The 1972 Munich Olympic Games
The 1972 Munich Olympic Games -- EW editorial director Peter Bonventre, on assignment for ''Newsweek'' at the time, recollects the day when terrorists killed 11 members of the Israeli team
”The call came early in the morning of Sept. 5, 1972, in my Munich hotel room. ABC’s Howard Cosell was on the line: ”Listen carefully, my young friend. Palestinian terrorists have invaded the Israeli quarters in the Olympic Village and taken their athletes hostage. You had better get out there.”
”Not funny, Howard,” I said, and hung up.
I had left Cosell and others at the hotel bar several hours before, and thought he was playing some sick joke. Few events were scheduled that day, and we were all looking forward to sleeping late and perhaps seeing the sights.
My phone rang again. This time it was my Newsweek colleague Pete Axthelm, who’d also heard from Cosell. ”I hung up on him too,” Axthelm said, ”but he called me back right away. He’s deadly serious.”
We made a plan. Axthelm would hook up with ABC Sports president Roone Arledge as he orchestrated the network’s coverage, figuring there was no better seat to watch the drama unfold. I headed out to the Olympic Village, and along with several other reporters was able to get in before the vast complex of athletic dorms was shut tight to the press. Once inside, I interviewed as many athletes as I could, and even ran into Cosell. I thanked him profusely for the tip, and wondered how he had managed to sneak into the Village. ”I didn’t sneak in anywhere,” he chuckled. ”I merely claimed that I was a Puma shoe salesman.”
At some point, an Italian fencing coach told me that members of the Italian Olympic team were hiding ABC correspondent Peter Jennings. Knowing that the Italians’ building overlooked the Israelis’, I asked the coach to take me to Jennings, but he refused. I kept moving to avoid getting kicked out of the Village. And then it happened: From a vantage point maybe 80 yards away, a small group of us — athletes, journalists, an Olympic official from Sweden — saw shadowy figures step into what looked like a bus. At the time, none of us knew exactly what we were glimpsing: It was the Israeli hostages on their way to the choppers that would take them to a military air base — and to their doom.
Some 18 hours after Cosell’s phone call, I caught up with Axthelm at the ABC broadcast center where Jim McKay was anchoring his network’s news team. While Axthelm and I were comparing notes, McKay received the terrible news, then uttered the saddest words I’ve ever heard on an assignment: ”They’re all gone.”