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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
Around the Mediterranean the editions included personnel from every department of a newspaper but the pressroom. We had our own photographers, engravers, linotypists, and make-ups. In the mechanical area the GI printers and specialists often worked side by side with French and Italian craftsmen, and there was great mutuality of interest. The administrative officers and editors worried about the paper from the time it was raw stock, shipped from the States, till it was printed and distributed. The paper’s circulation was handled by Sergeant William Estoff, who used everything from mules to C-47’s for deliveries. Outfits near the city where the paper was printed usually picked up their quotas with their own transportation. Our own Stars and Stripes trucks rode through the night to deliver the paper to front-line divisions north of Rome and Air Corps wings south of Naples. The paper cost two francs or two lire in rear areas but was distributed free at the front.
Some of the soldiers who applied for transfer to Stars and Stripes came right out of combat units during the Tunisian and Italian campaigns. In the case of the GI printers, Sergeant Irving Levinson, our mechanical superintendent, went looking for them, but it was usually the other way around for correspondents and editors. In either case the men knew what they were writing, editing, or printing, for they had been in line outfits themselves.
The way I joined Stars and Stripes was typically untypical. I had been in southern Algeria with an Air Corps wing. When time allowed I put out a mimeographed paper called The Bomb-Fighter Bulletin , its news literally pulled out of the air by monitoring the BBC and Radio Berlin. I accidentally saw a copy of Stars and Stripes and decided to apply for a job. With the help of a kind lieutenant from my unit who covered up for me, I went A. W. O. L. for two days and showed up in Algiers, where Stars and Stripes had its office. I was interviewed by Neville, then a harassed lieutenant, who moaned that he was having trouble finding solid newspapermen (which I certainly was not). Then he said, “Do you know that there are people on this paper who don’t know how to spell Hitler’s first name?” I trembled, fearing he might ask me, and I wouldn’t know whether he wanted it to end in f or ph . Fortunately he didn’t ask, and a month or so later I received my transfer.
The story of how William Estoff, our circulation chief, got on Stars and Stripes was cherished by his friends as the definitive exposé of shavetails and military foul-ups. One day in England a call carne to a replacement depot for an enlisted man with newspaper circulation experience. A lieutenant dutifully examined the service records. He suddenly stopped at the name Estoff, private; age, mid-thirties; civilian occupation, bookmaker. (Estoff, a nightclub and newsstand operator, as a lark had listed himself as a bookie.) “Bookmaker,” the lieutenant is reported to have said. “That sounds close to what Stars and Stripes needs. Books—newspapers—can’t be too different.” Thus started a career for Sergeant Estoff’ that resulted in getting the ideal man for the complex assignment of making sure that the paper was circulated quickly to front-line divisions, plus the Air Corps and Navy.
As the war progressed, seasoned journalists—Hilary Lyons, Howard Taubman, John Radosta, John Willig, all past or future members of the New York Times —helped to turn the Mediterranean edition into a newspaper with a serious approach to U.S. and world events. Wire-service reports became available but were not accepted at face value. The major stories—our Italian front, northern Europe, the Russian counteroffensive, the Pacific theater—were handled on our own copy desk. The need was seen for better reporting from Washington and the home front slanted to an Army newspaper for men overseas, many of whom had missed three Christ mases home. One correspondent began to be rotated every four or five months; from where we sat in Algiers or Palermo or Rome, we referred to our man in New York as the “foreign correspondent in reverse.” Sergeant Bill Hogan was assigned to his home town, San Francisco, to report the founding of the United Nations there.
The Stars and Stripes in the Second World War leap-frogged the rear echelons. Thirty different editions were published; a number were dailies. Combined readership ran into the millions. As the Army freed each new island or town or country, editors, printers, and circulation men rushed into the nearest newspaper plant, occasionally at gunpoint, and took over. One of our lieutenants entered the plant of the Giornale di Sicilia , found the reluctant owner, and decided to put a fresh clip into his .45 at the moment of hesitancy. The owner relented, and Stars and Stripes began printing in Palermo. On the day Rome was freed, a dash was made for the plant of Il Messaggero by Sergeant Milton Lehman and several others, and a paper, headlined “ WE’RE IN ROME ,” was actually handed to some troops as they entered the city.