Stars and Stripes historic region expected to boost tourism in southeast Missouri
Stars and Stripes August 28, 2023
Missouri has dubbed a long stretch of its southeast as the Stars and Stripes Historic Region, a designation that honors the founding of the newspaper by Union soldiers following an 1861 Civil War battle in the state.
Missouri legislation that advanced through the state Senate and took effect Monday established 25 Missouri counties along the Interstate 55 corridor as part of the region.
“The bill got bipartisan support and passed 156-0,” Rep. Dave Griffith, the bill's sponsor, told Stars and Stripes by phone Friday. “It's one of the few bills that had no opposition whatsoever.”
Griffith, a Republican from Jefferson City and chairman of the House Veterans Committee, said he has personal experience with the Stripes newspaper.
“When mail call comes and you don't get mail for a couple of days and you start missing home, you could always go to the PX or commissary and find the Stars and Stripes,” Griffith said. “Reading news, including from your home state, you could reconnect with home.”
Griffith served as a Green Beret in 8th Special Forces Group in Panama and spent 23 years working at local television station KRCG.
Officials hope the designation will bring added recognition to the region’s historic attractions and boost a part of the state that has struggled with economic development.
The newspaper ceased publication following the Civil War but reemerged during World War I. It has been published continuously since World War II and has transformed into a print, web and mobile source of news and information for service members, Defense Department workers and family members worldwide.
“I talked with some of my friends that were in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they were getting it there,” Griffith said. “Nobody really knows who delivers those papers, but they show up on a transport, whether it’s Kabul or Baghdad, and it’s amazing that this continues.”
At the heart of the newly dedicated region is the Stars and Stripes National Museum and Library in Bloomfield. It’s less than 2 miles from the abandoned newspaper office where 10 Union soldiers printed the first edition of Stars and Stripes.
The small museum preserves photographs, cartoons and gear used by reporters during the wars, along with a collection of newspapers.
It also hosts historical reenactments, community events and a journalism summer camp that allows students to create their own newspaper using interviews with reenactors, educators and veterans.
The legislation allows the Missouri Department of Transportation to install signs denoting places of interest along highways. The signs must be paid for by participating communities.
“With the addition of signage along (the interstates), visitors will be more aware of the museum's location and the history of the Stars and Stripes newspaper,” said Laura Dumey, the museum’s executive director. “This increased awareness has the potential to boost tourism and promote a deeper understanding of the region's cultural and historical heritage.”
The region also includes Civil War sites, like historic Fort D in Cape Girardeau. Meanwhile, the Vietnam veterans memorial in Perryville is a detailed replica of its famous counterpart in Washington, D.C., allowing visitors to pay their respects without having to travel to the East Coast, Griffith said.
“You can drive right by there and never know it's there, even though it’s only 2 miles off the highway,” Griffith said.
This isn’t the first time Missouri has written its Stars and Stripes legacy into law. A 2019 bill established Nov. 9 as Stars and Stripes Day, commemorating the printing of the first pages in Bloomfield.
It’s not clear where the first historic region sign will be placed, officials said, but it’s likely Bloomfield will again get things started.