Friday, February 9, 2018

Another Anniversary - Stars and Stripes

Another historical milestone passed. 

Stars and Stripes newspaper was one hundred years old on the 8th of February.  Starting out in France as the voice of the American Expeditionary Force.  A hybrid or perhaps a mongrel, it now operates within the Department of Defense but DOD has no editorial control.  Congress has guaranteed its freedom of speech.  Its first editor Harold Ross later founded and published the New Yorker magazine.

Its most famous contributor was of course Bill Mauldin during WW2 with his Willie and Joe cartoons and his lampooning of the upper brass.  General Patton accused him of being an anarchist and wanted to lock him up in the monkey house.  He was saved by Ike who told Patton that Stars and Stripes is the soldiers’ newspaper and we generals will not interfere.  My father, who fought in Italy, swore on a bible that he personally knew the GI upon who Willie was based.  His favorite Mauldin cartoon was the mud-slinging staff officer's jeep shown here on the right.

Back in 1918, another famous illustrator Cyrus Baldridge, was with Stars and Stripes.  His most famous illustration in the paper is titled ‘The Noncombatant’.  The paper is still going strong in the digital age:  four daily print editions, one each for Europe, the Middle East, Japan and South Korea; a weekly in the US; seven digital editions; and seven blogs.  They still publish Doonesbury despite the push to get rid of it by the right wing, but I think it is only re-run mode.  Plus I have not seen anything recent or Trump in the Stripes, so maybe the first Amendment rights safeguarded by Congress have been put on the back shelf.  Sad as someone in the WH might say.


  1. It's worth recalling that Mauldin got his start working for the "45th Division News", the house organ of the Texas-New Mexico National Guard outfit he had joined right before the war. S&S was the big-time but journos of his time got started like he did, working for little newspapers all over, including post and division rags. Our era of digitizing and corporate consolidation has killed those small papers as dead as the dodo.

  2. Ike's admonition to Patton did not survive into the VN era.

    In 1970, I arrived at Camp Rose, Korea. A new armor Shake n Bake E-6 drafted out of graduate school. Even then I was a news junkie. We were just a few miles below the DMZ, and at least once a month we would go north of the Imjin. About three miles of mud road from Munsan. No telephone. One TV station - AFKN. It took weeks to get a letter from home, and six weeks to get Time magazine

    The Stars and Stripes was our only source of current news.

    But after a time I began to smell a rat. An edition would arrive with a large headline proudly touting a recent smashing military victory in RVN, and of course the always reliable "body count". The S&S would, however, do a casualty report 5 - 6 six ays later. I started keeping track of the "smashing victories", and later matching them against the casualty reports. And after a time I realized I was reading a propaganda rag.

    Then came 1Lt Jackson Flap. In October, 1970. Mort Walker and Beetle Bailey were something I looked forward to in the S&S.. After about a month after 1Lt Flap arrived, the comic strip disappeared. Poof. Kaput. No explanation.

    Turns out somebody in 8th Army decided that a black cartoon character was "detrimental to morale", and ordered the comic strip removed. Forgetting that probably 20% or so of the troops were also black.

    At that point, I stopped reading the S&S, and there is a period of 8 - 10 months of news in that era that I know nothing about.

    More broadly, that period in Korea is known as the DMZ war. I went to bed most every night listening to fifties and AK47s at Camp Rose. Once or twice a week we would get warnings of infiltrators in the area (although I never did figure out how a kid from Kentucky was supposed to tell a north Korean from a south Korean). I am aware of seven GI's who were killed during that period (not by hostile fire). And the Army used agent orange north of the Imjin.

    I rode down to Seoul once with a JSA soldier. He asked if I had heard about the incident at Panmunjom the week before. I had not. He told me the NKs came across and attacked the JSA guys with picks and shovels and severely injured a lieutenant. He said the JSAs went across the next day, and dragged NKs back, held them down, and chopped off their fingers with shovels. I have no corroboration of this story, but I believed the JSA guy

    I tell these stories because when I came home, nobody had heard any of these things. I run in to RVN vets now who are puzzled when I tell them I am an AO veteran and I was in a hostile fire zone (and free fire at certain times) and they paid us HF pay - 50 USD enlisted, 100 USD commissioned.

    I have since learned, that because of deteriorating conditions in RVN, DOD decided to impose a news black out on the stuff coming out of Korea. And this of course fits well with my experience with the Army's propaganda rag of long ago.

    Walter Olin

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  4. I remember Lt Flap. The original was probably deep-sixed for the black power salutes and the afro and beard. But Flap was still around in a toned down version with no afro and no beard back a few years ago before Mort Walker died.

    There were several incidents of murder and mayhem at Panmunjom in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Some were major firefights, another an axe murder. And that just at the JSA and not the other firefights you experienced on the DMZ. The one at the JSA you mention in 1970 happened. Not sure I believe the finger-chopping though. Maybe?

  5. I should note that most GIs in the 1980s had little or no interest in the paper, viewing it as much the same as Army Times, just a mimeo machine for DA. And at least Army Slimes had the promotion cut-off scores...

  6. FDC-

    Off topic. Have you ever gone to Fossil Lake down in Lake County?