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Biography of Cornelius J. Ryan

War correspondent, journalist, editor, and author, Cornelius Ryan was born in Dublin, Ireland on June 5, 1920. He was educated in Dublin by the Christian Brothers and studied violin at the Irish Academy of Music. At the age of twenty, he entered the service of Garfield Weston as secretary and moved to London, England. His ambition was to write, however, and in 1941 he joined the London staff of Reuters News Agency. In 1943 Ryan joined the staff of the London Daily Telegraph as a war correspondent, covering the US 8th and 9th Air Forces and the air war over Germany. Upon the activation of General George S. Patton, Jr.’s 3rd Army, Ryan joined that force and covered its activities until the end of the war in Europe. He then transferred to the Pacific theater and subsequently opened the Daily Telegraph’s Japan bureau. In 1946 he was transferred to Jerusalem as the Telegraph’s Middle East bureau chief, writing at the same time as a stringer for Time and the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

In 1947, Ryan was offered a job as contributing editor for Time and emigrated to the United States. He left Time in 1949, served briefly with Newsweek, and joined the Collier’s staff as an associate editor in 1950. During that same year he also married Kathryn Morgan and became a naturalized citizen of the United states. During Ryan’s association with Collier’s, he achieved international recognition for his journalistic reporting of the United States space program and introduced Wernher von Braun to the American public. In 1956, two of his articles, “One Minute to Ditch” and “Five Desperate Hours in Cabin 56″ gained him three national awards for distinguished magazine writing: the Benjamin Franklin award, the Overseas Press Club award, and the University of Illinois award.

Following Collier’s demise in 1956, he began serious research and writing on The Longest Day. When it was published in 1959, it was an instant success and gained him international repute. He was awarded the Christopher Award for the best book on foreign affairs in 1959 and the Bancarella Prize (Italy) in 1962. He joined the staff of Reader’s Digest immediately following the publication of The Longest Day, continuing his career in journalism while beginning research on his second World War II battle book, The Last Battle, which was published in 1965.

He was diagnosed with cancer in 1970 and he began a program of chemotherapy. Meanwhile, he continued his research and writing on the third of his battle books, A Bridge Too Far. In July of 1973 he was awarded the French Legion of Honor in recognition of his contributions to the fields of journalism and historical writing. The following year A Bridge Too Far was published and he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from Ohio University. During the publicity tour for his last book he re-entered the hospital and died of cancer on November 23, 1974. The notes and tapes he made during his bout with cancer were compiled and edited along with his wife’s diaries and published in 1976 as A Private Battle.

See also:

Shapiro, Michael. (May/June 2010). The reporter whom time forgot: how Cornelius Ryan's The Longest Day changed journalismColumbia Journalism Review.