Jon K. Rust

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications.

Museum is unique part of local history; Special event celebrates it and all area veterans

On Saturday night, Nov. 16, at the Arena Building in Cape Girardeau, area military veterans will be the guests of honor at a celebration and fundraising dinner for the Stars and Stripes National Museum in Bloomfield, Missouri. It promises to be an evening of patriotic spirit, tribute to service members and American red, white and blue fun, featuring the full Jerry Ford Orchestra and his “Andrew Sisters.” If you are a veteran — or family member of a veteran — and would like to attend, thanks to the generosity of sponsors they have a seat for you at no cost as long as tickets remain.

One of the organizers, Jim Martin of Perryville, Missouri, tells me the best way to pick up your free tickets is by stopping by the Arena Building during office hours and showing evidence of service. Or, take the chance seats are still available and be there Saturday night as the doors open around 6 p.m. (If no table seats remain, there are likely to be bleacher seats along the side.)

Meanwhile, all are welcome to the celebration, and a few tickets remain for purchase. For more information, visit www.donorbox.org/spirit-of-democracy or call (573) 568-2055.

Delivering the keynote will be Gov. Mike Parson, a veteran who served six years in the U.S. Army. Featured speaker is veteran and current Stars and Stripes newspaper publisher Max Lederer. Other dignitaries include Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, former Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, Rep. Jason Smith and others.

For anyone who has served in our nation’s armed services, the Stars and Stripes is a familiar name. It is the printed — and also now digital — newspaper distributed to U.S. military and their families overseas. Although financed partially by the Department of Defense, it is managed independently from the military, thanks in part to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who as supreme commander in World War II described the newspaper as vital to morale. At one point during WWII, responding to Gen. George Patton’s complaints about cartoons showing soldiers less than fully shaved, Gen. Eisenhower said, “Stars and Stripes is the soldiers’ paper, and we won’t interfere.”

What many people may not realize is Stars and Stripes was founded during the Civil War in Bloomfield, when nearly 3,000 Union soldiers from Cape Girardeau, St. Louis and Southern Illinois under the command of Ulysses S. Grant planned a pincers movement on the heart of rebel resistance in the area and took control of the county seat at Bloomfield after Confederate troops fled to Arkansas. Some Union soldiers with a newspaper background discovered a printing press there, commandeered it, and produced the first edition Nov. 9, 1861. A copy of that newspaper and those that followed are housed in the museum in Bloomfield, along with other historic documents and educational resources, photo galleries and a “Medal of Honor Room,” which pays tribute to local recipients from Cape Girardeau, Poplar Bluff, Gordonville and elsewhere.

The publication of Stars and Stripes moved around during the Civil War, then lay dormant until World War I, when Missouri native and commander of the American Expeditionary Force, John J. Pershing, revived it to keep troops informed about news from home and abroad. He wrote: “In this initial number of The Stars and Stripes, published by the men of the Overseas Command, the Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces extends his greetings through the editing staff to the readers from the first line trenches to the base ports. These readers are mainly the men who have been honored by being the first contingent of Americans to fight on European soil for the honor of their country. … The paper, written by the men in the service, should speak the thoughts of the new American Army and the American people from whom the Army has been drawn. It is your paper. Good luck to it.”

Later, Pershing would say, “I do not believe any one factor could have done more to sustain the morale of the (American Expeditionary Force) than the Stars and Stripes.”

Since World War II, the newspaper has printed continuously — and been delivered however possible to the front lines, according to its circulation director in an online video, whether by train, plane, automobile or — in places such as some parts of Afghanistan — “donkey.”

The fundraiser Saturday is to help ensure the Stars and Stripes museum and its proud history stay in this area. Roughly 1,200 students each year attend special events there on just the museum’s “Liberty Days,” and more support is needed to sustain the museum and educational facilities for the future. There will be silent and live auctions, emceed by River Radio personality Faune Riggin. Among the items, according to Martin: A group event featuring appetizers at 36 (a classy restaurant in Cape) followed by a history tour of downtown led by legend Frank Nickell; a private flight to and from Branson, Missouri, with entertainment included; and much more.

It’s not too late to join the fun. Share this story with friends and family — and join the festivities Saturday night at the Arena Building to support a worthy cause while celebrating the men and women who have worked and sacrificed to protect our way of life.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian.