A Special Contribution Courtesy of
Alfred E. Cornebise and Greenwood Press

Pvt. Harold Ross



Stars and Stripes

AEF Paris District Patch

An Excerpt from
The Stars and Stripes by Alfred E. Cornebise,
Greenwood Press, 1984

First Issue
February 8, 1918


The Stars and Stripes was the service newspaper of the American Expeditionary Forces, written, edited and published by men from the ranks. The first number was issued in Paris on February 8, 1918. The paper appeared weekly thereafter until June 13, 1919. It was one of the greatest aids in keeping up the spirit and morale of the men overseas, and at the height of its popularity had a circulation of 522,000.

Certainly one of the most interesting of the characters drawn to the new paper was Pvt. Harold Wallace Ross, who later founded and for a long time directed the fortunes of The New Yorker magazine. Born in Aspen, Colorado, he had earlier served on The San Francisco Call, and some 78 other American newspapers (one at a time), joining The Stars and Stripes editorial staff from the 18th Engineers (Railway).

Ross was known for his energy but also for his rather abrasive character. It is noteworthy that later [his last superior, Major Mark Watson] recommended Ross and only one other enlisted man for the Distinguished Service Medal observing that his work stood out so conspicuously as to entitle [him] to special mention above even the admirable work performed by [his] associates. However, as it transpired that the DSM was rarely awarded below the rank of colonel, Ross did not receive his medal, but then Ross had never asked for credit, though Watson clearly felt that he richly deserved it.

[A second key individual] was Alexander Woollcott, from New Jersey, who had been a drama critic for The New York Times. In the army, he had been safely ensconced in the registrars office of Base Hospital No. 8, when captured and borne off to Paris. But, when the war suddenly became warlike [its] last spring [1918], he was sent to the front, where he remained for the most part until the armistice was signed, serving as chief war correspondent of The Stars and Stripes and living in constant danger of death at the hand of some division that thought he was giving too much attention to the wretched craven divisions on either side. Soon others joined him in working the front, for it took many men to cover that fairly lively beat. Woollcott was later put in charge of the amusement column, which became a regular, rather lengthy, well-written feature of the paper.

These [two men along with Privates Hudson Hawley and John Tracy Winterich] long remained in charge of the papers editorial destinies. From December 1917 to April 1919, Ross functioned as probably the lowest paid managing editor in the history of journalism. The four were also responsible for nearly all of the editorials--which were unsigned--making it virtually impossible to ascribe authorship to any particular piece. Many of them are brilliant pieces of sparkling journalistic prose, some certainly attaining the level of essays of marked literary merit. The role that these editors played had another dimension also: They have helped make the world safe for democracy by serving as models for [the house cartoonists], as one account playfully recorded.

Harold Ross

Alexander Woollcott

Grantland Rice

These four editors, sometimes joined by the cartoonists, for fourteen months of the paper's sixteen and one-half months of life, formed the main editorial board at Paris--not to be confused with the Board of Control at Chaumont--which X-rayed every article that came in, in the process of which they brought many limelight seekers and overzealous promoters to grief, shocked many a chaplain, Y.M.C.A. man and visiting congressman by their deafness to pleas that The Stars and Stripes should run a religious column . . . [or one] . . . entitled Happy Thoughts (or something killingly funny like that), enraged many a divisional publicity officer, and in general thumbed their collective noses at the martial universe. In so doing, they naturally worked always with one foot in the hoosegow, for practically every one of their callers and advisers ranked hell out of them. Their attitude was necessary, however, since they from start to finish . . . held the paper to its original intention of being by and for the enlisted man. Since the editorial staff were enlisted men themselves, who had done their share of KP along with everyone else, they insisted that they knew what the enlisted men wanted in their paper and that, by the shade of George Washington's spurs, they were going to give it to him (S&S: 13 June 1919).

Captain Guy T. Viskniskki, an assistant press officer of the AEF, was one of the founders of the Stars and Stripes. Having launched the publication, he became its first officer in charge and was [always] at some pains to emphasize the role of the enlisted men. Barring an officer or two, who had to be around to satisfy Army tradition, he once stated, the paper was produced by the men, many of the lowly, or buck, variety. He went on to explain: A handful of enlisted men has written and illustrated the greater part of the paper--I believe, for its size, the most brilliant and erratic editorial staff ever possessed by an American newspaper. This fact did not dismay him because, in his view, the American private is the greatest man in the world at fighting or writing or anything (S&S: 7 February 1919). To be sure, the officer-in-charge, as commander of the men attached to the staff, had something to say about the papers operations, but the enlisted editors mainly ran the production side of the sheet.

Many of the contributors to The Stars and Stripes went on to great journalistic achievement after the war. Harold Ross with the help of Woollcott would create the New Yorker and make it America's leading magazine. First Lieutenant Henry Grantland Rice, of the AEF's 115th Field Artillery, was, for a time, on the staff of the Stars and Stripes. A professional journalist in civilian life, he had worked on the New York Mail (1910-1911) and the New York Herald Tribune (1911-1930). After the World War, he wrote the influential syndicated sports column, the "Sportlight." In his day, he was widely regarded as the "dean of American sportswriters." He was also a prolific versifier, and producer of documentary sports films. [Harold Ross's superior Major Watson would himself one day win a Pulitzer Prize as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun.]

The number of editors grew so as to keep up with the papers steadily expanding operations. Other prominent members later included Sgt. Seth T. Bailey, of the 162nd Infantry, part of the Sunset Division, and future editor and presidential press secretary Steve Early.

The Stars and Stripes was published every Friday from February 8, 1918 to June 13, 1919. It would return for the Second World War and would again be staffed by future notables of journalism like Bill Mauldin and Andy Rooney.

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