Monday, February 18, 2013

RIP Colonel Robert Cranston


G. I. Broadcasting Pioneer
Colonel Robert Cranston Dies
by Andrew Guthrie

Huddleston, VA (Special)  Colonel Robert Cranston, the Iconic U-S Army broadcaster who waded ashore during the Normandy invasion,  and later, helped establish the  G. I. radio service, officially known as The American Forces Network, Europe,  (AFN,E)  has died at the age of 93. He was surrounded by his family, including his wife Sandy and her daughter Dr. Jennifer Burgart and other family members.

Colonel Cranston died Sunday evening 2/17/2013 at 6:35pm Eastern time at his Smith Mountain Lake home in Huddleston, Virginia of complications following heart surgery last November at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville.   His death was announced by his wife of 19 years, Sandra K. “Sandy” Cranston.

AFN was the brainchild of Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower who felt American G. I. s  needed news, sports and music on the radio in English, to keep up their morale during the war, and afterward, serving with occupation forces.

Colonel Robert Cranston was born April 5th, 1919 in London, England.  His Scottish father George, who had immigrated to Canada and joined the Canadian Army,  was wounded in World War One.  While in the hospital he married his nurse, Louise, and Colonel Cranston was born a British citizen during his father's recovery.   His smother died when he was just six months old, and he was raised by her friends.  As a teenager, he rejoined his father in Canada, and became a U.S. citizen when his Dad got a job running powerful Dallas - Fort Worth, Texas, radio station  W B A P - AM.  That gave young Robert a firsthand knowledge of broadcasting.

In November of 1940, he enlisted for duty in the 124th Cavalry of the Texas National Guard.  At 22, he became Sergeant Major of the 51st Signal Battalion and was soon in Officer Candidate School, where, in 1943, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps.
48 hours after the initial Normandy invasion, Lt. Cranston waded ashore on Omaha Beach with his Signal Corps unit and later was wounded in combat during the “Battle of the Bulge.”   He  returned to duty in time to be part of the historic meeting between the U.S. and Russian armies at the Elbe river, just days before the Nazi surrender.  With Paris  liberated, AFN set up headquarters there, and now Captain Cranston was transferred from the Signal Corps to become executive office of the expanding AFN radio network. It was there he met General Eisenhower who became his mentor in Army broadcasting.

With the war over, Captain Cranston was temporarily assigned to the Information and Education Department of  The U.S. Army Europe, at AFN Headquarters, which had relocated to Hoechst, outside Frankfurt.  But, within months, he was needed in Salzburg,  Austria, to become the second commander of The (seperate and short-lived) Blue Danube Network under General Mark Clark. Its mission was to entertain and inform U. S. forces there.  The BDN soon became as popular with Austrians, as it was with The American military, and many learned English listening to it.
Almost two years later, the Pentagon called him back to Washington, where he became Chief of News and Special Events in the radio - TV Branch of the Information Office.  Soon, he was named the Army’s first “Television Officer,“ during which time, Cranston worked on such TV programs as NBC’s “Wide, Wide World,” and Edward R. Murrow’s “See It Now” on CBS.  He also served as technical advisor on The Phil Silvers Show, in which Silvers portrayed an Army Sergeant.
In 1960, now Lt. Colonel Cranston returned to Europe, to command  The American Forces Network, Europe, which by then was a 14-station AM and FM network in France, Germany, and Italy, broadcasting with more than one-million watts of power, and headquartered near Frankfurt, Germany.

Following his tour as AFN Commander, Colonel Cranston returned to the United States to take command of the now world-wide Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS), headquartered in Los Angeles, California.  With a staff of more than 150, the service reached more than two million U-S military personnel in 35 countries and at dozens of U.S. Navy ships at sea. He was also instrumental in setting up Armed Forces Viet Nam (AFVN).
In one of the most significant achievements of his more than 30-year military career, Colonel Cranston negotiated an agreement with the three major radio and TV networks, and their unions,  to provide  their programs free of charge to the thousands of troops stationed around the world, via AFRTS. 

This achievement, saving the Pentagon millions, won the Colonel the Army’s Distinguished Service Medal, its highest award for meritorious service, which is normally reserved  for Generals. In addition, Colonel Cranston was awarded the Purple Heart, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Secretary of Defense Meritorious Civilian Service Medal and the Government of the Netherlands Medal of Merit. In 2001, he   was inducted into the Army Public Affairs Hall of Fame and was a lifetime member of the American Legion.  He retired from the Army in 1973 but served several more years as a civilian leader in military broadcasting. In 1983,after a combined total of 43 years in service to the United States,   he retired to Huddleston, Virginia.

In addition to his wife "Sandy," Colonel Cranston is survived by a sister, Ms. Pat Cranston of Seattle, a former Journalism professor at Washington State University, his Aunt, Katherine Wiley of Oakville, Ontario, Canada,  and daughters Dr. Jennifer Burgart, of Linville, North Carolina, Mrs. Matt Anderson, of Lynchburg, Virginia, and Mrs. Scott Young of Newport News, Virginia, and grandchildren Carson and Maria Anderson.  Colonel Cranston will be buried later this year at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

Colonel Cranston and Sandy