A Very Personal Salute to “Stars and Stripes”
Tuesday at 5:40 pm
A recent entry in Donald Trump’s history of serial sundering (tearing the body politic into two hostile divides), plundering (his cavalcade of financial malfeasance girds the globe) and blundering (a near quotidian exercise for him) is his recent dunderhead blunder of attempting to exterminating yet another American institution, military newspaper Stars and Stripes. In a flash of hours, the tempers of Democrats were thundering and even stupefied Republicans were wondering.
For me, Trump’s horrifying bumble summoned a rewind button back to 1957, when I was a GI stationed overseas devouring plentiful helpings of news from Stars and Stripes. Like many of my armed brothers, my future was pretty much devoid of aspiration, though I knew I enjoyed reading. Even the thick fiction of John Dos Passos, James T. Farrell and Thomas Wolfe. Even centuries-spanning poetry.
One day, while scanning my Stars and Stripes, my eyes were called to a halt by the square sidebar that fenced in a garden of GI verse–mostly from the lower ranks that I too occupied. On something south of a whim, I decided to try my hand at crafting a poem and submitting it. “What the hell, I shrugged to myself, “I like to read, so maybe I can write some,”
It is the inclination of most fledging scribblers to ape the styles of his favorite writers. I was no exception. Shamelessly borrowing from the romanticism of Gerard Manley Hopkins, I constructed a shrine to my silently harbored crush, jazz singer Anita O’Day (“Ode to O’Day’) and submitted it. To my gaping astonishment, Stars and Striped published it. I, A MEASLY INFANTRY CORPORAL, WAS A GENUINE PUBLISHED POET!!! Spurred by the editor’s recognition, I started making shallow stabs at other forms of semi-mimicry: William Blake, A.E. Houseman, Ogden Nash, even a pale counterfeit of Dylan Thomas’s panache. And they all passed publication muster! And with each sight of my byline , my youthful aimlessness continued to turn into a blurry aim; actually it became more of an expanding inkling that I might someday make a living earning income-tax eligibility writing in one form or another.
And so, thanks to the nurturing of S&S, I was breaking out of my chrysalis of self-doubt. And to make a long personal-history short, a few years ago I retired from a career in writing with my name on the door of an estimable ad agency and an assembly line of creative awards on my corner-office shelves. (If you’re interested in further career details, consult my profile.)
And when I bolted at Trump’s attempted homicide of S&S, I couldn’t help but think that I was just one example of the writing careers that S&S has incubated. I imagined a long, polychromatic parade of poets. novelists, journalists, playwrights, screen writers, comedy writers, advertising copywriters, technical writers brochure writers, PR publicists, , essayists, historians, copy editors, and others who’ve lettered in Letters, marching triumphantly out of the pages of Stars and Stripes. It is the high regard that S&S had for the talents of dogfaces that has delivered so much succor to them, the antithesis of the present POTUS’s stated attitude, i.e. he regards dogfaces as “suckers.”
These days, I find myself wishing that contemporary writers would form in regimental numbers to stuff the S&S archive into the maw of Trump’s ruddy, cruddy mug.
NOTE; I’m assuming that the quintuple inside rhymes in my first paragraph did not escape your notice. I meant it to be a kind of illustrative hint at what my juvenile poetry morphed into, i.e. the professional hobby of lyric writing, my favorite genus of self-expression, Though no appearances on Billboard charts, my lyricist credits include songs that were sung on the stage, on TV and in recording studios, even warbled by the likes Mandy Patinkin and (in her first and last singing performance) Joan Rivers, when Second City graced Broadway.