Stars and Stripes stops home delivery in Germany, a personal loss

On November 2, 1861, Union Col. Richard J. Oglesby of 18th Co Illinois Infantry Regiment stationed at Birds Point, a small Missouri town across the Mississippi River, received orders from General Grant to take command of an expeditionary force against rebel opposition troops in Stoddard County, Missouri.  Allegedly, Col. Oglesby arrived in Bloomfield, Stoddard County, on the morning of November 8th.  Forward detachment Union troops had looted abandoned homes and businesses prior to the Colonel’s arriving, compelling him to order the looting to stop, and the soldiers to remain in “garrison” aka tents. In the meantime, ten Union Officers found the abandoned printing offices of the Bloomfield Herald, and that night decided to publish a “newspaper” for their troops. Excerpts from a diary by Captain Daniel Brush of C. Company, 18th Illinois Infantry Regiment, described the effort, and how the next morning, soldiers were given the unprecedented task of naming their new “paper”. The soldiers decided unanimously on Stars and Stripes.

One of the first publishers: Benson T Atherton

Fast forward to several other wars and deployments across the globe, and the one certainty for every active-duty military member and his or her family remains the morning edition of the Stars and Stripes.  We were one of these families and I am one of those subscribers who still enjoys my home delivered Stars and Stripes with my proverbial “cup o’ Joe”.  Unfortunately, technology and “paperless” activism or some other equally pseudo eco cliché has led to the gradual demise of the paper edition and consequently, my home delivery of the Stars and Stripes. 

I joined the ranks of military wives in 1969. Vietnam was in earnest, the Beatles were on top of the charts, and man had just made a “giant step for mankind” on the moon. Thrown into a life of PCS (permanent change of station) moves for the next 21 years, and giving birth on different continents and countries, certainties in the military remained few and far between. However, amid the constant change in location and country there still remained a few certainties that withstood the test of time long after uniforms were put in moth balls and new lives started anew.  In our case, when the uniform was put away, we both started serving as DoD (Department of Defense) contractors/civilians. We both gave another 25 years in service to the military and the country. Throughout these years of service, the Stars and Stripes remained the sole means of connection within the global military family we spent 50 + years in.

During the 2003/2004 deployment to Iraq, Stars and Stripes reporters and other news agencies were imbedded with our troops who had deployed from Friedberg, Germany. I served those troops as a DoD contractor with the Overseas Military Banking Program. My job was to manage the small banking facility on Ray Barracks, Friedberg.  Ray Barracks hosted Sgt. Elvis Aaron Presley from 1958-1960. In the late 90’s it became home to the 1st BDE, 1st AD.  These were the soldiers who in 2003 deployed to Baghdad. During that deployment, my staff and I created “News from the front”, daily Stars and Stripes stories directly involving our brigade and deployed soldiers which we painstakingly cut and glued onto a flip chart which stood in the entrance to the bank lobby.  A throwback to past wars, The Stars and Stripes became a conduit between loved ones down range and military families that remained at “home” in Germany.

The Stars and Stripes is delivered free of charge to overseas deployed troops, most overseas PX’s (Post Exchanges), Commissaries, and other garrison/base establishments.  Subscribers like me, pay a modest $52 a year subscription for home delivery.  The paper also has an online version which put the final nail in the proverbial coffin of congressional funding, making it difficult to justify paying delivery personnel and thus sustain the home delivery service I got accustomed to and enjoyed.

What folk in the US fail to understand, including current pinhead politicians, is the impact the paper has on the lives of those stationed overseas, aka active duty, DoD civilians, and retirees.  The Stars and Stripes is unlike any other daily newspaper one is accustomed to because it was and still is specifically created and published for those who serve or have served. It is non-partisan and gathers the majority of its articles and reporting from major news outlets like Reuters, Associated Press, Washington Post, Bloomberg, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, and Stars and Stripes reporters. Opinion columns are balanced on either side of the political spectrum. Most important: military news is gathered from the Pacific, European, and US theater of operations. It is a vital link between branches of services across the globe and their military activities.

In Germany, where we served, retired, and now volunteer, there are approximately 50,000 troops, DoD civilians and families living on various garrisons and bases. The Stars and Stripes paper edition as of date, has 200 home delivery subscribers. None are active duty. All are either retirees or DoD civilians. Years ago, Army promotion boards found it necessary to ask those up for promotion to assess and discuss articles they had recently read in the Stars and Stripes. The paper was considered a pseudo-obligatory read to maintain a high level of general knowledge on world affairs and military developments imperative to leadership skills in lead positions. This “tradition” has gone by the wayside together with daily “formations” and starched uniforms. Social media like Facebook and Twitter have replaced First Sergeants and face-to-face communication between soldiers, commands, and units. A breakdown in traditions have contributed to the lack of intellectual conversation and reading deficiencies.  Unfortunately, in a survey conducted a few months ago, Stars and Stripes discovered that the subscription readership was in the 40+ age group. The younger generation are content with getting their news from rapid digital sources.

I have just received notice that as of November 30, 2021, I will not be receiving my morning edition of the Stars and Stripes in my mailbox. I need to activate the Digital edition for my daily read. Somehow, a “cup o’ Joe” and my mobile do not conjure up a warm morning reading routine. The joy of unfolding the paper even the smell of fresh print is now history. A lazy afternoon with the Stars and Stripes Crossword is also a thing of the past.

A morning newspaper is more than news in print, it’s a ritual in individuality.  I personally love to read the headlines first, then work my way quickly into the paper to get a glimpse of all the articles before I peacefully sit down with my coffee and start reading. I keep the newspaper for several days, going back to it perhaps as a source for a blog, or to reread an article that I might have missed or had come up in conversation at work.  This personal relationship with a newspaper is sacrosanct and it galls me to think that it has been set aside in lieu of the impersonal digital world.

I have kept many significant copies of the Stars and Stripes. The most notable being the one published on September 12, 2001. The front page had one picture and one headline: the Twin Towers in flames and the headline: U.S. attacked. This edition was followed by many others that I kept leading to the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. Losing the printed version is losing another important tradition. History and tradition are being slowly and deliberately eroded with little regard to consequences to future generations. The Stars and Stripes is the one substantial voice to all those who served and still serve.  Some may say that progress and change is inevitable. I say that change is not always progress just change.

This generation of tweeters and texters are missing out on the basic discipline of patience found in gently turning the page of a book or newspaper. They are also missing out on the joy of keeping significant newspapers and cuttings like we did, and our parents and their parents before them did. The treasure trove of historic information that has been located in family attics and basements has proven invaluable to all of us. The current penchant of living in the now without viable context to the past is the unfortunate cause of so much historic misinterpretation that leads to the visceral division so prevalent in today’s society. To be fair, one can access Stars and Stripes archives digitally but the thrill of having such an archive at home is lost in the impersonal habit of online browsing. Those of us who kept important editions were part of the headline. We remember. We know the truth.

Alas, my countdown to the last delivery has started. 52 years of the familiar will soon vanish into Login and digital passwords. I already miss the smell of the printed paper, the swish of pages turning, and reaching for my second “cup o’ Joe” while I slowly turn to the Opinion page, a daily ritual perfected to utter contentment. Thank you Stars and Stripes for the many faithful years of early morning delivery and thank you for allowing me to be part of your history. The Union soldiers chose well. In print or digital, the Stars and Stripes remains true to those who served and still serve.