Remembering two titans of Stars and Stripes
BY GARY J. KUNICH
By looks, words and actions, Ed Reavis and John Taylor couldn’t have been more different.
Ed was a hulking black man, well over 6 feet tall, whose mini-afro of youth was more tame and gray. John Taylor was a bearded, white guy, much smaller in stature.
Ed had a booming voice and laugh. The first day we met, I heard him from down the hall, speaking in German with one of our photographers, retelling some fascinating story, I’m sure. As he came around the corner, he spied me at my new desk and in a commanding, baritone voice, bellowed, “You must be our new military reporter! What’s your name?”
His huge, meaty hand swallowed mine as he welcomed me to European Stars and Stripes with a firm handshake, and asked if I really wanted to be there.
Stripes, as it’s affectionately known, is the G.I.’s newspaper in Europe and the Pacific. It has been printed continuously since World War II. It’s owned by the Department of Defense, but is still a First Amendment paper where soldiers and civilians get real news, good and bad, about the military — much to the chagrin of the military which would prefer these things not happen.
The editorial staff is made up of civilian editors, civilian reporters, and a smattering of military guys like me, who got the job as a special duty from public affairs. Some military hated the job. But it was my dream since joining the Air Force in 1986.
In 1996, my dream came true.
Ed came to Germany as a soldier in the 1950s, and not liking what he saw of America and racism, decided to stay.
Loud, friendly and gregarious, he spent more time at lunch and around the news desk regaling us with stories of past exploits than writing new stories. A young journalist couldn't ask for a better mentor. If you needed an expert on German or American history and culture, or a guy to cut through red tape to get to a politician, Ed was your guy. Ed spoke and doors opened at the highest levels of the German government.
He kept a photo from the 1980s on the bulletin board behind his desk. It was a picture of him taking a photograph of three guys in white sheets holding a Ku Klux Klan meeting. The three were in the military — at least until the story came out. Ed had been interviewing one of them over the phone before meeting him in person.
“You should have seen his face when he opened the door and saw me,” he laughed.
He once went to interview Muhammed Ali in 1975 and ended up taking an impromptu week’s vacation to join the champ’s entourage as he traipsed through Europe.
This is why I wanted to be a reporter. I wanted to be like Ed.
While Ed held court most days at his desk, John toiled away on the copy desk. There were no loud stories and booming laughter. You might get a small chuckle, a sly, crooked smile, or a pleasant conversation from John.
Ed taught me to be a better reporter. John taught me to be a better writer. He was quiet, intelligent, funny, dedicated, patient and a great editor and teacher.
John didn’t need the limelight. But hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in Europe knew John, whether they knew John or not, because they saw his work each day. As they perused the sports, got lost in a feature, or were captivated by a news story about someone doing something that shouldn’t have been done, John had a hand in many of those stories.
I wrote about 1,000 stories during my five years at Stripes, and John edited more than half.
He’d call me to his desk and say, “Gary, I think what you were trying to say here ….”
He was always right. I’d agree, and he’d say, “I thought so. That’s why I changed it.”
Word by word and line by line, we’d go over my stories together and polish them best that we could.
When he was done, it was always changed for the better.
If I’m a good journalist today, it’s because Ed Reavis made me want to be better. John Taylor made me better.
Ed passed away a few years ago. John died last week after fighting melanoma. I got the news from a friend, and couldn’t help but cry. Both deaths hit me hard.
You can keep your Mike Wallaces and Andy Rooneys.
I worked for and with two titans of the news industry.
I miss them both so much. My heart breaks over the loss.
I am a better journalist today because of them. But more importantly, I am a better person.
Ed Reavis, left, and John Taylor, were two key members of the European Stars and Stripes staff, which many soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines read everyday. Reavis joined the staff in 1972 as a reporter covering stories from Muhammed Ali to the Ku Klux Klan. Taylor joined the staff as an editor in 1988. The paper never would have been as good as it was if not for these two.
For those who still want a piece of Stars and Stripes, you can se the paper online at www.stripes.com.
For more on the history of Stars and Stripes, which actually started in Bloomfield, Mo., during the Civil War, go to: http://www.starsandstripesmuseumlibrary.org/
Ed Reavis' obituary:
John Taylor's obituary: www.stripes.com/mobile/news/stars-and-stripes-editor-john-taylor-dead-at-62-1.174061
For some of Ed Reavis' stories from Stripes, go to: www.edreavis.com