Stars and Stripes newspaper 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.
Armed forces radio and television provided news, weather and entertainment. 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 Vietnam 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 my essential source of information to learn what was happening in Vietnam, at home, and around the world. The paper told us what was going on with the anti-war demonstrations at home, the elections, the lunar landing in 1969, and so much more. We relied on Stars and Stripes because its voice was independent and not controlled by the military.
President Trump’s $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.
A Trump spokesman tried to justify the cut, saying the Defense Department “must prioritize spending to support our warfighters in the most critical areas of need.” The money needed to keep Stars and Stripes afloat amounts to .02213% of the total defense budget. That pittance was considered to be unnecessary for the support of combat troops. On the other hand, it was apparently deemed critical to the warfighters to buy 5 new presidential helicopters, costing a total of $739 million, and to spend $20.3 billion on missile defense. 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 Trump administration.
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.
The House Armed Services Committee has defied the President by voting on July 1 to provide funding for Stars and Stripes in the defense spending bill. The bill will likely be approved by the full House later in July.
The Senate needs to know that money spent to keep Stars and Stripes functioning is in the vital interests of our service personnel who protect 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. Let’s demand that our Senators support the troops by voting to support Stars and Stripes.
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.” The book relies heavily upon news clippings from Stars and Stripes.