Canton journalist recalls a lifetime of adventures

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It’s the stuff most people only read about, but for 40-plus years during the tumultuous 20th century, Canton resident Bernard C. Redmont enjoyed a front-row seat to some of the most significant events in modern world history.

Bernard Redmont was named an officier in the French Legion of Honor.

He was in Russia, traveling on a Pulitzer fellowship as a freelance journalist, when the Second World War broke out. A few years later, as a combat correspondent with the 4th Marine Division, he participated in a major amphibious assault on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands, where he was wounded in action and later awarded the Purple Heart.

By 1946 he was in Argentina, serving as the bureau chief for U.S. News and World Report in Buenos Aires and reporting on the dictatorship of Juan Peron and Evita. And as his career progressed, so too did his odyssey, which led him to far-flung places and to encounters with major international figures — everyone from President John F. Kennedy to Mai Van Bo, North Vietnam’s chief negotiator at the Paris peace talks of 1973.

All told, Redmont traveled to 55 countries over the course of his career as a foreign correspondent and news executive, including lengthy stints in Paris for the Agence France-Presse and Westinghouse Broadcasting Company.

Redmont’s contributions while in France were so extensive, in fact, that he was awarded the degree of chevalier, which is the equivalent of knight, in the French Legion of Honour in 1972.

Just last week, Redmont received an even higher honor when he was promoted from chevalier to officier in the Legion of Honour — a distinction last bestowed upon Liza Minnelli and given to other notable Americans such as Robert Redford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Clint Eastwood.

Redmont, who received the award at a special ceremony at the Orchard Cove senior living community in Canton, was honored for his “merits and achievements as a journalist and a professor” and for his work in “encouraging understanding between the French and American people.”

It was a fitting recognition for a man who spent nearly three decades of his life in Paris — a city where his two children were raised and where he culminated his journalism career as a senior correspondent for CBS News.

“We had a fairly stable family existence, particularly in France,” recalled Redmont, now 92, during a recent interview at his Orchard Cove residence. “We lived in Paris for 27 years and it was really a joy.”

For most of his adventures, Redmont was joined by his wife, Joan, who remains the love of his life after 71 years of marriage.

The couple met while in high school in New York City and were married in Mexico City in 1940, during the second leg of Redmont’s traveling Pulitzer fellowship. From there they traveled to the Mohawk Valley in New York, where Redmont found work as an editorial writer for the Herkimer Evening Telegram.

“I did everything from writing editorials to laying out the front page to sweeping the office and sharpening the pencils,” said Redmont. “That’s the classic way reporters used to start.”

A few years later they headed to Washington, where Redmont got a job with the Office of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA) working on short-wave radio newscasts to Latin America. Knowing it would only be a matter of time before he was drafted, he decided in 1943 to enlist in the Marines.

After a grueling boot camp experience at Parris Island, Redmont traveled to Camp Pendleton in California for advanced training as a combat correspondent, which came with a “double role — to fight and to write.”

During the Marshall Islands invasion, he received shrapnel wounds in his legs and spent 11 weeks in a hospital bed. But he also gained valuable experience as a writer and was evened assigned to ghostwrite speeches for the commandant of the Marine Corps.

After being medically discharged, Redmont returned to Washington, where he served as head of the news division of the OIAA for two years. In 1946, he joined the then-nascent US News and World Report, and after a three-year stint in Argentina, he was transferred to Paris, where he remained until the mid 1970s.

It was during this period that Redmont’s career really took off, and in the years that followed he covered everything from the rise and fall of General Charles de Gaulle to the Franco-Algerian War. He also covered two separate wars in the Middle East: the Six-Day War on the Arab side in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War on the Israeli side in 1973.

In addition, Redmont met and interviewed numerous heads of state as well as two Nobel Peace Prize winners: Albert Schweitzer, the Alsatian theologian, organist and physician who dedicated his life to treating the sick in west central Africa; and Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet nuclear physicist-turned-dissident and human rights activist.

Redmont met with Sakharov regularly in the late 1970s, during his three-year stint as Moscow bureau manager for CBS News.

Recalling his stay in the Soviet Union with a mix of emotions, Redmont noted how the walls in his apartment were often bugged and the phones were tapped. He also had a driver and an interpreter who regularly reported to the KGB, and he was frequently harassed whenever he attempted to film anything.

“I got arrested by the KGB a couple of times,” he said. “They confiscated my film once or twice, and I was slugged a few times.”

Redmont also recalled how his wife, who was a vegetarian, had to grow sprouts in the kitchen and make salads out of cabbage, as fresh vegetables were hard to find and lettuce was almost nonexistent.

At the same time, Redmont said the two of them had a comfortable apartment and also learned to take advantage of all that Moscow had to offer, including the Bolshoi ballet and opera, which he described as “magnificent.”

Eventually, after three more years in Paris with CBS, the couple returned to the United States, and from 1982-1989 Redmont took a job as a journalism professor at Boston University.

“I thought it was time to stop chasing international fire engines,” joked Redmont, who also served as dean of the BU College of Communications from 1982-1986.

A few years later, he chronicled his exploits in a memoir entitled Risks Worth Taking: The Odyssey of a Foreign Correspondent.

Having now settled comfortably in Canton, Redmont remains “very interested” in both national and international news, preferring “serious” publications such as the New York Times over the “showbiz”-driven television networks.

He also serves as a regular contributor to various newsletters and remains physically active with activities such as Tai Chi.

Even today, people often ask him if he has retired, and for Redmont the answer is simple: “I never really retired because I don’t believe in retirement.”

And that, in a nutshell, is the Redmont people admire — forever a journalist, always on the lookout for the next assignment.

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avatar Posted by on Oct 5 2011. Filed under Features.
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