At about this time in 1942, the first edition of Yank, the Army Weekly, is published. It would bear a cover date of June 17, 1942. Today, Yank might seem like “just” a magazine published during World War II. But to our soldiers serving overseas, it was so much more.
“By the time I was serving in Europe, everything was devastated,” Capt (Ret.) Ted von Gerichten remembers. “People just looked pitiful. Yank reminded us that back home there was something wonderful waiting for us.”
Yank was the brainchild of Egbert White, a World War I veteran. He wanted a magazine that would help the average infantryman persevere through the horrors of war.
“White’s writers, photographers and artists would understand the ordeal of the enlisted man,” historian Peter Zablocki explains, “because they would wear the same uniform, have the same lowly ranks, be excluded from the same officers’ clubs and endure the same risks, indignities, fears and frustrations.”
Yank would eventually have 127 staff members, each of whom was an enlisted soldier on active duty. “Yank’s correspondents will go to every battlefront,” a Yank editorial explained. “If they live, they will send back stories of the actions in which they fought. If they are killed, other correspondents will take their place.”
At least six months’ active duty was required before staff members could go to a back office.
Yank contained several regular—and eagerly anticipated—sections. Unsurprisingly, pinup girls were one popular feature, but there were others, too.
A “Mail Call” section printed soldiers’ letters. Soldiers wrote in with their concerns—both serious and comical. On one occasion, a soldier complained that his Hershey bar had 7 almonds, but his friend’s had 9. An officer responded, joking that “through some gross and unpardonable error the other soldier undoubtedly received an officer’s Hershey bar.”
Likewise, “The Sad Sack” was a much-loved cartoon about a “screw up” soldier who constantly fumbled his way through crazy situations. “And there was always somebody like that in your outfit,” Frank Invernale (1st Cavalry Division) commented, “which made it even funnier.”
Another cartoon was “G.I. Joe.” The cartoonist, Dave Breger, wrote a “Private Breger” cartoon for the stateside Saturday Evening Post, then created G.I. Joe for the military. The “G.I.” stood for “government issue.”
Naturally, Yank contained news stories, too. “Yank was about the only way you found out what you were doing compared to everybody else,” von Gerichten observed. “You had very little of the overall picture. Yank would show up and you could find out where everybody was . . . .”
Soldiers could find themselves featured in Yank, unexpectedly.
William Phelps (11th Armored Division) was on one cover—much to his surprise! He’d been at the Battle of the Bulge when his photo was snapped. “Three weeks later,” he explained, “during a firefight a jeep pulled up, yelled my name, and threw me a package. It wasn’t until several hours later I opened it up and found myself on the front cover of Yank Magazine.”
Interestingly, those in the States didn’t always know about Yank. The magazine was not allowed on newsstands because the government-backed magazine posed unfair competition to other magazines. But Yank had become so important to our soldiers that it had 21 editions in 17 locations by the end of the war.
And that, of course, is where Yank’s story stops. The end of the war meant Yank’s purpose was gone, so General Dwight Eisenhower issued Yank an “honorable discharge.” The certificate was published on the magazine’s final cover in December 1945.
Yank’s mission was complete.
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FDR, Greeting to Yank Magazine on the Publication of Its First Issue (May 28, 1942)
Neely Tucker, World War II: The Debut of G.I. Joe (Library of Congress website; Dec. 30, 2021)
Peter Zablocki, Yank Magazine Created a Unique Record of American Soldiers’ Roles in World War II (Jan. 4, 2022) (reprint of a Military History magazine article)
Renita Foster, 'Yank' magazine energized Soldiers, reminding them of the reasons for fighting (U.S. Army; Aug. 20, 2009)
Yank Magazine (June 17, 1942)