Written by Major Walter A. Pennino
There was a time, not long ago, when many Eighth Army soldiers were beginning to consider themselves
forgotten men, their individual activities almost unknown to their neighbors back home. Yet public
information officers trying to get recognition for them in their home town newspapers could only hope to
scratch the surface because they lacked facilities and personnel to cover all the men who deserved mention.
Those public information officers who concentrated on volume of coverage frequently spread their efforts too
thinly. The result was sketchy, incomplete, sub-standard copy. Thus, while editors were crying
for home town news material it was difficult to provide as much usable copy as they wanted.
Today, however, thousands of hometown releases are getting into print, the editors and the reading public
are happy, and the individual soldier has the satisfaction of knowing that the folks at home are following
his career with interest. All this is the result of the Army's Home Town News Center in Kansas City,
Missouri. Established in July 1951, it acts as a clearing house for all home town news and feature
stories from the field.
Before its inception, unit public information offices mailed material directly to any media at any time
they chose. Such a system had weaknesses. A public information office at Fort Dix, New Jersey,
and another at Fort Ord, California, for example, might send material to the same editor on the very day he
was flooded with dozens of other Army releases. The result was often a disgusted editor. To
eliminate just such a reaction, the Army Home Town News Center was given the authority under AR 360-20 to
"improve, supervise, and control the flow of informational material to home town news media."
The Center's chief product is an expanded version of the personal news story commonly used in many
newspapers. Since about 85 percent of the daily and weekly publications use this type of story, it is
an effective way to create public understanding and support and boost troop morale. Nothing
contributes more to the average soldier's esprit. President Eisenhower, when he was Supreme Commander
in Europe, summed it up by saying, "I know of nothing which so improves a soldier's morale as to see his
unit or his own name in print just once."
Good home town stories are practically unlimited. They are pegged on individual accomplishments in
training or combat, awards and decorations, arms qualifications, promotions and athletic feats. Even
the most commonplace military event makes good home town copy. When Private Joe Doe reports to a
division overseas, his arrival may seem quite routine. But back in Plainsville where he went to
school, it is news and will be gladly treated as such by the local editor.
From wide experience with all types of media, the Center has established standard procedures to be
followed by field public information officers. What it wants, for example, are good, well-presented
stories about the soldier as an army man. Some public information officers have a tendency to delve
too deeply into the subject's civilian background, which is really unnecessary. If the local editor wants to
color a home town release with background facts, he can get it from his files or by a telephone call to the
soldier's relatives. Actually, home town newspaper readers are usually familiar with Joe Doe's
pre-Army exploits. What they are interested in now is Doe's Army activities. If he is an
infantryman, the story should describe him further as a rifleman, machine-gunner, company clerk or cook.
No longer is it necessary for field public information officers to list media on their releases to the
Center. Not only has the Center a complete file of newspapers, radio and television stations in any
given town in the United States, Puerto Rico and Alaska, but it has compiled data showing exactly what
newspapers and stations cover a particular area. For instance, a story about a soldier from Elko,
Nevada, would be dispatched to the Elko Daily Free Press, The Progress, Wells, Nevada (a
weekly), The Elko Independent (a weekly), Radio Station KELY and Radio Station KELK. The only
media which need be specified are trade magazines, house organs, college or fraternal publications requested
by the soldier himself.
The Center also has simplified the purely mechanical efforts of the field public information officers,
freeing them for more creative work. Only one copy of any story or picture is needed, regardless of
the number of agencies involved. The Center does its own duplicating and reproduction of news stories,
photographs and tape recordings--the number of each being determined by the automatic distribution lists on
file. The average home town release is distributed to six outlets. Roughly the breakdown is: one
daily newspaper, two weekly newspapers, one special media (such as a trade or college publication), and two
Among its facilities, the Center utilizes a photo-engraving machine which produces one-column plastic
engravings. Most small newspapers and many of the dailies utilize these and print directly from the
In the main, the Center exerts its control over the flow of incoming copy to insure uniformity of style,
consistency of policy and a fair distribution to all media. No guesswork is allowed. If home
towns are not clear or facts do not seem to support a story, the material is killed. If the story is
important enough, however, the Center checks with the unit public information officer by the quickest means
possible to get the facts clear.
Incoming copy is classified into two categories--flat and roster. The flat story is a better than usual
home town story presented in such fashion that it stands on its own merits. It is preferred to all
others, but it must arrive complete with nothing left to be done except minor revisions, copying and
The roster story is the type which applies to every individual in a platoon, company, battalion or
graduating class. The basic story remains the same. Slips indicating each man's home town,
address, relatives and the like are attached to the basic story and mailed to the Center.
The roster story is the daily grist from the public information officers in the field. It may be a
promotion, qualifications at arms, transfer or new duty assignment. Since it is the simplest to
prepare, this type of report eliminates a considerable amount of work and affords the widest coverage for a
unit in the field.
To date the Center has mailed out over two million home town stories. The staff of two officers, 51
enlisted men and 15 civilians turns out an average of eight thousand releases daily. In the order named, the
following are types of stories which are given priority in handling: personal stories with a strong, timely
news peg; awards and decorations; promotions; assignments of distinction; graduation from service schools;
notable participation in a major field exercise; joining a unit in combat or overseas; top proficiency in
weapons or equipment handling; and recognition as "soldier of the week" in a regiment or higher unit. Always
the preference is for stories featuring the fighting Army either in combat or hard at work training for
In submitting material to the Center, public information officers are urged to write in language which
the layman understands, avoiding technical terms that are obscure to the average reader. Street
addresses and towns must be given, no matter how small the town. This includes addresses of relatives.
When parents live in one locality and a wife in another, the center will move the story in both directions.
When only one parent is listed, the Center wants to know whether one is deceased or whether they are
separated, so that neither will be slighted, a serious matter in this kind of public relations.
It is not within the authority of the Center to issue casualty reports. Frequently, though, a local
public information officer finds that a soldier on whom he submitted a story several days previously is now
a casualty. In that case, he should notify the Center by the fastest means possible so that the story can
either be withdrawn or timed to coincide with the official notification to the next of kin. Because of
the ever-present possibility of a misunderstanding, public information officers are urged to date all their
releases, making the time peg in the lead unmistakably clear. Editors are happy to co-operate in these
matters, since they do not want to run misleading copy, and few if any parents object to a late story which
indicates that their son was a good soldier doing a creditable job.
A commendatory story, however late, is far better than no word other than a casualty report. Such
an article may give a family considerable solace and pride despite their bereavement. On the other
hand, all relatives are upset and will object to an unchecked story getting into print which indicates a
soldier is either alive or well after they have received an official notification to the contrary from the
Already this experiment is highly centralized and supervised home town news coverage has been
conspicuously successful. Not only is the Center in direct support of all field units it serves, but
the units themselves are placed in direct support of Army-wide information projects. Since it is the
desire of the Chief of Information to place emphasis on the role of the combat man, the Center can easily
fulfill this requirement and at the same time offer unit public information officers a particular project
upon which to peg part of their home town programs.
The vast majority of editors are highly satisfied with the service. In practice, the Center
provides each of them with as much material as possible in one envelope, but not too frequently. The
result is more economy and better relations with editors. Today more than 11,950 newspaper, radio and
television editors, or about 85 percent of all daily and weekly media in the United States, are on the
mailing list. With many editors actually appealing for the material, the Center has hundreds of
complimentary letters on file, proving that the old days of the cold shoulder and the wastebasket have
Gone, too, is the soldier's feeling that he has been forgotten at home. The apparent lack of
interest which came close to public apathy was actually more a problem of troop morale than public
relations. It is a little known fact that when a soldier's home town newspaper goes for weeks and
months without some mention of him or his unit, he somehow feels that his community has let him down.
He wants to be mentioned favorably once in a while, because no matter how faithful his platoon leader or
company commander is in patting him on the back for a job well performed, the praise and the medals do not
have the same effect unless friends, neighbors and relatives write him to say "We read about it in the
As one regimental commander in Korea wrote, "I observed the miracle of increased combat effectiveness
produced by publicity. As my men read about themselves they began to know they were hot and
invincible. Their morale and pride actually rose in geometric proportion...."