As a seasoned and salty old newspaperman, I was honored recently to speak at the Stars and Stripes Museum/Library in Bloomfield, Mo., where the military newspaper was born in 1861 when Union soldiers captured the town formerly occupied by Confederate forces.
Since some of the occupying soldiers were newspapermen from Iowa and Illinois prior to the Civil War, they noticed the town's unoccupied newspaper office. The Bloomfield Herald's publisher had left town with the fleeing Confederate forces.
Americana journalism history was made, when the occupying soldiers took control of the printing press and christened their newspaper, "The Stars and Stripes."
"The following morning, Saturday, Nov. 8, 1861, carriers distributed the paper to the boys in Blue in and around our small town," chronicles Stoddard County Historian James R. Mayo, president-emeritus of the Stars and Stripes Museum. "Since there were more than 2,000 Union soldiers, no doubt, the soldiers were instructed to read, and pass it on."
One of three original copies remains on display for tourists and historians at the Stars and Stripes Museum, located on Highway 25 between Dexter and Bloomfield, Mo. Parts of the original printing press also remain on display.
While serving as a "foreign war correspondent" in Bosnia in 1993, I experienced the social and psychological value of reading the Stars and Stripes, the present-day world-circulated newspaper for U.S. soldiers.
The military newspaper was a "morning must read" of Lt. Col. Hooper Penuel, of Lascassas, and myself, as we breakfasted prior to boarding flying war machines (C-130s) as brave Tennessee Air National Guard flight crews dropped food, medicine and water needed for survival of thousands of war refugees on the run from being exterminated by warring Serb military forces.
During a pre-flight meal at Rhein-Mein Air Force Base in Frankfurt, Germany, I recall looking around the mess hall, where an estimated 80 percent of base military personnel were also reading that week's European edition of the Stars and Stripes.
Retired Tennessee National Guard Public Information Officer Penuel details the value of the Stars and Stripes to soldiers.
"While on an overseas' three-year deployment in the 1960s in Spain, my connections to the Stars and Stripes meant weekly news, sports and political updates from back home," Penuel detailed. "This was before the internet and satellite feeds that reached across the ocean.
"Other than letters from home, the Stars and Stripes was the 'best read' to catch up on events," Penuel added. "While stationed in Spain, out interest in the Stars and Stripes really heightened when the Cuban Missile Crisis put the world on the brink of a nuclear war. We couldn't wait to get the next edition."
Retired Col. Jim Stone, of Woodbury, recalls reading the Stars and Stripes while serving in Vietnam during the early 1960s.
"It was like reading our hometown Cannon Courier newspaper," confirmed Stone. "Reading the Stars and Stripes was a big morale boost for the soldiers. It provided good coverage what was going in not only in the military, but back home political news too."
But, the highly-decorated helicopter pilot was not certain of being around for the military newspaper's next edition.
"We had dangerous missions, so getting back to base and reading the Stars and Stripes was very therapeutic, including Jan. 3, 1963, when my helicopter was shot down over a rice paddy in Vietnam Delta country," Col. Stone added. "That newspaper was crucially important to U.S. soldiers."
The Stars and Stripes Museum is operated by all-volunteers. Individual memberships of $25 can be mailed to the non-profit group at Stars and Stripes Way, P.O. Box 1861, Bloomfield, Mo., 63825.