Happy Birthday, Stars and Stripes!

One of the cool fringe benefits of volunteering at the National World War I Museum and Memorial here in Kansas City is that as I continue my learning journey about the war itself, I pick up bits of knowledge and trivia about all manner of subjects. Some are directly tied to the conflict, of course, and others have only tenuous connections. Even those serve to increase my understanding not just of the war but also the world and events which spawned it.

Among the little infonuggets I’ve happened across while perusing one of the many artifacts and didactics filling the museum’s galleries is this: Today, February 8th, marks the 102nd anniversary of Stars and Stripes, the first officially sanctioned military newspaper to carry that storied name.

Now, a bit of digging further informed me that what we now know as Stars and Stripes actually has roots extending all the way back to the Civil War. Apparently, it was in November of 1861 that the first known newspaper written specifically for soldiers was published. It carried the name The Stars & Stripes, and I further learned I can even go and see a copy of the original print edition just by jumping into the Wardmobile and high-tailing it to Bloomfield, Missouri, home of The National Stars and Stripes Museum and Library.

Don’t think I’m not planning on doing this very thing. Oh, yeah. It’s gonna happen.

After consulting multiple sources, I came away to understand this early S&S progenitor–which consisted of a single issue published on November 8, 1861–has no official ties to the current incarnation. Neither does the National Tribune, a newspaper written for Civil War veterans which began circulation in October of 1877. At some point during its lifespan which ended at a point prior to America’s entry into the First World War, the Tribune added Stars and Stripes to its banner. When it ceased publication, a private group based in Washington, D.C., took over its operations and kept the paper going.

Which brings us to February 1918. The Allied Expeditionary Forces have arrived in Europe and General John “Blackjack” Pershing orders the first official, military-sanctioned newspaper for servicemembers deployed in support of the war effort. In particular, he wanted something written for soldiers serving at or near the front lines, where news and other information was as scarce as it was coveted. And so The Stars and Stripes was (re)born.

StarsAndStripes_19180208The Stars and Stripes, Vol. 1 No. 1, February 8, 1918
(Click to Biggie Size)

Written “By and For the Soldiers of the A.E.F.,” this iteration of the paper was published weekly between February 1918 and June 1919 for a total of 71 issues. Following the war, several of the people involved with the paper launched a stateside edition which began publication the day after the military’s version ceased operations. Like the National Tribune before it, this new Stars and Stripes published material intended for the veteran readership and indeed competed with that rival publication for a time before this version of S&S merged its operation with the Tribune in 1926.

The official version of The Stars and Stripes returned when the United States entered the Second World War. Beginning in 1942, it served as the official newspaper for servicemembers in the European and African theaters. A second edition for those serving in the Pacific began publication in May 1945, and both versions remained in publication throughout the conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf. Today, Stars and Stripes publishes daily and print editions. Despite its obvious connection to the U.S. military, S&S is and remains editorially independent from the Department of Defense and the Defense Media Activity.

Over the decades, many of its contributors went on to larger and more prominent careers in journalism and other fields. Comic book artist Tom Sutton provided illustrations for S&S. Marine Corps veteran and writer Gustav Hasford also wrote for the paper during the Vietnam War before turning his considerable skills to a novel called The Short-Timers, which at least some of you may recognize as the basis for Stanley Kubrick’s film Full Metal Jacket. Steve Kroft and the late Andy Rooney from 60 Minutes are both Stars and Stripes veterans. Rooney wrote about his experiences as an S&S reporter during WWII in his 1997 memoir My War. And we certainly can’t forget Bill Mauldin, the Pulitzer-prize winning artist who lifted many a soldier’s spirits during WWII with his humorous takes on everyday G.I. life in his cartoon series Up Front.

I was aware of the paper even before my own time in uniform, of course, thanks to my father bringing home the odd copy and seeing it represented in war films and television shows like M*A*S*H. After I enlisted, I started reading it along with other publications like Leatherneck Magazine and Navy Times (the Marine Corps Times wasn’t its own thing yet, back in those days). It wasn’t until I was stationed on Okinawa that it really became daily reading, along with whatever civilian papers we could get at the PX or mailed to us from home (no internet back then, kids!).

The PX locations on the island also had Stars and Stripes bookstores, full-blown retail outlets serving as the military equivalent of Waldenbooks or B. Dalton’s back in the day. These places were a life saver, y’all. From what I can tell, the stores went the same way as their civilian counterparts of that era. Can anyone confirm or refute this?

I’m not sure about the current state of affairs, but back in the day? It’s where I went for my regular fix of leisure reading. Books and magazines out the ass, y’all. Here, I was able to scratch various itches, like Mack Bolan adventures or the latest Star Trek novel. While the Commandant’s professional reading and military education program was still a couple of years away, such outlets were a good place to find a decent selection of titles which ultimately fell into that realm, as well.

Thanks to S&S and its stores, I was able to read the novelizations for a whole bunch of films I didn’t get to see for a year or more after I returned to the States. Alien Nation? 1989’s Batman? Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Star Trek V: The Final Frontier? Yep, I picked up those books at my local S&S bookstore. In fact, it was in one of these little literary oases that I learned about an upcoming science fiction TV series set to debut in late 1988: War of the Worlds.

WarOfTheWorlds-BookMy 32-year old copy of J.M. Dillard’s novelization for War of the Worlds: The Resurrection. It still bears the mark of the Pacific Stars and Stripes retail beast.

Unfortunately, the novelization set expectations the show itself failed to meet, but that’s another story.

Today, Stars and Stripes continues its mission of informing American servicemembers and their families around the world. Have some cake and enjoy your birthday, S&S; you look pretty good for 102.

Then, get back to work and keep doing your thing.


Lay it on me.

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