“I Hope American Soldiers Read Stars and Stripes Forever”

From a Wall Street Journal column by Seth Lipsky headlined “I Hope American Soldiers Read Stars and Stripes Forever”:

It’s nice to see that tweet from President Trump that “America will NOT be cutting funding” for the GI daily Stars and Stripes. He was responding to reports that Pentagon budgeteers were going to shut the paper down by the end of September for the lack of $15 million. . . .

During World War II, some wag supposedly quipped that Stripes was where the brass assigned those GIs who, if left to the regular Army, would contribute to the Allied defeat. It was a wry libel. Stripes was always plenty patriotic, but also independent, in the newspapermanly way.

The tradition that the paper would be reported and edited by enlisted men goes back, legend has it, to World War I. That’s when the sergeant who was its managing editor got arrested in an argument over a comma—or, one version has it, for getting scooped by the Paris Herald. The officer who precipitated that catastrophe quickly realized his error, and freed the sergeant to get the paper out.

The sergeant was Harold Wallace Ross, who. . .went on to found the New Yorker.

Stripes’ most famous figure was its World War II cartoonist, Bill Mauldin, who created the archetypical GIs Willie and Joe. Those two hapless heroes exemplified the American grit that won the war. . . .

My own time on Stripes was during the war in Vietnam, where I served as a combat reporter. I’ve never been in a newsroom I didn’t love, but it would be hard to beat the band that covered the war for Stripes. . . .

My favorite example of the spirit of Stripes involves two of its GI reporters, Spec. 4 Jack Fuller and Spec. 5 Phil McCombs. When U.S. and South Vietnamese forces plunged into an area of Cambodia known as the Parrot’s Beak, they grabbed a station wagon from Stripes’ circulation department and raced to the border in pursuit of American armor. Once inside Cambodia, though, they were met with an ominous sign—everything was deserted. They pressed on until they encountered, in a bombed-out village, an American officer poring over a map. He would answer no questions.

Finally, Spec. 5 McCombs asked, “How far can we go until someone kills us?” The preoccupied officer appeared to be doing the math in his head. “Eight klicks,” he said, finally. The reporters jumped back into their station wagon and drove until they caught up with the American tanks—12 kilometers up the road.

That was the spirit of Stripes. The paper may have had its brushes with the brass and budgeteers over the years. In covering for American GIs their own astounding story, though, Stripes always went the extra klick.

Seth Lipsky is editor of the New York Sun. As an enlisted man in the Army, he served on Stripes in Vietnam, 1970-71.

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