collection of the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History in Seoul. In Seoul, on a tennis court, he met his self-described “Seoul mate,” Doris Lee, then a secretary with the State Department. They became engaged at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo and were married, twice in 10 days, first in a religious ceremony in southern France and then in a civil ceremony in Tangier, Morocco. While starting a family, he covered the French war in Indochina, the 1955 Argentine revolution, making the first radio broadcast from revolutionary headquarters in Mendoza, the violent uprising of the forces of Patrice Lumumba in the Belgium Congo, and the raising of the Iron Curtain in Berlin, where his family of four children, two born in Germany, lived 200 yards from the barbed wire. A reassignment to Paris proved hardship duty after the outbreak of the Algerian Revolution and the subsequent inhospitality of his miffed French host who temporarily refused to renew his press credentials after a speech at the National Press Club in Washington in January 1961 where he dared to say that France faced the “very real possibility” of civil war over the Algerian crisis. January 1961 was not lost altogether, however, as that month he bought, for $6,000, Bates Island in Casco Bay, his refuge and great love for the rest of his life. From France, the family moved to Tokyo where, as NBC’s Senior Correspondent in Asia, for more than a decade he covered the war in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and saw all four children graduate from high school. In 1971, he, his NBC colleague Jack Reynolds, and friend and fellow Mainer John Roderick of the Associated Press were allowed into China with the “Ping Pong Delegation.” He broadcast from Shanghai 22 years after his hasty retreat. A year later, he accompanied Nixon’s trip to China. Following that historic visit, in 1974, he was awarded the Peabody Award, the Overseas Press Club Award for “Best reporting from Asia in any medium,” and an honorary degree from Bowdoin College at the age of 56. At his Bowdoin 50th Reunion address in 1989, he said: “My job as a reporter gave me a chance to live in many parts of the world. It made me a realist, but please don’t think it made me cynical. All the news is not bad. One simple lesson was driven home to me time after time. When one gets to know people, whatever their background, nationality or racial origin, they are basically alike. Penetrate the surface differences and you learn that they all want about the same things that we do. Freedom from want, from fear; freedom to be independent; to have opportunity; to live lives without excessive government interference; a chance to give their children good educations. I’m reminded of Hong Kong. My wife was riding in a taxicab. “Where are you from?” the driver asked in halting English. “America,” she said. He paused a moment, thought, and then said, “Lucky.” John and D. Lee lived in the moment. “One of my favorite Japanese haiku has to do with time. The haiku is that unusual form of poetry of only 17 syllables, 5-7-5. It goes like this: ‘Oh, so this is all – and she and I had counted on a thousand years.’ ” John is survived by his daughter, Barbarine Rich, and her husband, Toshio Okumura, of Boston, Massachusetts; by his son, John H. Rich III, and his wife Joanne Rich, of Falmouth, Maine; by his son, Whitney Rich, and his wife Kumiko Umemoto of Tokyo, Japan; by his son, Nathaniel Rich, and his wife Ming Hsu of Hong Kong, China; by his brother-in-law, Ralph Halstead, and his wife Alice Halstead of Hemet, California; and by grandchildren Dylan, Madelaine, Malcolm, Johnny, and Helene. Visitation hours in honor of both John and Doris Lee will be held at Lindquist Funeral Home, One Mayberry Lane, Yarmouth, Maine, from 4-7 p.m. on Friday, April 25, 2014. A private burial for both will follow later at Seaside Cemetery in Cape Elizabeth. Please visit www.lindquistfuneralhome.com to view a video collage of John’s life and to share condolences, memories and tributes with his family. In lieu of flowers, a contribution may be made to the John Hubbard Rich, Jr. Family Scholarship Fund at Bowdoin College.
- Visitation Friday, April 25, 2014
John H. Rich Jr.
have a memory or condolence to add?ADD A MEMORY
October 26, 2014
Barbie, Whit, Nate, an John
Toutes mes condoléances , pour la perte de vos parents.
""Bien que les fleurs se fanent, meurent et disparaissent,
leurs précieux parfums demeurent toujours.
Tout comme ces fleurs éclatantes,
ceux que nous aimons ne meurent jamais réellement;
ils demeurent avec nous à jamais,
empreints dans nos souvenirs les plus précieux.
April 27, 2014
Barbie, John, Nate and Rich,
I treasure memories of our childhood in Tokyo and sailing together with our fathers in Aburatsubo. I remember how patient and exuberant your father was, with a true joy of life that was contagious. Please accept my sincere condolences and prayers on the loss of both of your dear parents. My mother sends her sympathies and love too. Hope to have the chance to reconnect one day. Erika
April 25, 2014
Barbie, John, Nate and Whit,
I am so sad to learn of the passing of your Mom and Dad, especially so close together I loved your Dad immensely and admired your Mom and her tenacity. She was a wonderful lady and taught me a lot, as did your Dad. They were a huge part of my life growing up and even as an adult.
Now we have their memories to carry us through the next phase of our lives, and for that I am eternally grateful. I loved tbem both and cherish all the memories and all that I have learned from them over the years.
I am so glad that I got to visit with them last fall before coming here to Florida. Your Mom talked about all of you and the Grandchildren as well as sharing photos and such. Your Dad and I sat for a very long time going through the book on the Korean War that he and I worked on together for such a long time. My visit was wonderful and I am certainly glad I have that memory.
All my love, thoughts and prayers are with you all and I would love to have one of you contact me once you have stopped reeling from all that has come about.
Hugs and prayers,
Dotty (Dorothy Wheeland) Brown
338 Killinger Avenue
Spring Hill, Fl. 34606
April 24, 2014
Woven into my childhood memories are the knowing looks always with a twinkle, effervescence, unfailing joy both your parents exuded. They set the bar on joy. What remarkable lives they led and shared. Your so significant losses are heaven's gain. Dad, Mara and Mother too from her perch join me in sending our heart felt condolences and love. Linda
April 21, 2014
To John's Family - I remember your Dad waving to us from above the beach at Bates Island, welcoming ashore the young sailors of Chebeague's Sailing School. Out where the open Atlantic meets Casco Bay I thought of the magical energy that brought your parents home to the island to share their lives with others, and then wafted them back again to a world far beyond Halfway Rock. Their lives are an inspiration. Thank you for sharing with us so much of the magic that we did not know.
April 20, 2014
I'm 25 years younger than John and always admired him as I pursued my own career as a foreign correspondent. He was one of the greats and did much for our beloved Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan. May he and his beloved life partner rest in peace.
April 20, 2014
Greetings to each of you from Hilo, Hawaii and condolences, but congratulations on being so lucky as to have had John and Dee Lee as your parents. In their last years in Tokyo I was among her few friends that were willing to drive with your Mother as she was the personification of "Mr. Magoo." However I loved her so and enjoyed her always off beat sense of humor about life and people and John could always be counted on if one needed anything. What a man! I haven't spent much time in Tokyo these past four years, but when next there I will try to contact you and have a gab fest about a few of the experiences I had with your family. Till then I send much Love and Aloha, Pat Salmon
April 16, 2014
Dear John, Jo and Family - We just returned home from Florida and learned of your Dad's passing from friends we had dinner with tonight. We are so sorry for your loss of both parents in such a short time. Please take comfort in knowing that they are together again. Xoxo
Bob, Maureen and Katie
April 15, 2014
So sorry to hear about your Mom and Dad. Some of my fondest memories were of your Dad telling of his adventures. I always hoped he would write a book. I guess he was too busy enjoying life. He was kind enough to write to me, a teenage girl, from assignment overseas. I will always remember him with his blue eyes and matching cashmere blue sweater, after dinner with my Mom (Ruth Gray Wagner) telling his stories. He once gave me some earrings from Japan which I hardly wore I was so afraid I would lose one.
The last time I saw he and DLee was a foggy, rainy day at Hannaford Cove surrounded by his many collections from his travels. At that time he was 82 and was still ocean kayaking.
He was a special person who truly gave much to the world.
My condolences to you all.
Donna Wagner Malagodi
April 14, 2014
To John, Joanne and Family,
Although we only had brief time with your wonderful parents, it was a true pleasure and honor to know them. Reading both of your tributes to them reminds us that they lived full and exciting lives, the kind all of us should strive for. Please accept our condolances and know we are thinking of you all. Rob, Chad & Hannah at the Glenn Group
April 14, 2014
To John & Dee Lee's family, although you children do not know me, I know you, through my mom Dorothy Glidden and my dad Victor (I was so thrilled to see the pictures of your dad & mine together as children) Your dad was always so kind to my mom & dad and also to my brother Vic & I. I will never forget the pride I felt in knowing him as a wonderful loving person and the memories he has left with our family. Even after loosing my dad, he kept in touch with my mom,and after loosing my mom, he kept in touch with me, I love him for that. I know the sorrow you must feel, but the wonderful rich loving memories of your folks will carry you through. My love to you all, and my love to your folks for loving our family. Carole (Glidden) Kemna. I now live in Georgetown Texas 78633, address is 117 High Trail Dr. I would love to hear from any or all of you children, I can only hope that we might share some of our lives as your dad & mine did as time goes on.
April 14, 2014
Dear Whitney and Family, We are sorry for your loss and loved reading about your father. Our thoughts are with you! Jeff & Celeste Wecker & Family
April 13, 2014
Such a rich friendship spanning six decades between the Rich and the Purl families! Tokyo, Honolulu, Saipan, and many other locations. Mr. Rich's courageous, insightful reporting made the world a better place, as did the wisdom and warmth of his dear wife. We all send our love to all of you!
Jeanne Adamson Sawtelle
April 13, 2014
I remember the Rich family when they lived on Washburn Avenue in Portland.
You had a fantastic life and I remember you and your father sitting out on the front steps on summer nights.. May you rest in peace, John.
April 13, 2014
Another from the 'Greatest Generation' in God's care.
Thank you for your service.
April 12, 2014
The memory of John Rich calls to mind a poem, "Then out spake brave Horatius, The Captain of the Gate: To every man upon this earth Death cometh soon or late. And how can man die better, than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his gods". - Thomas Babington Macaulay, "Lays of Ancient Rome". Mr. Rich was an extraordinary man who lived through extraordinary times. His example and character live through his children, Whitney and Nate, through whom I feel privileged to have known him. - Patrick Bonney
April 12, 2014
Bob Howe here, friends of Whitney. Sitting in Honolulu, remembering the few conversations I had with John and enjoying the history in his obituary and in the wonderful photos. An amazing life. Condolences of course to the family, but I hope in fact it is a great excuse for you all to gather, hard to do with the centrifugal forces in all our lives, to love each other and salute the man who made all of you possible and the thread that connects the friends who will gather in his honor.