Carnett: Remembering the venerable Stars and Stripes

I don't suppose one can expect Stars and Stripes forever.

I refer not to Old Glory, America's cherished red, white and blue national symbol, but Stars and Stripes, the ubiquitous and venerated daily newspaper published for eons by the U.S. military. According to recent reports, it may be on the chopping block.

If that's the case, it's a calamity of significant proportions.

Once, long ago, I proudly wrote for that august newspaper.

Soldiers, sailors, Marines and Air Force personnel stationed around the globe have depended on that publication for decades for their daily ration of news and opinion. It's been around since the Civil War, and has been published continuously since World War II.

I was a Stars and Stripes stringer in 1965 and '66 while a public information specialist with the U.S. Army in Korea. I was located in Seoul, and the Pacific edition of the newspaper was published out of Tokyo. We regularly "TWXed" (sent by Teletype) stories and information to the Tokyo bureau, 700 miles to our east.

I don't recall if I ever actually landed a byline in the printed publication or not, but I had some news items published.

As a cost-cutting measure, the Department of Defense — which contributes $7.4 million annually toward the subsidization of Stars and Stripes — announced that it is mulling over the paper's possible demise. The DOD is looking at a number of other cost-cutting measures as well.

Stars and Stripes' first edition was produced in 1861 by Union troops, according to the publication's website. The soldiers utilized the facilities of a captured newspaper plant in Bloomfield, Mo. A Paris edition of Stars and Stripes — targeted for America's World War I Expeditionary Force under the command of Gen. John J. "Black Jack" Pershing — emerged in early 1918.

During World War II, Stars and Stripes was published from 25 different locations in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific.

Today, almost exclusively, civilians produce Stars and Stripes. Back in my day, a substantial segment of the staff was U.S. military personnel.

I joined the Army in February 1964 and attended the eight-week U.S. Army Information School at Fort Slocum, N.Y. I was trained to be a military correspondent or public relations specialist.

My first year following graduation, I served not as a journalist but as a teacher of Army history classes — mostly World War II history — at Fort Benning, Ga. I spent lots of time discussing Third Army hero Gen. George S. Patton.

In May 1965, I was placed aboard the 11,500-ton USNS Gordon — a World War II-vintage troop carrier — bound from San Francisco for Inchon, South Korea, with 4,000 G.I.s on board. I was to spend the next 18 months in Korea.

Twenty-three days later we landed at Inchon, and I made the one-hour trip to Seoul in the back of an Army deuce-and-a-half truck.

My first stop was the Stars and Stripes office in Yongsan, where I was interviewed for a staff writer position. The interview went well, but then I was given a news story to rewrite. I hadn't written a thing — other than lesson plans — for a year. I'm afraid I fumbled the assignment.

I was subsequently attached to the Eighth Army Support Command Information Office, where I worked for a year as a sports editor and columnist for the command's weekly newspaper.

Additionally, I got to write occasional pieces for Stars and Stripes. During my final six months in Korea, I headed up an Army news bureau near Inchon, and periodically submitted material to Stripes for publication.

I read Stars and Stripes daily while in Korea. It was my connection to the outside world. Stripes carried many of the great syndicated writers of the day, including Los Angeles Times sports columnist extraordinaire Jim Murray. Murray became a favorite of mine. His column ran several times weekly, and I began those mornings with Murray and a cup of Joe.

My passion for newspapers hasn't subsided to this day.

Though it's been decades since I last opened an issue of Stars and Stripes, I'll miss it.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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