At War With The Stars And Stripes

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Stars and Stripes achieved a historical place because it was an altogether human paper; it became the printed record of the emotions and passions of its readers. Had it been up to some of the generals and commands, especially the base sections in the rear, Stars and Stripes would have been reduced to little more than an Army house organ. Some of the brass considered it only a training manual, publicity release, or hot potato, and seldom just a newspaper.

Whenever a particular command wanted to disavow disputes in the paper, they would issue an order making the paper “unofficial.” Nobody could logically explain how a newspaper run by sergeants, administered by captains and colonels, in turn drawing pay from the Army, could be unofficial. The other method of buck-passing by the Army was to keep shifting the command echelon above; an edition might be under a base section, special services, information and education, or Allied Force Headquarters itself.

From the Army’s point of view—except for the brief existence of Stars and Stripes in World War I—there was no tradition of untrammelled expression; indeed, that was the antithesis of military discipline and unquestioning conformity. The serious Stars and Stripes editors were always aware of this apparently irreconcilable conflict. Yet they strove to turn the paper into the voice of men—like themselves—temporarily in uniform, to deliver the news professionally and idealistically, to reflect ideas under stress and our postwar aspirations.

The Second World War multiplied battles and ideals all over the globe. By contrast, the Vietnam folly has diminished the United States in the eyes of even those peoples who once were freed by American soldiers. Correspondents and other observers caught up in wars past and present must still sit upon the ground and talk and write without sentiment of dictators and comrades; of the blacks and whites of conscience peering through the smoke; above all, of the need to escalate—in Asia and elsewhere—not the battles, but the ideals.

Stars and Stripes in the First World War was the famous one, and justly so. From February 8, 1918, to June 13, 1919, its staff in Paris put out seventy-one fiercely independent, sentimental weekly issues. It was run by enlisted men—Private Harold W. Ross, Railway Engineers; Private John T. Winterich, Aero Service; Private Hudson Hawley, Machine Gun Battalion; Sergeant Alexander Woollcott, Medical Department—who were the editorial Big Four. Two officers—Captain Franklin P. Adams and Lieutenant Grantland Rice—for a time served as columnists. Many future journalists of distinction rounded out this brilliant staff, and outside poetry contributors included Sergeant Joyce Kilmer.

The formal authorization came in a message from General John J. Pershing that appeared on the first page of Volume 1, Number 1: “In this initial number of The Stars and Stripes, published by the men of the Overseas Command, the Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces extends his greetings through the editing staff to the readers from the front line trenches to the base ports. … The paper, written by the men in the service, should speak the thoughts of the new American Army and the American people from whom the Army has been drawn. Good luck to it.”

It was only in the years after World War II that historical research uncovered casual editions of Stars and Stripes that existed even before the famous World War i edition. The first issue of the Stars and Stripes as a military paper appeared in Bloomfield, Missouri, on Saturday, November 9, 1861. This edition was published by Union soldiers of the 18th and 29th Illinois Volunteer regiments. Unfortunately the paper only appeared once, probably due to the exigencies of the war in the Union’s Department of the West.

Other issues of soldier papers called Stars and Stripes were put out by men in blue during the Civil War. Each one was independent, and no links existed between these short-lived issues and Washington. A group of federal privates held in Confederate prisons in Richmond, Tuscaloosa, New Orleans, and Salisbury, North Carolina, for ten months before being exchanged in 1862 produced a hand-written Stars and Stripes . One of the offices where the paper was written was “Cell No. 9, third floor.” Other independent editions of Stars and Stripes appeared in Jacksonport, Arkansas (the editor was post surgeon of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment of Missouri Volunteers), and in Thibodaux, Louisiana, in the local office of the Thibodaux Banner (whose owner had departed hurriedly) by Connecticut’s 12th Regiment. Both editions were printed on wallpaper due to the shortage of newsprint.

On the Confederate side of the lines, peripatetic-soldier papers were published, too. One was called the Daily Rebel Banner , but there was no Stars and Stripes .

—H.M.