Those who knew Tecumseh, Nebraska native Barney Oldfield before his death in 2003 called the UNL graduate and former U.S. Army and Air Force officer a larger than life character. During World War II Oldfield was a U.S. Army press officer who directed many of the war correspondents who covered the Allied D-Day attack against German troops in Normandy, France on June 6, 1944.
This Thursday at 8 pm CST, and Monday, April 29 at 10 pm CST, CoJMC professor Barney McCoy will bring Oldfield’s D-Day story to audiences across the state during NET’s broadcast of “Nebraska Stories.” As the first public relations officer to become a paratrooper, Oldfield convinced his commanders to allow him to recruit and help train the war correspondents so they could jump into hostile enemy territory with U.S. Army Airborne units.
Before the Normandy invasion, Oldfield parachuted with his typewriter to see if the equipment war correspondents used would survive a parachute jump. Oldfield’s typewriter survived and he carried it with him for the next 24 years.
“To think Oldfield recruited six journalists willing to parachute through enemy gunfire six hours before D-Day began is hard to imagine. They did it to tell the world about one of WWII’s most historic battles. They all did it,” McCoy said.
McCoy, a broadcast journalism professor in UNL’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications, spent months researching, interviewing and producing the NET report called “D-Day and the Oldfield Effect.” CoJMC instructor Kristian Anderson was the primary videographer on the project.
Oldfield’s story also examines the war correspondents recruited by Oldfield, including Omaha’s Bob Reuben. A Reuters news correspondent, Reuben was the first journalist to land in Normandy. He was also the first to file a news report with a Normandy dateline. Reuben sent his report by carrier pigeon from Normandy across the English Channel to Barney Oldfield 150 miles away at a military base in England.
Years later, Oldfield and his wife Vada Kinman Oldfield established dozens of UNL scholarships for students through the NU Foundation. Several of the scholarships are named for Nebraskan’s who died fighting in WWII. Oldfield earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism at UNL in 1933.