The Pentagram News, one of several newspapers that were precursors to today’s Pentagram newspaper, was billed as an “independent newspaper” and was published weekly from 1949 to 1971 before being replaced by the MDW Post. Today’s Pentagram is derived from two Greek words: “Pente,” meaning “five,” and “Gramma,” meaning something written, drawn or otherwise noted. Newspaper courtesy of Kim Holien

Pentagram moves to digital age, ends decades as printed newspaper

Today marks the end of an era.

Pentagram readers will no longer smell fresh ink or feel crisp newsprint.

This printed edition is the last one.

Beginning next week, the Pentagram will become an online-only publication.

“This is a very sad day for us at the joint base,” wrote Col. Kimberly Peeples, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall commander, in an email. “The Pentagram is iconic. The editors and writers made it the reputable, beloved and valued information source it’s been for years! ... It will be hard to replace and will be sorely missed.”

The Pentagram was printed by a private company at no cost to the Army. The printer’s revenue comes solely from ad sales. While low ad sales have been threatening the overall newspaper business for some time, COVID-19 made it especially hard-hitting for the Pentagram.

The command left the door open for bringing back the print version after COVID-19 is over and the economy recovers, but for now the change is immediate.

New Beginnings

Although saving the Pentagram became a top priority for Peeples, she understands how technology and the current pandemic is affecting print news.

“It has been one of my priorities to keep the print edition of the newspaper going even in these tough days for print publications,” Peeples said via email. “I know there is an important segment of our community that doesn’t rely on digital media for its news. However, with COVID-19, it just is not feasible to print a full newspaper any longer.”

Still, Peeples wants to reassure readers that her staff will find ways to continue communication with the joint base’s key audiences, especially the retiree community.

“Welcome to the digital age,” emailed Glenn Wait, JBM-HH chief of staff. “You know no matter what may change, the Army goes rolling along. During COVID-19, we have learned that social media tools can keep us connected. We have had tremendous success with our virtual town halls and video efforts. Now an online newspaper will be another dimension of our communications.”

Julia Simpkins, JBM-HH command information officer, will lead that effort.

“Our aim is to maintain continuity in command information sharing,” said Simpkins in a text. “I don’t view this hiccup as a bad thing, but as evolution. The online world is taking precedence over the physical world of storytelling. News stories are no different. The methods of putting out information evolves, but the need for that information is a constant.”

Pentagram History

I was not able to access a collection of bound copies of the newspaper in the Fort Myer library because it is closed due to the pandemic, so I reached out to some other sources for a look at the history of the Pentagram.

A Google search turned up an article Jim Goodwin wrote about the newspaper in 2015. Goodwin was the paper’s editor from 2014 to 2016.

The Pentagram traces its roots to 1949 when the Military District of Washington published the Fort Myer Post, according to Goodwin, who was able to access the archive for his article. This newspaper “served those who worked at or lived on any installation within the Military District of Washington, according to a look at Pentagram archives,” Goodwin wrote.

The Pentagram News started sometime before 1957, Goodwin continued. This paper appears to be the actual predecessor to our current newspaper as it was printed by a civilian contractor at no cost to the government and became a weekly published every Thursday.

Kim Holien, former historian at JBM-HH, wrote in an email that his personal knowledge of the Pentagram goes back to the 1950s. His father retired at Fort Myer in November 1957. The younger Holien wrote that he found a copy of the paper from that month and year, confirming that the paper is at least that old.

That nearly 63-year-old edition contained a story about his father’s retirement on Summerall Field, wrote Holien. “At that time the Retirement Stand consisted of a cement block about four inches high and about ten-foot-by-ten-foot or thereabouts,” he wrote.

Goodwin explained that the Fort Myer Post changed its name to the MDW Post and eventually went away. In 1983, the word “news” was dropped from the title of The Pentagram News.

Early Days

My search for historical information found former staffers from various generations who offered personal memories of their experiences with the publication to help me give a proper tribute to the paper.

A friend connected me with Steve Abbott who was an Army specialist five working on both the MDW Post as the editor and The Pentagram News as the senior military reporter from 1973 to 1977.

Abbott remembers the monthly MDW Post as the Military District’s official publication published at the same time the organization was also printing The Pentagram News.

“These two papers could not have been more different,” Abbott wrote in an email. “The Pentagram News — ‘The’ was part of the official name — was a serious publication written with the knowledge that it was read by the highest level military and civilian leaders in the Pentagon. ... The Post was definitely targeted to our younger enlisted soldiers. It was great fun to edit and write for the Post.

“As reporters we were able to truly be journalists and present both sides of a topic (for both papers) ... we generally were able to cover current issues, in a balanced fashion, even if they were somewhat controversial. I remember having meetings with (my public affairs boss) after an edition had come out and he relayed some spirited conversation he had with a senior military type about how we had covered a particular story.”

Abbott said the story was about young married enlisted people stationed in Washington experiencing financial hardship. “We reported the story without restraint but that was one that caused some discomfort in the Pentagon.”

Another former Pentagram editor, Martha Rudd weighed in via Messenger. “When I was editor, the paper was sometimes 64 pages,” she wrote. “Despite its name, it was not the Pentagon’s paper. It was MDW’s. Some leaders in the Pentagon didn’t get that so it was a battle to keep control of content.”

Rudd was the Pentagram editor from 1984 to 1986.

Journalism Legacy

Gary Kieffer, who introduced me to Abbott, was assigned to the Army’s Special Photographic Operations Detachment at Fort Myer from 1973 to 1976. In those days, the detachment did not directly support either the Posts’ or The Pentagram News’ mission, but Kieffer pushed Abbott to allow him to photograph for the papers on occasion.

“It developed into getting assignments weekly,” said Kieffer in a Facebook post on my personal page, where I mentioned the end of printing the Pentagram. “Very proud of those early days and my start into photojournalism.”

Kieffer covered Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford as an Army photographer. Afterward, he covered the White House for U.S. News and World Report, and later was a stringer for Time and Newsweek covering Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

This theme of the Pentagram providing a foundation to journalists and public affairs specialists became a central part of the thread on my Facebook page.

“I was Pentagram NCOIC in the mid-90s,” said Kathy Rhem in a post, “when the paper was at Fort McNair. It was a formative assignment for me, covering actual news in the nation’s capital and learning from some of the best in the business. I also learned skills and honed judgement during that assignment that helped me rise through the ranks as a DoD civilian.”

Rhem went on as a Soldier to be a senior military journalist for what was then American Forces Press Service, now DoD News, and was in that job on 9/11. Although she was not in the building when the plane hit the Pentagon, she went back into the building to cover Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s evening news conference and worked overnight to provide updates on the DoD homepage — articles printed in the Pentagram, according to Goodwin.

“It felt so significant to us to be there doing our jobs while the building was still burning,” Rhem wrote in a Messenger message.

Adrien Creecy-Starks arrived in MDW in 1991 as the public affairs plans officer, doing that job until she became deputy PAO in 1997. As she left MDW in 2006, she worked in the office during the time the publication shifted to Fort Myer.

“I always remember the Pentagram fondly,” wrote Creecy-Starks, who reported to the command in time to help plan the Desert Storm victory parades. “Loving the printed word on paper, I remember the Pentagram as an official publication in the NCR for the military community, covering historic moments from the victory parades and identification of one interred at the Tomb of the Unknowns to presidential inaugurations and state funerals.”

Steve Barrett spent the early years of his 43-year career in public affairs working with the Pentagram.

“(There were) many wonderful writers, editors and photographers who served MDW and the National Capital Region well,” wrote Barrett. “Many of our Army’s best public affairs professionals worked the Pentagram pages through the years and I was glad to work with many of them in my time there.”

Real Sadness

“This news squeezed some tears right out of my eyes,” wrote Sharon Walker on Facebook.

Walker served as the command information officer for Fort Myer and later JBM-HH, where she oversaw publication of the Pentagram from 2000 to 2018. She remembers that the mission to publish the newspaper had shifted to her office from MDW just prior to her arrival.

She also remembers when the newspaper began including the Marines from Henderson Hall in its audience in 2009 when Henderson Hall was joined with Forts Myer and McNair to comprise JBM-HH.

“So sad,” wrote Shari Lawrence about the end of the print version. “The Pentagram was my first Army job — I was an MDW intern from 1984 to 1986 and the Pentagram was my first stop. I worked with the best guys. ... We were a force to be reckoned with. No one could fill a 56-page paper like our crew, even when one edition flew away in the wind from the top of a car one Tuesday night!”

Fond Memories

“My motto for all the Army newspapers I edited was to make each as much like a civilian newspaper as possible while never forgetting it was a military paper, to meet the real information needs of soldiers,” messaged Rudd, “and to support the staff so they were happy and productive in their jobs.

“Some of my memories are hilarious and unpublishable. But what I remember best are the staffs, both military and civilian. They were simply wonderful — talented, professional and bright. We got word processing while I was there. It was great once we got used to it. Before that, ‘technology’ had consisted of a whiz wheel and a pica pole! I loved the Pentagram. I learned a lot and laughed a lot with some wonderful people. What more could anyone want?”

That became another theme on my thread.

“A treasured memory is the small military staff completing and publishing the paper while all the civilian staff was furloughed in the November 1995 government shutdown and the adventure I had getting home from Fort McNair during ‘Blizzard of ‘96,’ Rhem wrote. “I hated to leave that assignment, and some of my co-workers from then are lifelong friends.”

In her current office at the Defense Logistics Agency, she has a framed commemorative page one to remind her of those days — a tradition among those who worked on the paper.

Feeling of Pride

Sheppard Kelly is proud to have been associated with the newspaper at MDW from 1972 to 1976 and 1991 to 1999. He served in various roles as a writer, NCOIC and assistant editor.

“What can I say?” he wrote on Messenger. “I hate to see it go. That newspaper was a major part of my working life ... it was recognized as the best in the Army and best in Department of Defense.”

For Lawrence, serving on the Pentagram was a privilege.

“Holding the newspaper in my hands ... was a feeling of accomplishment,” Lawrence wrote. “Thanks to everyone before, during and since my tenure who worked so hard to make the Pentagram the award-winning paper it was and will remain in its online form.”

Adrienne Combs agreed, but understood the situation. She arrived in MDW PAO in 1998 when the office was still responsible for printing the paper. She worked with the newspaper in her role first as chief of marketing and community relations until 2006 and then in her job as deputy PAO until her retirement in 2019.

“I love holding a newspaper and turning pages but understand the need to turn to digital especially now,” she wrote. “The Pentagram was instrumental in helping MDW advertise special events and programs like Twilight Tattoo and The U.S. Army Band concerts. I hope in the future a print copy might come back but right now I understand the decision.”

For Catrina Francis who has been editor since 2018, this sense of accomplishment in producing real news for the NCR community in a journalistic way will continue.

“Today is a bittersweet day for me,” she wrote in an email. “For the past 15 years I’ve been a part of the weekly grind that comes with working on an Army newspaper. Even though at times it can be hectic, I will miss the weekly press deadlines. Although technology has changed the way we view news, the new Pentagram will continue to tell the Army and Marine Corps story and report the news.

“The news will now be in a digital format and readily accessible to everyone.”

Final Thoughts

“The Pentagram was my first Army newspaper,” wrote Kelly DeWitt, a former writer on the Pentagram said in Messenger. “I cut my teeth on Army journalism there.

“Being stationed in the D.C. area as a private first class was intimidating but working at the Pentagram gave me the opportunity to see the Army in a different way. We were encouraged to write about subjects that weren’t often covered in other Army newspapers. My stint there provided a strong understanding of what military journalism should look like.”

DeWitt was an Army public affairs Soldier working for Rudd from 1984 to 1986.

“It was my first job as a DA civilian and after I completed my military service,” Courtney Dock wrote on my Facebook page. “Moving from active duty Navy to working as a DA civilian was quite the culture shock. However, the position was a great entry into the civilian corps and helped pave a foundation for my continued career success.

“Most of what I learned was geared toward being a DA civilian and working at a garrison. It was a great job to learn more about the army as a whole.”

Dock served as editor of the paper at JBM-HH from 2011-2014.

And just as I was finishing my article, former JBM-HH editor Brent Wucher posted on my page.

“A lot of work goes into putting the Pentagram out every week,” he wrote about his time there from 2017 to 2018. “My favorite parts of being the editor and then the command information officer was getting calls from the Soldiers home from veterans telling me how much the paper meant to them.

“I remember one time we couldn’t get the contracted delivery person on the bases to deliver. I loaded up the government vehicle and spent the next ten hours delivering the Pentagram. I was exhausted but got to meet so many people waiting for the paper to be delivered.”

Writing on my Facebook page thread, Lawrence provided the perfect closing to this article and the print paper:

“Thanks for closing a chapter on Army journalism in the National Capital Region. Save us hard copies, Mike!!”

Editor’s note:

Howard served as JBM-HH public affairs director from January 2017 until this past Saturday.

By Mike Howard

Former Public Affairs Director

Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall