Vernon Arnold Haugland (May 27, 1908 – September 15, 1984) was a reporter and writer for Associated Press. As a war correspondent, he documented World War II events as they occurred. He was the first civilian to receive the Silver Star medal – awarded normally only to members of the United States Armed Forces.
Vernon Haugland was born on May 27, 1908, at Litchfield, Minnesota. His parents were Claus and Hannah Haugland, who emigrated from Norway. He had six older siblings (Jul, Owen, Herbert, Isabel, Effie, Mavis) and four younger siblings (Phillip, Clifford, Clayton, Winnifred). The family left Litchfield and moved to a farm in Meagher County, Montana, in 1913. Haughland attended Gallatin High School in adjacent Gallatin County, Montana, where became the high school newspaper's editor and majored in journalism. Upon graduation, he enrolled in the University of Washington, where he studied from 1927 through 1928. In September 1929 he enrolled at the University of Montana (UM). During his time at the university he worked part-time at Northern Pacific Railroad as a stenographer for US$133.83 per month, working at Glendale Station's Yellowstone Division. He also worked part-time as a clerk at Commercial National Bank of Bozeman, Montana. Haugland completed his Bachelor of Journalism degree at UM in 1931, where he was on the staff of that year's Sentinel publication.
According to the 1930 employment records of Northern Pacific Railroad, Haugland was six feet three inches (1.91 m) tall and weighed one hundred and sixty-five pounds (75 kg). He had black hair and blue eyes. At the time of recruitment, he was 22 years old, single and living with his parents in the 600 block of Mendenhall Street of Bozeman, Montana.
Haugland started his journalism career at the publications Missoula Sentinel and Missoulian for two years. In 1933 he started work for The Montana Standard before moving to Butte, Montana. In 1936 he joined the Salt Lake City Bureau of Associated Press then moved to the Los Angeles Bureau two years later, where one of his assignments was dating the ten "most eligible" Hollywood starlets.
When Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, war was declared and Haugland saw an opportunity in journalism, and in 1942 he volunteered for overseas duty as a war correspondent. He was the first Associated Press reporter in Brisbane, Australia. On August 7, 1942, during an assignment to New Guinea, the B-26 Marauder bomber (s/n 40-1521) in which he was traveling went off-course and the pilot exhausted his fuel before finding an adequate landing place. Everyone aboard had to bail out and deploy parachutes. Haugland wandered the New Guinea jungle for at least 43 days without finding civilization. He was hospitalized on 23 September in a greatly weakened state. In 1943 he wrote a book titled Letter From New Guinea about his experiences. General Douglas MacArthur awarded Haugland the Silver Star medal on October 3, 1942, for his heroism; he was the first civilian to receive this medal. An Act of Congress was put into effect on December 15, 1942, to enable to the medal to be awarded to civilians in future.
In 1943, Haugland continued to cover the Pacific Theater of World War II and contributed articles to Time, Newsweek, The Nation and Flying magazines. In mid-1944 he returned to the United States for a short time and married his long-time sweetheart, Tesson Courtney McMahon (b. 1909-d. 1994) on June 3, 1944, in Butte Montana. They had two daughters, Taya and Marcia. Haugland became an "Air Correspondent" with Associated Press in 1945. After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he was attached to a special group of AP correspondents who were the first journalists to arrive there. In 1945 he was assigned to cover events of the Indonesian National Revolution after the conclusion of World War II, where he contracted jaundice and in early 1946 he was returned in an emergency to the United States.
Haugland continued writing throughout his life. After leaving the Associated Press, he wrote two Eagle Squadrons books, focusing on the American personnel during World War II (and prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor) who flew for the United Kingdom. After his death, his wife finished two of his books; The AAF Against Japan and Caged Eagles: Downed American Fighter Pilots, 1940–1945.Haugland, Vern (1992). Caged Eagles: Downed American Fighter Pilots, 1940-1945. Tab Aero. ISBN 0830621466. OCLC 23654628.
Haugland, Vern (1979). The Eagle Squadrons: Yanks in the RAF 1940-1942. Ziff-Davis Flying Books. ISBN 0871650282. OCLC 5428497.
Haugland, Vern (1982). The Eagles' War. Jason Aronson. ISBN 0876684959. OCLC 8195076.
Haugland's 1951 assignment editing aviation materials at AP led to him covering NASA's space program until he retired; he was called "the world's most experienced splashdown reporter". Haugland retired from AP in 1973 after being its aviation editor for more than 21 years. He and his family moved to San Clemente, California. According to the U.S. Social Security Death Index, Haugland died on September 15, 1984, in Reno, Nevada, while attending a reunion of the Eagle Squadrons. He went by the name "Vern Haugland" and was issued his Social Security number before 1951 in Utah.
Haugland continued writing throughout his life. After leaving AP, he wrote two Eagle Squadrons books, focusing on the American personnel during World War II (and prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor) who flew for the United Kingdom. After his death, his wife finished two of his books; The AAF Against Japan and Caged Eagles: Downed American Fighter Pilots, 1940–1945.
Haugland's collected papers are archived at the University of Montana; the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library Archives and Special Collections of "Vern Haugland Papers 1908–1987" consists of 11.75 linear feet and one over-sized box, Collection Number Mss 153 (collection).