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At War With The Stars And Stripes
Army newspapers in World War were unofficial, informal, and more than the top brass could handle
April 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 3
An affable general who was never shy about his personal publicity, Clark looked around for correspondents to cover him as he assumed the role of conqueror of Pisa. None had yet reached Pisa—except the correspondent from Stars and Stripes . The General cordially shook my hand and said, “Sergeant, why don’t we go up and take a look?” The General and I became the first Americans to do so. At the top he posed his hawklike profile for a Signal Corps photographer—but a wise colonel on his staff killed the picture on grounds that it might be used by the Germans as propaganda to show that Americans had turned the tower into an observation post.
Censorship and generals occasionally plagued Stars and Stripes . For the most part censorship was confined to military matters, such as making sure that fresh units were not identified until the enemy knew of their presence and strength. With this we, of course, did not disagree, since we were no more desirous of giving information to the Germans than was the censor. But when a story was held up for nonmilitary reasons, we complained.
I was impressed by the bravery, which almost reached the point of foolhardiness, of certain Italian partisans who were helping the Americans and British north of the Arno. When I wrote about them and their political radicalism, the story was stopped. I would resubmit it week after week, but that story never passed. On other occasions my colleagues and I learned how to circumvent censorship by planting in our copy certain obvious red flags that would be cut out in order to let other material stay in. These, in the main, centered on stories that revealed high-command clay feet.
While I was managing editor of the Sicilian edition of Stars and Stripes , probably the most sensitive story of the war fell into my lap. It was the incident in which General George S. Patton had slapped a hospitalized soldier. We knew about it, of course, but had a special problem (to put it mildly) in Sicily: General Patton and his Seventh Army headquarters were there. I had received a file of stories and matrixes from our weekly newspaper in North Africa and noticed that the Algiers edition had carried an AP story about the face-slapping incident. I thought this was the perfect solution. So I reprinted the wire-service story, put it under a fairly quiet two-column headline on the bottom of page i, and submitted it to the major from Army headquarters assigned as censor. He gulped, read the story, and smiled weakly.
“This story presents a problem,” he said. “Do you really want to run it?”
“Of course,” I replied. “All I’m doing is picking up the wire-service report that already appeared in Algiers.”
“But Patton is in Sicily,” he said, “and he reads Stars and Stripes every morning with his breakfast. Can you imagine him reading this?”
I could, but argued, “The integrity of the paper is at stake. Because once this story appears in the States, families clip it out and mail it here. Then the GI’S know we’re suppressing news about their own theater.”
The major seemed to see the light—for a moment. “I’d better check this with the colonel,” he said. While I waited for my page proofs to be okayed, he called his next above. The major explained the story, then cupped the mouthpiece and whispered to me, “The colonel asked me to hang on while he checks with the General.” I whispered, ration: 1 he major nodded and said, (Jr Patton’s chief of staff.” Finally the voice came back on and the major signalled me to listen in with him.
“Major,” I heard the colonel say coldly, “the answer is, It’s your decision.” The major hesitated, and then said, “Can you give me some guidance, sir?” The colonel replied, “Major, I would suggest that you use your own judgment based on what is best for the Army.” He hung up. The major got the message. “My judgment is,” he told me, “you can’t run this story in Sicily.” As I picked up my page proofs and left without a word, he said, “Dammit, I’m sorry.”