United We Stood: Seven Months after the Attacks on Pearl Harbor, Hundreds of Magazines Carried Images and Art of the American Flag and Other Patriotic Symbols on Their Covers, Reminding Us of That Time's Parallel with Sept. 11 and Our Own Need for Patriotism and National Unity

Article excerpt

The magazine racks of the average newsstand must have been a lovely, lovely sight in midsummer 1942. More than 500 publications -- including many of the most popular comic books -- carried the American flag on their covers that summer, seven months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Very often it was in vivid color, along with the words "United We Stand," and frequently with an additional image urging readers to buy war bonds and victory stamps.

Nothing about this outpouring of patriotism was accidental, a chance convergence by magazine editors thinking the same thoughts at the same time. Liberty magazine, whose cover sported a gorgeous Stars and Stripes unfurled in the wind in front of a very blue sky filled with puffy white clouds, proudly called it a "patriotic conspiracy" that everyone agreed to spontaneously, an idea whose time had come.

This conspiracy had been hatched in the mind of Paul MacNamara, a publicist for Hearst Magazines. MacNamara thought that a "United We Stand" campaign by America's magazines featuring covers that caught the public's eye and spoke to their heart might serve two purposes: One, to foster patriotism in a country now running behind in a vicious war; and, two, to raise the public's interest in magazines.

The National Publishers Association (now the Magazine Publishers of America) eagerly joined up. So did the United States Flag Association, a group founded in 1924 to promote the proper use and display of the flag, signing on with a promise to hold a contest to judge the best covers and award prizes.

The U.S. government gave its imprimatur in the form of the enthusiasm of Henry M. Morgenthau Jr., President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's secretary of the Treasury. Morgenthau, who was deeply concerned that war-bond sales had plummeted dramatically after a brief Pearl Harbor surge, saw the magazine covers and United We Stand campaign as a way to increase the public's interest in buying his bonds.

This effort was a success, and it came at the right time: Things were looking up for America. In June 1942, the United States gained a victory over the Japanese in the Battle of Midway and, on July 4, along with Great Britain's Royal Air Force, the U.S. Army Air Forces flew their first combat mission over Europe, dropping bombs on German bases in the Netherlands.

Amidst these encouraging signs the displays of the covers set up in more than 1,200 leading department stores in every corner of the nation, not to mention those thousands of newsstands, made Old Glory ubiquitous. Bond sales increased. But surprisingly, until very recently the entire United We Stand campaign and the gorgeous magazine covers it spawned were events that history forgot.

Those covers go unmentioned and undisplayed in history books or film documentaries. And they might have been largely lost to our national past had it not been for the late Marguerite Storm, a lady from Pacific Palisades, Calif., who collected many of the covers when they appeared in July 1942, then kept them stored safely away.

Peter Kreitler, a retired Episcopal priest and collector of magazine covers with American-flag images, happened upon Storm's collection and saw its significance. Finally, Marilyn Zoidis, a Smithsonian Institution curator deeply interested in the role the American flag has played in our culture, helped plan, along with fellow curators Helena Wright and Kathleen Kendrick, an exhibition of more than 100 of those covers titled "July 1942: United We Stand." It now graces a section of the National Museum of American History in Washington and will be there through Oct. 27, when it will be returned to Kreitler, who has done his own lovely little book on the covers, United We Stand: Flying the American Flag.

No one anticipated before Sept. 11 just how pertinent the show would become in America. The Smithsonian has been working on "July 1942" for a year or more, Zoidis tells INSIGHT. That the United States would be at war and experiencing heightened levels of patriotism and concerns similar to those the nation felt in July 1942 is an accident of history, but one that has added relevance to those covers and to the United We Stand campaign. It's a relevance rendered all the more poignant and significant by the fact that, in poll after poll, it is young Americans -- teen-agers and college students -- who have come to feel more patriotic and good about their country than ever before. As Kreitler puts it, "Patriotism should never be out of season. We should always be aware of the liberty and justice that the American flag represents."

The covers make surprisingly varied use of the flag. Some simply have Old Glory and little else. Harper's Bazaar, for example, made do with a flag rippling against a solid black background -- and was one of the prizewinners in the contest sponsored by the United States Flag Association.

Newsweek, then calling itself "The Magazine of News Significance," opted for the Stars and Stripes billowing in the wind. National Geographic maintained its familiar border of dark yellow, but put the flag very tastefully at center, just above the table of contents and below the name of the magazine.

Behind the flags on Popular Mechanics and Business Week were tanks, armed and marching soldiers and impressive amounts of war materiel of all sorts, including on Popular Mechanics impressive fleets of airpower flying above the land forces. The issue is devoted to "Alloys for Allies." In a very similar image, WOW Comics had "the Shazam Girl of America," Mary Marvel, carrying Old Glory while she flies above marching troops. Behind her (and also in the air) is a squadron of planes.

Other magazines put celebrities on display. The Ring, a boxing magazine, featured Joe Louis and Billy Conn, "who meet in return title bout," standing in Army uniforms at attention, saluting. Behind them is a flag, along with that issue's war-related articles, "Boxing Leads in U.S. Camps" and "The Fighting Filipinos."

The movie magazine Screenland, "The Smart Screen Magazine," has a cover divided vertically in half with a sultry (when was she ever otherwise?) Veronica Lake in a red-and-white bathing suit on one side of the cover and an American flag on the other. Screenland's offerings that issue include the patriotic "Why Jimmy Cagney is playing `Yankee Doodle Dandy'" and "Jeannette MacDonald's Message to Soldiers' Wives and Sweethearts."

Some of the covers sport the flag as a backdrop for an American family. Family Circle, for instance, shows a father, mother, son and daughter watching a military parade. The son salutes, while mom and sis, held in the arms of her dad, wave flags. In at least one instance, Minicam Photography, the flag on the cover seems almost a beloved and comforting family member: A brother has his arm around his younger sister while the family collie stands with them; Old Glory's there, too, like an even older and protective brother.

Poultry Magazine, "America's Leading Poultry Farm Magazine," produced the cutest cover, a wholesome farm boy with a folded paper hat saluting rows of eggs as they go marching off to war, the front egg carrying an American flag.

Kreitler, who calls the covers he's collected "icons of our history," comes by his love of the flag and patriotism naturally. As a boy in Massachusetts during World War II, his father served in the Naval Air Corps and young Kreitler stayed with his maternal grandfather. Every morning, Kreitler recalls, his grandfather raised the American flag, saluted it and then had his breakfast.

It's a practice Kreitler continues to this day, raising the flag, taking a look at it, then having his first meal of the day. When he was a priest at St. Matthew's in Pacific Palisades he wove "the flag and its meaning into church life." It was this love of the flag that led Kreitler -- who retired from the church in 1991 to devote himself to the environment and Green Party activism -- to start collecting magazine issues about 10 years ago that had the American flag on them.

Kreitler had about 80 such covers when he was walking to the post office one day several years ago and ran into Mary Muller, director of the thrift shop at St. Matthew's. Muller said she was off to a sock-darner collector's convention; Kreitler told her that he now was a collector himself of patriotic magazine covers.

Muller said that was a coincidence because she just had heard about a big collection of such covers put together back in July 1942 by Storm and now in the possession of Storm's daughter, Jacquette Theis.

"I had performed Marguerite Storm's funeral and knew the family," says Kreitler, who was doubly intrigued: Here were American-flag magazine covers, and July 1942 was the month of his birth.

The retired priest rushed off to the Theis home, where she told him she already had an offer for the 81 covers in her possession. "How much is that bid?" Kreitler asked breathlessly. "It is for X," Theis replied. Kreitler immediately countered "with a bid of 4X," he says, and the treasure was his.

What to do with them? Kreitler telephoned his friend Earl A. "Rusty" Powell III, the director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Powell got him in touch with other Smithsonian officials who eventually brought Kreitler to the attention of Zoidis, who heads the Star-Spangled Banner Project. This is the effort to save and preserve one of the Smithsonian's prize possessions -- the huge 189-year-old wool-bunting flag that flew over Baltimore's Fort McHenry and whose survival through heavy bombardment by the British during the War of 1812 inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words to what now is America's national anthem.

Zoidis, who is coauthoring a book called For Which It Stands: The American Flag in American Life, was excited. "Here was a story that had been lost to history," she tells INSIGHT. "Here was a wonderful opportunity to bring to life a lost piece of our past."

And she's right. The magazine covers reveal more than first is apparent. Their prices remind of another America. The Saturday Evening Post, with a billowing flag seen up close and taking up most of the cover, cost only 10 cents, as did many of the others. Gourmet, "the magazine of good living," was 25 cents and featured a red, white and blue dessert, the blue being supplied by a ring of blueberries. Even the most expensive buys -- such as Esquire, "The Magazine for Men," were but 50 cents. Esquire, which also called itself "The largest-selling fifty-cent magazine in the world" and boasted a printing of 630,000, had on its cover two stringless puppets. One of these was a blond-mustachioed fellow (clearly a rascal) dressed up like a minuteman and carrying a rifle while ogling the second, a glamorous redheaded artist who is sketching the guy while dressed chicly in black beret, high heels and an artist's smock short enough to reveal great calves.

In other ways, too, the covers portray an America very different from our own. Not surprisingly, for example, U.S. Steel News, beneath Old Glory and an All-Navy "E" Burgee, a symbol of war-production excellence, displays a huge steel mill showing its contribution to the war effort by working at full capacity. Likewise, four smokestacks billow vast amounts of smoke on the front of Du Pont Magazine. Both covers reveal a pre-information and pre-Rust Belt age, not to mention a time long before the onset of environmental regulations.

But the biggest difference between 1942 and 2002 that these covers show may be to what degree the America of 60 years ago -- and the American ideal of how life should be lived -- was still largely rural and very small town.

Beneath the flag that flies on Time's cover is a green valley of gently rolling hills. A village is visible, the most prominent feature of which is a white church with a steeple. Almost the same village can be seen beneath the flag on the cover of Charm, the only difference being that in Charm, a magazine for young women, there's a large red barn plainly visible. Yet the articles listed on the magazine's cover suggest anything but a bucolic America. "Wanted: Girls by thousands for New Jobs on Air Lines" and "A Made-over Business Girl" look forward rather to a country packed with working professional women and big cities.

The United States Flag Association chose 10 judges to rank the covers, including three still recognizable names: artist Norman Rockwell, the designer of many memorable magazine covers, and photographers Margaret Bourke-White and Edward Steichen. Their top prize went to House & Garden with its image by artist Allen Saalburg showing a draped American flag that hovers above and to the right side of the cover, but is pulled back to reveal Mount Vernon on a hill in the distance. Other winners included Harper's Bazaar, Time, Infantry Journal, This Week and The Merck Report.

The success of the July 1942 campaign wasn't repeated, not in World War II anyway. The Treasury Department requested a renewed effort for 1943, but the National Publishers Association made participation voluntary. Interestingly, after 9/11, one New York publishing house decided to do a repeat of 1942. Premiere, Popular Photography and Woman's Day, along with 14 other publications of Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., ran an American-flag image and the words "United We Stand" on their November and December covers -- which made Woman's Day the only magazine to participate in both the 1942 and 2001 events.

Viewers can go to "July 1942's" Website at www.americanhistory.si.edu/ 1942 to see the show. They even can vote for their favorite covers and see how other viewers voted. When INSIGHT last looked at the tally, House & Garden led the pack, followed by Metals and Alloys and Ladies' Home Journal.

Americans who view the exhibition -- especially as it is set up at the Smithsonian, but online, too -- are going to be pleased that Storm saved those covers in 1942, that Kreitler recognized their significance and that Zoidis and her curating team put it together.

One of show's chief messages is the power of the image. They're a lot more than just a delight at which to look with pleasure. These covers and the messages they carried lifted a nation's spirits. Scouts went out and collected needed materials such as rubber and scrap iron. Families looked proudly on sons and daughters who were in the armed forces. Americans learned about the necessity of self-sacrifice and submission to national goals in time of war.

The prizewinning House & Garden cover by Saalburg proved so popular that the magazine issued a print suitable for framing and distributed it in the next issue. Alfred Parker's Ladies' Home Journal cover showed a mother and daughter working together to raise Old Glory. Parker used the same mother-daughter team for a U.S. Office of War Information poster where the two were at work canning vegetables. And the pair, rendered again by Parker, were seen on a U.S. Treasury Department war-bonds campaign poster.

So popular did Parker's images become, the exhibition tells us, that his covers and posters were said to have inspired a trend in matching mother-daughter dresses. Similarly, after Sept. 11, American boys and girls talked of how they wanted to become firemen or policemen, inspired perhaps at least in part by photographer Tom Franklin's shot of the firemen raising the American flag at what came to be known as ground zero.

Tens of thousands of people asked Franklin's newspaper, The Record of Hackensack, N.J., for a copy of that photo, which ran on the front page of many newspapers and in many magazines. Just as the magazines of July 1942 supplied their time with images that inspired patriotism and devotion, so Franklin's photograph serves a like function for our time.

STEPHEN GOODE IS A SENIOR WRITER FOR Insight.

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