In General John J. Pershing’s autobiography of World War I, he states that he and the upper echelon of the American Expeditionary Forces were concerned about keeping the morale of their army “up to a high pitch.” He decided a publication of some kind would serve that purpose. He then turned that responsibility over to Colonel Dennis E. Nolan of his staff who with Lt. Colonel Frederick Palmer, an experienced foreign correspondent and presently chief of press censorship for the A.E.F., chose Second Lieutenant Guy T. Viskniskki of the 79th Infantry Division to head the publication.
Evidently, Lt. Viskniskki, who was serving with Lt. Col. Palmer at this time, had voiced strong support for such a publication. This Spanish-American War veteran was not new to the newspaper business. He had been an executive for a newspaper syndicate before joining the A.E.F.
In the February 7, 1919 issue, now Capt. Viskniskki, states, “It fell to my lot to propose The Stars and Stripes, to give the paper its name, to set forth its aims and its policies, to organize it, and then to manage it, as officer in charge, until some weeks after the armistice.”
On the day of the first publication, February 8, 1918, Bulletin No. 10, issued by General Headquarters of the A.E.F., was forwarded to all the proper commanders. It gave general information regarding the newspaper, including that it would receive the latest in news and sports from home by cable. It informed the commanders that their units would not only be able to read about themselves but also about other units and what they were doing.
In addition, the paper would, “serve as a medium of publication for poems, stories, articles, caricatures, and cartoons of Army life produced by members of the A.E.F.” The final paragraph expressed the desire that all organization commanders give their “heartiest and promptest co-operation” to the new Stars and Stripes. The bulletin was issued by order of General Pershing.
A roster included in the final edition of June 13, 1919 shows six men on duty during the first publication. The closing edition also indicates 1,000 copies of the initial edition were printed and sold. From this small beginning the paper peaked at 526,000 copies. The roster also gave around 350 names of soldiers who served with the newspaper during its 71 issues.
How good was the World War I soldiers’ newspaper?
In the famous World War II weekly, Yank Magazine, Cpl. Burtt Evans of that staff described the World War I paper as, “The wackiest, liveliest, best loved and most successful newspaper ever published.” He refers to it as being the father of Yank as well as the World War II Stars and Stripes. (See Yank February 10, 1943 issue, page 4-5.) This of course, would make the Civil War issues the grandfather of these later World War II issues.
During the Korean War, The Pacific Stars and Stripes of February 8, 1953 pages 8-9, Andrew Headland, Jr. of that staff writes, “There have been better edited, larger, more influential, and more impressive newspapers than the 8-page full-size, weekly Stars and Stripes, but perhaps few newspapers have matched it for eloquence of style, for interest of content, or been more respected for what they stood for than the short, but gloriously-lived Stars and Stripes of World War I.”
Who were some of these Army and Marine soldiers who joined Lt. Viskniskki to make this newspaper so successful and the morale builder which the Iron commander expected?
The man who would eventually replace Lt. Viskniskki after he was promoted up and out as editor was a sometime cantankerous, but brilliant Pvt. Harold W. Ross, a 26-year-old, well-traveled news reporter. After the war, he moved to New York City and became the founder of The New Yorker Magazine.
Sgt. Alexander Woollcott, a 31-year-old dramatic critic for The New York Times, became the chief correspondent. Due to his poor eyesight and unconcern for danger, another reporter usually accompanied him as he boldly patrolled the front-line trenches. After the war, he returned to New York City and became extremely popular as a journalist, critic, writer, actor and radio broadcaster.
Pvt. John T. Winterich, a 27-year-old former reporter and copyreader for The Springfield Republican (MA) was considered the most reliable and knowledgeable member of the staff. When Lt. Viskniskki left The Stars and Stripes, the staff was given the responsibility of choosing their new editor. Winterich was nominated by Ross for the position, however, the shy Winterich declined. The staff then chose Ross to be their editor. After the war, Winterich succeeded Ross as editor of The American Legion Magazine.
Hudson Hawley, a former newspaper writer with The Hartford Times (CT) and The New York Sun, was credited with writing the copy for the first two issues of The Stars and Stripes. We presume he was the top writer for the Stripes since we can not find a record of his being a correspondent with Woollcott, Ross, and Winterich.
Abian A. Wallgren, a Marine private of the 5th Regiment, hailed from the Philadelphia, PA area and his extremely popular cartoons appeared in all 71 issues of The Stars and Stripes.
Pvt. C. LeRoy Baldridge was probably the only unattached infantry private in the A.E.F. The reason, he was a commercial artist in the Chicago area (home address given 2400 A. St., San Diego, CA) who left for France shortly after the war broke out in 1914. He joined the French Army as a truck driver and remained so until June 1, 1918 when he transferred to the American Army and The Stars and Stripes as a private. His serious cartoons were well respected and could draw immediate attention to a cause.
Franklin P. Adams, a 37 year-old Army intelligence service captain was already a well-known syndicated columnist in the United States. His new column in The Stars and Stripes, “The Listening Post” was filled with his wit and poetry. In the years following the war, his popularity grew with his column, “The Conning Tower.” In 1938, he became even better known as one of the experts of the radio show “Information Please.” In Mr. Headland’s Stars and Stripes article in 1953, he mentions that, “Until recently Cpl. Timothy Adams, son of the famed Franklin, was a reporter in Korea for The Pacific Stars and Stripes.”
Grantland Rice, a 38-year-old 1st Lt. and accomplished sportswriter, left his job and family in New York to become an artilleryman with the 30th National Guard Infantry Division from his native state of Tennessee. When his outfit, the 115th Field Artillery Regiment, arrived in France in the spring of 1918, he was surprised by orders to report to Paris and The Stars and Stripes. Of all the soldiers who worked for the newspaper, Granny Rice seemed to be the one who wanted to stay with his regiment. After four months of service, which included covering the battle at St. Mihiel with Ross and Woollcott, he reported back to his regiment. Even then he sent stories and poetry back to the Stripes. After the war, he returned to the New York Tribune and a great career during the Golden Twenties.
Two officers in charge should be mentioned in connection with the newspaper. Major Mark S. Watson of The Chicago Tribune, replaced Viskniskki as officer in charge on November 29, 1918. In 1945 he won the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting while with the Baltimore Sun. The second officer, Capt. Stephen T. Early of Crozet, VA, served as the assistant officer in charge and in World War II as the press secretary for President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
During the existence of theWorld War I Stars and Stripes, the ancient art of poetry was extremely popular with the doughboys. They, in fact, contributed most of the poetry with few exceptions. One exception is well worth mentioning. Rudyard Kipling, whose respect for the soldier was well known from previous publications, allowed his verse, “Justice” to be first printed in the November 1, 1918 issue of The Stars and Stripes. Shortly after this poem appeared his only son, John was killed in action while serving with the Irish Guard.
Sometime prior to the Friday, August 16, 1918 issue, correspondent Alex Woollcott brought back from the front lines of the famous 42nd Rainbow Division a copy of verse to be added to “The Army’s Poets” section of the Paper. This poem had been written after a German shell scored a direct hit on a dugout occupied by the Americans. Nineteen young men from the 165th Infantry Regiment were buried alive on the spot. A member of this regiment and one of America’s most famous poets, Sgt. Joyce Kilmer wrote, “The Woods Called Rouge-Bouquet” in their memory. Kilmer and Woollcott were acquainted from having worked simultaneously at The New York Times. Sgt. Kilmer, best known for his poem “Trees,” died a few weeks later on July 30, 1918 while fighting near the Ourcq River.
The Stars and Stripes lost members during the war, although none were direct battle casualties. Four of the men died of sickness as the result of service to the newspaper. They were: Pvt. Carl D. McIntosh of Los Angeles, CA; Sgt. David R. Bawden of Detroit, MI; Sgt. Homer G. Roland of Des Moines, IA and 1st Lt. William F. Miltenberger of New York City, NY.
The final issue of the World War I Stars and Stripes has a long article entitled, “Stars and Stripes is Hauled Down with This Issue.” It is an interesting article full of history, names, dates, facts, figures, and of course Stars and Stripes humor. In the closing paragraph, they thanked Gen. Pershing and the A.E.F. staff for their support. Finally, they mention a memorandum that came down from headquarters, probably from Pershing in regard to whether or not the paper was to be run for the enlisted man. “And it said in substance: The style and policy of The Stars and Stripes is not to be interfered with. It never was; and thus, the old sheet was able to achieve whatever measure of usefulness, whatever place in hearts of its fellow Yanks it may be credited with, now or in times to come.”
That “times to come” would be Saturday, April 18, 1942 in London. The Stars and Stripes was welcomed back into print by one of its World War I doughboys, General George C. Marshall.