Jan
24
2017
An Illustrious Career

Al Lurie began life in Chicago and had a wonderful childhood, as an excellent student in school. He was privileged, as a boy, to have attended the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. Then at age fifteen his parents moved to California, where he would attend Pasadena Junior College. Jackie Robinson was a senior when Al was a freshman. PJC football games were played in the Rose Bowl and Jackie led the football and baseball teams to state championships. But the most important aspect for Al during the two years in California was advice which he received from his best friend’s father.

Clarence Thurber was Al’s friend and they were sitting around the kitchen table discussing where they would attend college. Clarence’s dad was an educator and Dr. Thurber entered the conversation by saying, “Al, where will you attend college?” Being sure that he would follow his brother, and go to Stanford University, Al replied, “probably Stanford.”

But Dr. Thurber expressed his life’s regret in that, even after all his degrees and accomplishments, he regretted not having a degree from Harvard. Then he said, “I would like for the two of you to apply at Harvard.” So, they applied and were accepted and Al graduated with a Harvard degree in February 1943. Al has stayed very active in the school’s committee (interviewing applicants) through the years. He was president of the Harvard Club of Dallas in 1962 through 1963.

Al’s uncle had been an officer in World War I and it was his encouragement from whom Al drew his interest in the military. Al had had been in ROTC and, with his bachelor’s degree, went straight to Officer Candidate School upon graduation in 1943.

After Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and training in field artillery, he was assigned to Camp Roberts, California and then to the 281st Field Artillery Battalion at Camp Cooke, California, which would become Vandenberg Air Force Base after the war.

As a First Lieutenant, Al was asked by his Colonel to choose between two schools: a four-week executive training course or thirteen weeks in communications training. He chose communications and it was back to Fort Sill for the school. This is where he met his wife to be, Rosie, and they were married in 1944.

Back at Camp Cooke after training, Al’s outfit expected to be shipped to the Pacific. This was 1943 and they were on the west coast. But the military doesn’t always do things in a logical manner. Instead, the Battalion Commander announced they would report to Fort Sill and provide artillery training.

He was assigned to the 665th Field Artillery Battalion at Camp Maxey, Texas. He says, “This was one of the best breaks of my life.” His commanding officer noticed that his records showed that he had Communications School and placed him in Headquarters Battery, where he would be involved in all the battalion’s operations, including communications, radio, wire, messenger and Morse Code.

Then the Commanding Officer said, “Lurie, you went to Harvard?” Al replied, “Yes sir.” Then the Major said, “You and I are going to get along fine.” This Major owned a company in Waltham, Massachusetts and was very favorable of Harvard. Al said, “I cashed in on this big time! And he was as good as his word and gave me every break that came along.”

In February 1945, the war was winding down. Al’s unit was sent to the European Theater of Operations (ETO) and they passed through the reception center, Camp Lucky Strike, in France. All the reception centers were named after cigarettes – Camp Chesterfield, Camp Old Gold, etc. (another day and another era).

While in Germany, Al’s claim to fame was getting the whole battalion drunk on fine German Mosel wine. It happened that the Battalion Commander, the two Majors and all the other battery commanders were    away on a reconnaissance mission and First Lieutenant Al Lurie was the Executive Office in charge of Headquarters Battery.

Al was told where a wine cellar was located. He investigated and found bottles of Mosel wine stacked by the hundreds in every direction, “like the spokes of a wheel.” Of course, being the good soldier that he was, he had to retrieve this treasure. He said, “It kinda got out of hand. I had a two-and-a-half-ton truck loaded with bottles of wine!”

When the other Executive Officers found out about this adventure, they, of course, asked Al where this great find was located. “So, they all took their two-and-a-half-ton trucks also and loaded up.” Needless to say, this was sufficient to quench the thirst of the battalion.

As the party progressed, Al saw the commanders coming back to the unit at a distance. He said, “I had the good presence of mind to quickly ask the Colonel’s orderly to place some bottles in the Colonel’s room. When the Colonel arrived, he came up to me and said, ‘Alf (only the Colonel ever called him this short name for Alfred), what have you done to my battalion?’ I said, well, sir, we had a little party while you were gone.”

Now, Al wasn’t sure what the Colonel’s next move would be. He knew that a court martial was not out of the realm of possibility. Instead, he replied, “So I see! Did you save any for me?” Al responded, “If you go to your room, sir, I think you will find a few bottles.” Then the Colonel put his arm around Al’s shoulder and said, “Good boy!” (All is well that ends well!)

Al is one of only a few veterans who has the original telegram that was the official notification from the Commanding General of the 15th Army of the 12th Army Group, General Omar Bradley’s command, announcing Germany’s surrender. He was the battalion’s de facto communications officer, as a 1st lieutenant. When this communique was received Al thought, “That is probably something worth holding on to.” It is framed and in perfect condition. Al’s unit was in Baumholder, Germany on VE Day. Baumholder later became the largest U.S. Army base in Europe.

After Germany surrendered, the military plan was to defeat the Japanese. The atomic bomb was still under development and unproven at this time. The initial plan was to send an Army and Marine Corp invasion force to invade the island of Kyushu, the most southwest of all the Japanese islands and put an end to the war in the Pacific.

Al’s unit returned from Germany in July to Camp San Luis Obispo, in California. They received a thirty-day leave, then reported in mid-August. Al’s unit was a medium artillery battalion and they were scheduled to support the 104th Infantry Division as the invasion was scheduled for November, 1945.

Less than a week after Al reported for duty, and all were expecting to be included in the invasion, the first atomic bomb was dropped at Hiroshima. Al is very glad that President Truman made this decision. The United States military had projected that there would be one million casualties if the invasion had taken place. Al says that many Japanese lives were lost, but many more lives were spared because of this decision.

Al finished this phase of his Army career as he exited in April 1946 at Camp Hood, Texas. He went to work for Remington Rand, and witnessed its demise as IBM began their electronic revolution and seized 96% of the market share.

Al’s father-in-law had contacts within the media in Fort Worth, Texas and arranged for Al’s wife, Rosie, to audition for two radio stations as an organist. Later WBAP hired her to select and play the background music for the new television station they were bringing to Fort Worth. This was 1948 and she would play the music for The Texas News, a daily newsreel that would air at 10:00 pm.

Al would visit the station on the weekends as he came in from his job in Oklahoma. The Station Manager, George Cranston, asked Al to consider coming to work for them. Al said, “I know some about radio, but I know nothing about television.” Mr. Cranston replied, “You know, no one knows anything about television at this point. Why don’t you come and learn with us?” So, he began his television career as he joined WBAP, Channel 5 in December, 1948.

Al began in the film lab and shortly moved to the Production Department where he became a television director, directing his first show in April of 1949. This was the days of live TV shows and there were all sorts of shows.

Many of these were films taken off a Kinescope at NBC Network in New York and shipped by mail to WBAP, to be aired. These early versions were very grainy and of poor quality.

When the Korean War broke out in June 1950, Al was an inactive Army Reserve officer and it seemed very unlikely that the Army would call him to active duty again. But it wasn’t long before orders came in the mail stating, “By order of the President of the United States…you are hereby ordered to extended active duty for a period of twenty-one months…” Al remembers, “This took me aback, if you can imagine.” He was involved in his exciting career and he and his wife were growing their family. But duty called and it would turn out well.

In October, 1950 Al’s artillery unit was stationed at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas. They were assigned the duty of training infantry and artillery recruits in live fire exercises. Al was one of the two lieutenants assigned as the communications officers over each day’s training. Each week the Post Commander, Brigadier General Claude Ferenbaugh, would join the two lieutenants in the observation post. Al said that he was a “very affable guy.” The General dismissed the saluting protocol because it was just the three of them.

Later, the General asked Al to be his personal aide as he was being reassigned as the commander of the 7th Division of the Army in Korea. This was quite an honor for Al. The General said it was Al’s choice, if he wanted the position. But he declined because he had two children back home. The General said, “I don’t blame you a bit.” General Ferenbaugh would go on to become a Three Star General and the Commander of all U. S. troops in Korea.

It was a busy year for Al and during this time he reported to Fort Sill and visited the post Headquarters. Al seriously doubted it, but he had wondered if the Army had a television branch. He asked the Major on duty and piqued his interest also. So, they spread a 2’x2’ Army table of organization on the carpet, and both on their hands and knees, searched the organization charts. Sure enough, Al found it in the communications section – “Radio/TV Branch, U S Army.”

This branch was commanded by Colonel E. E. Kirby and it listed his room number at the Pentagon. Al wrote a letter directly to the Colonel, not through the usual Army channels, which could easily have gotten lost in the bureaucracy. He introduced himself and explained his background and ended with, “Do you have a need?” The Colonel replied within a few days with a letter that he was very interested and requested references and a list of questions for Al.

Al received orders, signed by J. Lawton Collins, Army Chief of Staff, to report to the offices of the Radio/TV branch and he went to Colonel Kirby’s office. The two receptionists on duty said they knew nothing of his orders and asked to see them. After reading them the girl said, “You’re aren’t to report to the Army Radio/TV office, but to the Department of Defense Radio/TV branch.” Al said, “Is that good?” She replied, “That’s above us!”

Al’s assignment was at the Pentagon. His job evolved into a program called “Pentagon Washington,” the official Department of Defense show. Al directed it every other week from WTTG in Washington. They had six live stations – Chicago, New York, Baltimore, Pittsburg, Boston and Washington, and twenty-six Kinescope stations. This was before the days that cable would connect coast to coast live television.

The Major that directed the off weeks was Hal Keith, who had been with NBC Network in New York as a director. This gentleman was the director for the number one television show for that time, Your Show of Shows, with Imogene Coca and Sid Caesar. He also directed Mr. Peepers, The Colgate Comedy Hour and other very successful shows. Al learned a great deal from this very knowledgeable and successful professional.

After the war, Al went back to WBAP for a time, then on to other television director positions, including his position of Radio/TV Director for the Sam Bloom Agency. Mr. Bloom had been the Advertising Manager for the Dallas Times Herald for twenty-seven years. The Bloom Agency was started in 1952 and Al Lurie was the sixth employee, coming on in January 1953, six weeks after the company was started. It would grow to be one of the largest advertising agency in Dallas with hundreds of employees. Al spent three exciting years there.

He would go on to become friends with Gordon Mclendon, “The Maverick of Radio,” and become his General Manager at KLIF, the number one radio station in Dallas and Sales Manager for KRLD radio in Dallas/Ft Worth. He is still close friends with Ron Chapman, the longtime radio personality in Dallas, and member of the Radio Hall of Fame. Al retired from the easy listening station, KMEZ-FM in Dallas in 1988.

Al is thrilled to have had a most fascinating and rewarding career. Along the way, he has met and become friends with many famous people, including John Wayne and Wernher von Braun. It is my great privilege to know and to have visited with this media pioneer and to hear the satisfaction and continued excitement in his voice for where his career led him. Thank you, Al Lurie, for sharing your story.