October 24, 2003
Here's the final installment on my personal recollection of military service during World War II on the Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes.
In the last column, I wrote about my selection for the newly created Public Relations Section of the 98th Infantry division on Oahu, Hawaii, during World War II. At about the same time, the commanding general of the entire Mid-Pacific Ocean area, Lt. Gen. Robert C. Richardson, decided it was high time that his theater have its own edition of Stars and Stripes. He thereupon ordered a search of personnel records to find men qualified for that kind of work. For beginners, he converted the staff of an existing weekly paper, called The Mid-Pacifican, to start up the daily paper. The staff was housed on the third floor of Honolulu's leading afternoon paper, The Honolulu Advertiser, on the road to Waikiki from downtown Honolulu. The paper solicited help from its readers. Unknown to each other, Lt. Fay and I both put in our applications and we were soon assigned to the new paper for temporary duty. Bill Fay, being an officer, was not allowed to serve on the working staff of Stars and Stripes. Only enlisted men could do that. He could only fill administrative duties, as did the handful of officers already working there.
Bill Fay and I both made the grade and were assigned permanently to the S&S detachment, housed in four-man barracks in a sheltered park across the street from Trader Vic's watering hole. We were given vouchers that permitted us to eat at any restaurant, –usually the YMCA cafeteria near our detachment area. We could easily walk to work each day to the Advertiser building. It was a dream assignment. Working on a real daily newspaper, no formations to stand, no marching, not even sidearms to carry for weapons, and virtually no officers bearing dirty looks. Stripes was served by Associated Press, United Press, International News Service, Army News Service and of course our own staff of reporters, feature writers and photographers who covered the war in the Pacific for us with first-person accounts. The editorial page normally included a number of letters from enlisted men griping about the GI chow or some other aspect of military life. We had our own editorial cartoonist (Tom Gray), and a columnist named Jerry Siegel who happened to have been the original narrative writer for the Superman comic in civilian life. Yank Magazine, a kind of military cross between Life and the Saturday Evening Post, was a weekly publication and it was very popular, but our paper was a daily and it was gobbled up by GIs throughout the Pacific. Our managing editor was M/Sgt. Chic Avedon, a Hollywood script writer before the war.
Now comes the sad part. I have attended several of these annual reunions and I always come away with mixed feelings. It is great to hear the stories told by some of the younger men about the problems they ecountered in peace-time in Europe, Japan and elsewhere. But it is so sad to learn that most of my co-workers are now deceased. Last year in Honolulu, the only staffer I knew was Bob Ebert, one of our photographers. He now lives in Honolulu and he celebrated his 90th birthday during the reunion. Neither of us remembered much about the other. Lt. Fay used to give color commentary on Sunday afternoon NFL football games on CBS. He also wrote for Collier's and Look magazines. He died several years ago. Jerry Siegel, along with too many others, is now deceased, and no one knows what's become of Chic Avedon. So why do I continue to go back to these things? Perhaps it's just to keep reminding myself that I was once a small cog in a very big and very good machine that produced an excellent newspaper that was respected by its readers and was produced under trying circumstances. The sobering reality is the absence of men with whom I worked elbow to elbow on the rim of a copy desk that helped us remember still better days when the world was at peace.
As a postscript, let me add that the 98th Infantry division never did see combat duty in WWII, although many of its mortarmen were assigned temporarily to the Navy to assist in Gen. MacArthur's recapture of the Philippine Islands. After the Japanese sued for peace in 1945, men of the 98th were assigned to occupation duty in Japan.