Don’t let Pentagon bean counters shutter Stars and Stripes

Stars and Stripes has been an independent source of news for American troops since the Civil War. During the Vietnam War, it was the primary means for service personnel to learn what was going on in the war and also at home.

In headquarters and some other areas, armed forces radio and television provided news, weather and entertainment. Almost everyone who had access to TV watched Bobbie, the weather girl, who reported the weather around Vietnam. She was a blonde-haired phenomenon, who tended to raise expectations of happy weather each time she reached toward the top of the map in her miniskirt. But there were many troops who did not have the availability of TV and radio–those out in the field and many stationed with South Vietnamese troops (ARVNs). Stars and Stripes was their lifeline to the real world.

During most of my tour in 1968-1969, I lived and worked with ARVN soldiers in Tay Ninh Province and only caught snatches of radio and TV on quick trips to the Tay Ninh Base Camp for the daily battalion briefing. Stars and Stripes was the essential source of information to learn what was going on in-country, at home, and around the world.

Stars and Stripes was not perfect. We suspected it played up favorable news, like inflated NVA/VC body counts, and downplayed bad news, like U.S. and allied casualties. I recall headlines like, “182 Reds Die Against GI’s Wall of Fire” in the 8-22-68 issue, and “320 REDS SLAIN ON VIET BORDER” in the 11-20-68 issue. We expected some boosterism but appreciated getting the general drift of the situation.

It also kept us up to date on the tumultuous political situation in the States. On October 31, 1968, we learned that President Johnson was ordering a bombing halt in North Vietnam to start on November 1st. That was a scary Halloween surprise, but it was good to know. It meant we would likely be getting more war materiel and NVA troops coming down the Ho Chi Minh trail into Tay Ninh Province and would need to get ready for them. In my mind, it was an indispensable part of the war effort.

On February 15, a DoD spokesman revealed that the $705.4 billion defense budget for FY 2021 would totally eliminate funding for Stars and Stripes. That would cut around 35% of its funding–about $8.7 million for operations and maintenance and $6.9 million to support reporting in combat areas. That would be a hammer blow to this vital service.

The Pentagon spokesman said the Defense Department “must prioritize spending to support our warfighters in the most critical areas of need.” Apparently the .00002213% of the defense budget needed to keep Stars and Stripes afloat was considered to be unnecessary for the support of combat troops. That money was vitally necessary for 5 new presidential helicopters costing a total of $739 million and for missile defense funding in the amount of $20.3 billion. Bringing news and a taste of home to the troops at the tip of the spear had to give way to those expenditures in the minds of the bean counters.

Although Stars and Stripes is now online, it still needs funds to send reporters out into the field to gather the news. An online paper does no good to service members out in the boondocks who don’t have internet access. Plus, an electronic version is no substitute for the convenience of a genuine paper version.

Retired Navy Admiral James Stavridis weighed in against the funding cut, saying that he read Stars and Stripes every day while serving as commander of the U.S. European Command (2009-2013). He added that the paper “was an invaluable, unbiased, and highly professional source of information which was critical to me in my role overseeing U.S. military throughout Europe.”

The Administration and Congress need to know that money spent to keep Stars and Stripes functioning is in the vital interests of those who protect them and the citizens of this great country. Informed citizens are crucial to the safety of this nation and American service members are an important part of that citizenry.

Jim Jones served as an artillery officer in Vietnam (July ‘68-August ‘69). He has written about that experience and its effect on his life in “Vietnam…Can’t get you out of my mind.”

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