Breuer brought world attention to himself and Cleveland on Aug. 12, 2005, when his bestseller, “The Great Raid,” was made into an epic movie by Miramax Films. He was consultant for the film that was described on its opening day by film critic Roger Ebert as, “Here is a war movie that understands how wars are actually fought. After ‘Stealth’ and its high-tech look-alikes, which make warfare look like a video game, ‘The Great Raid’ shows the hard work and courage of troops whose reality is danger and death. The difference between ‘Stealth’ and ‘The Great Raid’ is the difference between the fantasies of the Pentagon architects of ‘shock and awe’ and the reality of the Marines who were killed in Iraq last week.”
“The Great Raid” has been shown in 177 countries and reached sales of more than 1.5 million DVDs.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said he and his wife, Sandra, were honored to know Breuer.
“We met him in 2005 as we took part in ‘The Great Raid’ world premiere movie event with he and Miramax Movies. We were also honored to be in his home when Ollie North and the Fox News crew spent the day interviewing Breuer for the War Stories Series,” Rowland said. “Since that time, we have had a great friendship as he shared transcripts to his new books and correspondence with friends from around the world. Recently, he had been sharing with me regular updates on a book he was working on about President Ronald Reagan. He wrote right up until the time of his death.”
Breuer was born Sept. 17, 1922, in Rolla, Mo., at what he described “as a very early age” to Louis and Mary Louise (Bentley) Breuer. He was preceded in death by his wife, Vivien Cornelia Breuer, who died Nov. 18, 2001.
Breuer gave a sealed envelope in April to the Rowlands to be opened only in the event of an emergency. Sandra opened the envelope Wednesday afternoon to find one of his last works. It was a four-page autobiography.
In his autobiographical sketch, Breuer said he plunged into a lifetime of mass communications eight years after his birth when he began publishing a mimeographed neighborhood newspaper with a circulation of 29. The inaugural banner headline proclaimed: “Mrs. Kershner’s Cat is Sick.”
Since that early age, Breuer had a career goal of being his own newspaper publisher. The dream was delayed somewhat by World War II, according to the “Papers of William B. Breuer, 1929-1988” located in the Operational Archives Branch of the Naval Historical Center in Washington, D.C.
“William B. Breuer was a 20 year-old platoon sergeant, who landed with the first assault waves on D-Day in Normandy, and saw action in five campaigns. Later he founded a daily newspaper on a shoestring and for 10 years served as a publisher, at one time the nation’s youngest. Among his many awards were 17 from the armed forces for his newspaper’s support of a strong national defense,” according to the archived papers.
Breuer wrote in his short sketch that when he was 22, the dream came true when a friendly banker loaned him $300 to augment his $100 savings account.
“I was walking in tall clover,” Breuer recalled in the autobiography.
With three helpers (including his Vivien) he toiled through 60-hour weeks and the Rolla Herald gradually grew and eventually became a daily newspaper.
The Missouri Press News from June 2003 ran in its nostalgia section the following statement, “The Rolla Herald, oldest newspaper in Phelps County, will become a daily publication on July 6, 1953, according to publisher William B. Breuer.”
After 10 years as a small-town publisher, Breuer decided to take on larger challenges. The Herald was sold, so he and Vivien moved to St. Louis where they opened the public relations firm, William B. Breuer and Associates, in a downtown high rise.
Now that he was out of the newspaper business, he had more time on his hands since his work week was reduced to only 50 hours.
“By dint of diligent effort (and 50-hour work-weeks) the new agency grew steadily in the years ahead and gained a nationwide reputation for its zip, contacts, and productivity,” Breuer wrote of that period in his life. “Luck also played a major role. A former Hollywood superstar, Ronald Reagan, had recently been elected the Republican governor of California and began a 13-year-long quest and three efforts to reach the White House.”
Early on in Reagan’s prolonged campaign, his team retained William B. Breuer and Associates to promote an indoor rally in St. Louis.
Breuer said the event was a huge success. Twelve thousand people showed up at the arena and the advertising agency contracted to promote Reagan’s Midwestern events on 13 other occasions. The relationship continued until Reagan became president.
While devoting most of his time and talent to the public relations agency, he also began a third career as a nonfiction author.
“This new endeavor proved to be quite successful so he began writing books full time,” he wrote. “In the mid-1990s, he and Vivien adopted thriving Cleveland, Tenn., to be their new base of operations to provide a more tranquil locale for creative activity.”
Rowland said Breuer and his late wife, Vivian, moved here in the mid-1990s through the invitation of the late Judge Virgil Carmichael.
“Bill often told me that Cleveland was the perfect place for a writer and he loved calling Cleveland home. He was a great cheerleader for Cleveland as he kept in touch with his associates across the country. We were honored to have such a distinguished nonfiction author living in our midst.”
Forty-one of his nonfiction books were published in the United States over the next 20 years. His writing focused on tales of secret missions, the moon landing, the Kennedy-Fidel Castro vendetta, women heroics, spies, suspense, sports, the CIA, political conspiracies, hoaxes, the FBI, and the global war on terrorism.
Twenty-six titles were Book Club selections, 12 were produced in audio and 15 were published in paperback. Three books were bestsellers. One of them was a bestseller in Poland. Eighteen Breuer titles have been translated into Japanese, French, German, Arabic, Belgian, Polish, Chinese, Bulgarian, Czech, Serbo-Croatian, Hungarian and Burmese.
Several Breuer books provided a fourth career for the author as a consultant for movies and television documentaries.
The Missouri native was the guest speaker before more than 100 organizations in the United States, including civic clubs, chambers of commerce, corporations, veterans’ associations, and university and high school student bodies.
In 2008, Cleveland State Community College launched a unique and complicated project on campus that was completed a year later. The William B. Breuer Archives contains thousands of pieces of Breuer’s materials accrued during his years as an author.