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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Local Newspapers & Soldiers in America's Conflicts

This article appeared in the Journal Opinion’s 150th anniversary edition, Dec. 31, 2014

 “We hope there will be no war, yet every generation of this country has had a chance to fight.”  This sentiment was published in The United Opinion in December 1895 in a column signed “Vermonter.”

Every generation of local residents since European settlement have experienced war and since the 19th century local newspapers have included articles about those wars and those soldiers.

The earliest Europeans to visit the area were usually soldiers as part of the ongoing wars between English settlers to the south and French and natives to the north. When those wars ended in 1763 the Coos region opened to settlement. Many of the leaders in the new communities were soldiers and every able-bodied man was expected to be part of the continuing protection of the area.

Local newspapers before the mid-19th century were scattered and usually short-lived. Soldiers from the area were involved in the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Mexican War and residents had opinions about those wars. In the first two there was real concern that the local area was in danger of invasion. Some newspapers from outside the area arrived locally weeks after publication and were handed from reader to reader giving them information about national and state events. 

With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the Aurora of the Valley, published for a time in Bradford, kept readers aware of the course of the war. The most prominent column was entitled “The War for the Union.”  With hundreds of local men involved in Vermont and New Hampshire regiments, those at home were hungry for news and this newspaper met that need with correspondents’ reports and letters to the editor. Its coverage included descriptions of battles and camp conditions among Union forces as well as denigrating reports on the rebellious South.   

Almost weekly this newspaper published lists of Vermont men who were casualties of the war. In the July 11, 1863 edition its headline was “The Three Days’ Battles” and its description of the battle at Gettysburg began with the word “Victory!”     

During the period between 1865 and 1898, the Bradford’s successive newspapers, National Opinion, the Bradford Opinion and The United Opinion kept readers familiar with national reconstruction efforts as well as Union veterans’ activities. These included numerous memoirs of military experiences and reunions.  One of the most extensive memoirs was the lengthy series written by 10th Vermont’s Lt. Thomas H. White of Topsham.   

The newspaper coverage of local militia activities included extensive coverage of statewide musters held in Bradford in 1879 and 1890. In 1895 a special muster edition celebrated the event when it was held in Fairlee.  

From the earliest arrival of European settlers until the early 20th century there were continuing battles to wrestle control of the land from the native population.  In the period after the Civil War, the local newspaper had frequent articles on those battles as America expanded westward. In July 1876, the Bradford Opinion’s front page described the massacre of Lt. Col. Custer’s 7th Cavalry at the Little Big Horn in Montana.

In 1898 the United States became involved in a “splendid little war” with Spain, a largely one-sided confrontation. Local men, members of Co. G, 1st Regiment Vermont Volunteers, prepared for war.  The closest they came to battle, however, was being stationed at Camp Thomas in Chickamauga Park, GA for the summer. Their greatest enemies were disease, bad food, high humidity and boredom.  The United Opinion published regular reports of their experiences.

It also covered the naval victory at Cuba’s Santiago Bay, the hero of which was Bradford’s Capt. Charles E. Clark of the battleship Oregon and the victory at Manila Bay in the Philippines at which Vermonter Comm. George E. Dewey led the American naval forces.

Some local men went on to serve in the 1899-1902 war against the natives of the newly-acquired territory of the Philippines. These included Edward Bayley and George Wright of Newbury.

In April 1917 the United States became embroiled in the Great War that was devastating Europe.  When local company of the Vermont Guard was called into active service in August 1917, The United Opinion reported “The spirit shown by the men is such that it shows they mean business.”  Many local men were in the American Expeditionary Force in France and saw frontline action. Because of military censorship, news was only officially released news was reported.

The newspaper played a significant role in mobilizing the war effort on the local home front.  Men away in the service, shortages of food and fuel, an epidemic of influenza and a period of exceptionally cold winters gave Editor Harry E. Parker cause to write “We are facing conditions which are unique for this generation in these days of war.”   

The newspaper played a similar, but enhanced, role during World War II.  It described the struggles in both Europe and Asia and America’s mobilization in the period before Pearl Harbor. One editorial called for the nation to do more than just talk “if we are prepared to defend liberties we have left.”

Once the war began the newspaper joined newsreels and radio and magazine coverage in keeping spirits focused on the war effort. It asked for a measure of civilian commitment mirroring that of the members of the armed services. Weekly the readers were informed of scrap, stamp and blood drives, wartime recipes such as “Victory Casserole,” and delayed and censored news of the war.  It recognized the difficulty, if not impossibility, for a weekly to “keep abreast with the war news.” 

It did carry news of the hundreds of area service personnel, one example being the rescue of Sgt Kenneth Stockman of Bradford, a veteran of 20 bombing missions who was shot down over Germany in 1944.  While it sought news from readers, it admonished them not to reveal “the location and strength of military units.”

After the war came to an end, issues around the world required that the United States maintain a large standing military force numbering in the millions in active and reserved service. This was a sharp departure from the long-standing aversion Americans had to a large permanent military.  Many local men and women joined the military during those Cold War years and the newspaper reported news of their military induction, training, promotion, furloughs and stationing.

Between 1950 and 1953 American forces fought on the peninsula of Korea on behalf of the United Nations. Unlike the two previous wars, this conflict did not have a profound impact on the home front. Weekly, The United Opinion included major articles and guest editorials on the course of the war.  Local residents were encouraged to contribute to a column entitled “News of Local Boys in Service.”

In February 1951 it reported that 88 Vermonters had been casualties in Korea.  One commentator wrote: “It is a cruel and bitter thing that so many men from peaceful Vermont should have to give their lives fighting an outlandish foe in a far off corner of the world.”

The newspaper reported local casualties including the following wounded: Pfc Irving Paronto of Corinth, Pfc George Clogston of Bradford and Sgt Harold Fay of Orford.  In March 1953 it reported that Cp1 Clayton Huckins of Orford was killed in action. His funeral was held in May in the church in Orfordville near his boyhood home.   

By the 1960s the newspaper had reduced its national news coverage considerably, but did editorially express opinions on events beyond the local area. It kept up with the assignments of local military personnel stationed domestically and abroad. It also ran articles dealing with the danger of nuclear war and the need for civil defense awareness.

 When America first became involved in the conflict in Vietnam, The United Opinion expressed reserve and questioned the justification. In August 1964 the first news of area servicemen in Vietnam appeared, a practice that continued until the end of the war.  In 1966 the death in Vietnam of Sp4 Barry R. Wood of Bradford received front page coverage.  The newspaper also covered gift drives for the troops.  Letters for and against the war were common, a practice unheard of before.    

From the end of the war in Vietnam until Operation Desert Storm the most common military news in the Journal Opinion was in news of individual personnel, veterans’ obituaries, activities of veterans’ organizations and area town meeting’s debates over a nuclear weapon freeze.

In 1990 the Gulf War was initiated in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The war put local National Guard units on standby. The newspaper featured a series of articles about the war include a compelling article entitled “G. I. Joe” about an unnamed Bradford man involved in Desert Storm. Demonstrators gathered in downtown Bradford to oppose the war. They were met by others who expressed support for the troops. Similar diversity of opinion filled the letters to the editor.

Between 2001 and the present, the Journal Opinion kept its readers aware of the role of local service personnel as the United States conducted war in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.  These were operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

In 2004 and again in 2009 local units of the Vermont and New Hampshire Guard were activated for duty in the Middle East. The newspaper covered their deployment with articles, photographs and columns. The weekly column “My Soldier” by Ryegate’s Carole Welch kept readers in touch with her son SSgt Roy Welch and his unit of Green Mountain Boys at a supply base in Kuwait.

The October 20, 2004 edition’s front page is an example of this coverage. It described the ceremony held in Woodsville for returning SSgt Scott Robbins who had been wounded in Iraq. Another article told the battle death of Woodsville-based guardsman Spc Alan Burgess, the second North Country soldier in less than a week in die in Iraq.   

Articles also described school, business and community’s responses in support of the deployed Guards and their families.  When units returned, the coverage included numerous photographs as families were reunited. 

This article was begun on Veterans’ Day 2014 as many paused to express their gratitude to the men and women who have served. Colin Powell led the day’s ceremony at Norwich University in Northfield.  His gratitude is reflected in this quote: “Our nation has been blessed with patriots in every generation, who have been willing to place their sacred honor in the service of their fellow citizens, and give their all for freedom. You often hear about the greatest generation.  The truth is there is greatness in every generation.”