Dave Marash, Former WCBS Anchor, Recalls Horrors of 1972 Munich Olympics

We’re just days away from restarting the pageantry and patriotism of the Summer Olympics. The Games of the XXX Olympiad take place in London.

This marks the 40th anniversary of the Munich Games, and the horrific events that resulted in those Olympics being called the Munich Massacre. Many from this generation got their knowledge from the 2005 Steven Spielberg film, Munich.

In a well-planned terrorist attack, eight Palestinians killed two members of the Israeli team. Nine others were held hostage. An ugly gunfight ensued leaving five terrorists dead. As for the nine remaining Israelis, ABC’s Jim McKay had the memorable, if not devastating, line: “They’re all gone.”

On radio, Dave Marash, a 30-year-old reporter, was pleased to have the Olympics assignment for WCBS Radio and the CBS Radio Network. He was filing reports on the various events in Germany and before long, Marash was covering one of the major news stories of the last 50 years.

“I had only gotten to bed about 15 minutes before the phone rang,” Marash tells FishbowlNY. “Because I had attended an event that was instrumental in the terrorist’s plan.”

That event, Marash contends, was the Soviet Union vs. Canada hockey match early on September 5.  Many Canadians, Soviets, and ice hockey fans that couldn’t get to the arena, did the next best thing. Not to miss the late-night match (that started at approximately 1 a.m. Munich time), Marash says many spectators left the Olympics Village for the Broadcast Center, sneaking back after the game. Thanks to lax security, Marash learned a short time later that the hockey match played a key role in the attack.

“Several members of the Canadian team had been surprised to see guys who were going over the fence with them who were carrying big, long, heavy gym bags,” Marash says. “And of course those were the terrorists, and the gym bags contained their weapons.”

Around 4:30 a.m., the terrorists, part of the Black September group, stormed the Israeli compound at the Olympic Village, and the crisis was starting to unfold with deadly consequences.

The bulletin crossed the wire at CBS in New York and word reached Marash’s hotel room. He quickly was in position. But, reporting the story meant some quick thinking on Marash’s part.

“I essentially broke into the Olympic Village from the non-athletes area to the athletes area,” Marash recalls. “Simply by getting into a runner’s uniform and jogging my way across, as if I were an Olympic athlete just out for a morning stretch.”

Ultimately, Marash found his way to Building 21, which housed the trapped Israelis. Information began to filter out. He could see ABC had cameras in place from an adjacent balcony. The pre-cell phone 1970s technology forced Marash to make a critical editorial decision.

“The nearest pay phone was about a block and a half away from Building 21 and had no line of sight into the quadrangle,” Marash recalls. “So that if I were to file, I would have to file blind. On the other hand, because I knew the TV cameras were already there, I knew that there would be TV coverage, and that whatever there was would be available at the press center.”

Marash scurried to the press center where he put audio to ABC’s video. Marash estimates that by 6 a.m. local time his initial report was broadcast. It was the first of many reports, as the cub reporter did yeoman work for approximately 36 consecutive hours.

Marash, the only CBS reporter covering the Olympics, provided live updates during the ordeal for the network’s top of the hour newscasts and special reports at the bottom of the hour. His duties included work for WCBS NewsRadio 88 and the other all-news CBS owned and operated stations.

“I was in the right spot at the right time,” Marash says.