A Talented Editorial Staff
"Censor & Press Co. No. 1. Staff of Stars & Stripes. Brest, France. July '19." Photograph. From Harry L. Katz, A Brief History of The Stars and Stripes, Official Newspaper of the American Expeditionary Forces in France (Washington, D.C.: Columbia Publishing Co., 1921), p. 41.
Abian A. "Wally" Walgren. Photograph. From Harry L. Katz,
A Brief History of The Stars and Stripes, Official Newspaper of the American Expeditionary Forces in France (Washington, D.C.: Columbia Publishing Co., 1921), p. 15.
The Stars and Stripes carried the same type of material as the hometown newspaper typical of the time, including illustrations, sports news, letters to the editor, helpful hints, and advertisements. Its layout and content reflected a staff that had already acquired newspaper experience in civilian life. These experienced journalists used their knowledge of publishing to create a newspaper that was immediately popular with soldiers in the field.
In November 1917, Second Lieutenant Guy T. Viskniskki, an American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) press officer and former censor at the American Field Test Headquarters in Neufchateau, France, was asked to explore the feasibility of publishing a newspaper for the AEF. Viskniskki was a veteran of the Wheeler Newspaper Syndicate and former editor of The Bayonet, a camp newspaper of the Eightieth Division, Camp Lee, Virginia. After determining that an AEF newspaper could be produced in France, Viskniskki himself took responsibility for organizing and publishing The Stars and Stripes.
As its first managing editor, Viskniskki established the newspaper's independent editorial spirit; its lively, slightly irreverent tone; and its reliance on enlisted men as writers, editors, and managers. The first anniversary issue, published February 7, 1919, heralded his efforts: "The Stars and Stripes was born of the needs of the AEF and the energy of Captain Viskniskki. That energy broke down every obstruction and brushed aside the multitude of people (high and low, well-meaning and otherwise) who said it couldn't and shouldn't be done." (p. 1, col. 2).*
Four enlisted men who comprised Viskniskki's original staff wrote most of the unsigned editorials and directed operations: Sergeant Alexander Woollcott; Private Hudson Hawley, formerly of the Hartford Times and New York Sun; Private John Winterich, of the Springfield Republican; and Private Harold W. Ross.
Harold Wallace Ross, a veteran newspaper journalist "formerly of the San Francisco Call and some 78 other American newspapers (one at a time)" (February 7, 1919, p. 5, col. 1), joined the Army in 1917 as part of the Railway Engineer Corps. His efforts on The Stars and Stripes prepared him to assume Viskniskki's position as managing editor in December 1918. In this position, which he held until April 1919, Ross is credited with developing and supervising the enormously successful War Orphan Campaign. In addition to raising money for the support of the French war orphans and sponsoring their adoptions, the campaign generated good will between the American Expeditionary Forces and the French people. After the war, Ross achieved journalistic prominence as co-founder of The New Yorker magazine.
A drama critic for The New York Times before enlisting, Alexander Woollcott's first war assignment was as an orderly at a base hospital in Savenay, France. When The Stars and Stripes began publication, Woollcott became its first chief war correspondent. He spent much of his time at the front, interacting with the soldiers in the trenches and providing first-hand accounts of operations. This tradition of reporting directly from the battlefield was continued by subsequent war correspondents of The Stars and Stripes. Following the war, Woollcott returned to The New York Times as drama critic before moving on to work for The New York Herald, The New York Sun, and The New York World. In 1929, Woollcott joined Harold Ross at The New Yorker, writing the column "Shouts and Murmurs." A popular figure on the New York literary scene and regular member of the Algonquin Round Table, Woollcott achieved national acclaim as host of the radio show The Town Crier, which ran from 1929 to 1942. He wrote and published many essays, wrote and edited numerous books of theatre criticism, and edited a number of anthologies such as the collection As You Were (1943), subtitled "a portable library of American prose and poetry assembled for members of the armed forces and the merchant marine."
Private Abian A. Wallgren, familiarly known as "Wally" Wallgren, worked as a cartoonist for the Philadelphia Public Ledger and Washington Post before the war. He served in France with the Fifth Marines of the First Division. Wallgren's cartoons appeared in every issue of The Stars and Stripes, poking fun at army life, satirizing the absurdity of army regulations, and highlighting the differences between the army brass and the frontline soldier. Numerous trips to the war front gave him material for his cartoons and first-hand experience about what soldiers considered humorous. His popular cartoons were collected in Wally: His Cartoons of the A.E.F., published by the newspaper in early 1919. Following the war, he worked as a cartoonist for the American Legion Magazine. In 1933, with former editor John Winterich, he published The A.E.F. in Cartoons.
The editorial staff of The Stars and Stripes called the other cartoonist-illustrator, Private Cyrus LeRoy Baldridge, "the respectable half of the Art Department" (June 13, 1919, p. 5, col. 1). Baldridge came to Europe in 1914 as a combat artist to observe the German Army in Belgium. After a short stint as a stable sergeant in Mexico, he served in a transportation company in the French army before entering the American Expeditionary Forces. His illustrations often appeared on the front page of the weekly, capturing the essence of a story or event. Following the war, Baldridge illustrated numerous books and published a collection of his wartime drawings called "I Was There" With the Yanks on the Western Front (1919).
These journalists are only a select few of the many talented soldiers assembled to produce The Stars and Stripes.
The New York Times called the staff a "hot-bed of future fame" (Orville Prescott, "Books of the Times," New York Times,
3 Dec. 1947, p. 27), acknowledging the importance of the newspaper as a training ground for many who would go on to have
prominent civilian careers in journalism. Mark Spencer Watson, officer-in-charge of The Stars and Stripes, received the
1945 Pulitzer Prize in international correspondence. Sports writer Grantland Rice founded a motion picture studio called
Grantland Rice Sportlight. Bibliophile John Winterich became managing editor of The Saturday Review of Literature.
Other alumni of the newspaper broadcast radio shows, wrote syndicated columns, and produced plays. Thanks to these
artistic and literary members of the creative staff, The Stars and Stripes achieved a tone and content that delighted
its readers and helped them endure the hardships of the war.
*Unless otherwise noted all references are to The Stars and Stripes.