History has super powers
Published: November 21, 2011
I admit it. I watched the latest “Captain America” movie just to see one of my favorite stars. Not movie stars – Stars and Stripes. Yes, I’m funny that way, but I’m not the only one.
Catharine Giordano, editorial researcher at the Stars and Stripes library and archive, gave me the inside scoop about the newspaper’s cameo in the film. In the scene, a glamorous girl in uniform plants a kiss on the superhero after reading about his exploits in Stars and Stripes.
Catharine knew about the role because the movie’s prop crew got some guidance from the Stripes archive staff to create an authentic-looking paper for the movie’s WWII setting.
It’s all part of the job for Catharine and colleague Liliana Vivanco, guardians and maintainers of the colorful history of Stars and Stripes at the paper’s headquarters in Washington D.C.
Catharine said Stripes has documented military life and history from the perspective of the active duty member.
The newspaper served brief stints in both the Civil War and WWI. Publication was revived again at the beginning of WWII and has continued daily ever since, distributed wherever troops – and their families – are stationed.
That’s plenty of history to preserve and research. Past newspapers are maintained in various ways. The Stripes library shelves in D.C. hold print copies dating as far back as 1918. All editions since 1942 on are on microfilm. Newspapers as far back as 1948 have been digitized and archived online. Since 1999, Stripes daily content has been published online, but not all editions are available at a mouse click. That’s where Catharine and Liliana come in.
“In this increasingly digital world, people come to expect to just Google and get it,” said Catharine. But it’s not that easy.
Getting the WWII years online and classifying them properly is an ongoing, complicated process, Catharine said, because so many editions were produced in those years.
“During WWII we had over 30 different editions,” said Catharine. “As the front changed throughout the war, new editions sprang up, and others closed.”
Stripes currently has three daily print editions, Europe, Pacific and Middle East, plus a weekly "U.S. Edition" and the online version.
As well as preserving Stripes history, Catharine and Liliana bring it into the present, fielding questions from reporters, TV producers and individuals.
“A woman called because she thought we had a photo of her husband with Louis Armstrong,” Liliana said. “I was able to find it, so it was a happy ending.”
Requests come from all over the world from families looking for news about a relative serving overseas, students seeking homework help, filmmakers and news outlets requesting information or photos.
Catharine said her most difficult assignments come from veterans needing evidence for benefit claims. A 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center destroyed large numbers of military discharge records from 1912 through 1964. For some veterans, a news story mentioning their service might provide the proof necessary to obtain VA benefits. The Stripes archive can help some but not all.
“Making that call that you tried everything, but were unable to find it never gets easy,” said Catharine.
“I’ve also had German WWII babies, now grown, asking for help finding their American fathers and vets asking me to find a long lost love,” Catharine said, adding that those requests are often beyond the scope of the newspaper’s historical record.
She said research is the best part of her job and is frustrated when films or publications cite Stars and Stripes as a source of information without verification.
“Then it is up to us here in the archives to gently tell all the people who inevitably call looking for that particular article or photo that we do not have it.”
For example, she said, Stripes has no aerial photographs of Noah’s Ark, “no matter what has been said in a documentary.”
Armed with Stripes history and research savvy, Catharine and Liliana can resurrect the past, help mild-mannered reporters in the present and even lend a hand – or a newspaper – to a super hero.
“But,” said Liliana, “We do not leap tall buildings.”
Additional links for perusing history in Stars and Stripes:
Stars and Stripes issues from 1948 to 1999 have been digitized from microfilm and are accessible online at a subscription-based archive, accessible for one-time, monthly or yearly fees.
The WWI edition of Stars and Stripes has been digitized by the Library of Congress and can be viewed and searched for free.
Library of Congress has Stars and Stripes issues from WWII, and other editions, on microfilm.
The Stripes e-paper archive has current print editions in PDF form -- from today going back a year or so -- and is free to readers.
Thousands of photos, many of of historic events and significant people, have appeared in Stars and Stripes over the years. Though many of those photos are archived at various locations around the world, not all are digitized or readily available. However, some are accessible. Photos available to purchase from Stars and Stripes are those that have appeared in “Archive Photo of the Day” and most photos that have appeared from 2005 until now.
Catharine Giordano and Liliana Vivanco welcome questions about Stripes history, past issues, stories or photos at firstname.lastname@example.org.