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Bloomfield museum honors soldiers' newspaper

Wednesday, November 11, 2009 | 9:51 a.m. CST

BLOOMFIELD — From Germany to Japan, American soldiers read the Stars and Stripes newspaper. What most don't know is that the publication got its start in Bloomfield.

On Nov. 9, 1861, soldiers of the Illinois 11th, 18th and 29th regiments, after forcing the Confederates south, set up camp in Bloomfield. On finding the newspaper office empty, they decided to print a newspaper relating the troop's activities. Couriers delivered the paper — the first issue of the Stars and Stripes — to soldiers around town.

The Stars and Stripes Museum and Library in Bloomfield chronicles the paper's history from that beginning in the Civil War to its global distribution through digital and print media today.

The museum also displays original weapons, vehicles, uniforms and other authentic items, paired with relevant photos or stories from the Stars and Stripes.

"The way I see it, anytime anything goes up here, there should be a Stars and Stripes paper over it. We can cover it all. It's what makes it unique to our collection, putting it in perspective with the words and pictures of the men and women who were there," said James Mayo, president emeritus and historian with the museum. "These stories and images capture the emotions and thoughts of our servicemen of the day."

One can research Vietnam's history at any library, but in the museum's collection, one can read about the photographer who won a Pulitzer for his photograph of a wounded Vietnam soldier. When he was flown to New York to receive the award, his superior officer told him, "We do not enter professional contests. You'd better be glad you didn't win second place."

Many famous names have been associated with the Stars and Stripes, such as writer, humorist and television personality Andy Rooney. Rooney got his start in writing with the Stars and Stripes, and his tenure with the publication during his military service saw him covering the air war over Europe, even riding along during bombing runs.

From Rooney to Jerry Siegel, the creator of Superman, the museum chronicles former Stars and Stripes staffers who have gone on to fame, along with their early work.

"Our biggest goal for the museum right now is to continue our fundraising efforts," said Dr. Joseph Baker, president of the board of directors. "We have a wonderful staff that continuously archives all of our materials and works very hard to keep the museum's exhibits in top shape, but we are not tax-supported, so we rely on donations to stay afloat."

Admission to the museum is free, but a donation box is inside the door.


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