Unique Piece of America’s Military Worth Saving

In 1989, I was in Normandy, France, for the 45th anniversary of the D-Day invasion and, along with a colleague, drinking beers bought for us by men who had landed on those bloody beaches June 6, 1944.

Why were these brave World War II veterans buying us beers? Well, as they told us, “You guys did a great job for us.”

In fact, we had done nothing for them. But we were reporters for Stars & Stripes, the military newspaper and the old fellows had fond memories of reading it during the war. The beers were how they showed their long-lasting appreciation.

I recall this now after release of the current White House budget proposal. The military would receive $705 billion in the next fiscal year, but the plan eliminates $7 million to partially fund Stripes, which is owned by the Defense Department.

That money provides about 35 percent of the operating budget for Stripes. The rest comes from newspaper sales and subscriptions and advertising revenue. Without the government portion, however, the newspaper would essentially cease to exist as it does now.

That would be a shame.

I admit to a sentimental bias. I spent 17 years at the newspaper—from 1988 to 2005—and it was a life-changing experience.

But more than that, I believe in the newspaper’s mission. For more than 75 years, it has provided military members and their families stationed overseas with unfiltered news. It has never been official, government-approved propaganda.

The Trump administration says it has better ways to communicate with the troops. But that’s the point. Stars & Stripes is not a communication tool for the administration. It is, as Stripes always affirms, a First Amendment newspaper.

During World War II, Bill Mauldin, a soldier in the 45th Infantry Division, drew cartoons depicting the war from the viewpoint of Willie and Joe, two unshaven, mud-covered GIs. Published in Stripes, the illustrations were funny, on point and not always respectful to officers.

When Gen. George Patton threatened to punish Mauldin for what he considered insubordination, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme commander in Europe, stepped in. “Stars & Stripes is the soldiers’ paper,” he told Patton, “and we won’t interfere.”

The newspaper has been living off Ike’s comment for seven decades, using it to back down generals and others who thought the newspaper was getting too big for its britches.

Like newspapers across America, Stripes is having its troubles. In the internet age, it is not as essential as it was when I joined the staff in Germany.

But for troops downrange—that is, in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere—where online access can be iffy, the newspaper can be a godsend.

Stars & Stripes will make this case to Congress. Already, several lawmakers who served in uniform have voiced support for the newspaper, which they read during their overseas deployments.

And recently, a letter of support was published in The Chicago Tribune. It came from an airman stationed at Bagram Air Base near Kabul, Afghanistan.

“My leadership tells me what I need to know,” he wrote. “Stars and Stripes tells me everything else.”

Like those men who landed on Omaha Beach in 1944, the troops serving today will carry good memories of the soldiers’ newspaper for many years.

Congress must continue to provide funding to Stars & Stripes.

Ron Jensen

Galesburg, IL

Striper in Europe from 1988 to 2005