58 years of service: Misawa Air Base news goes online

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- As the end of 2006 rapidly approaches, a significant chapter in the history of the Northern Light closes with this issue as it heralds its transition from newsprint to a cyber-space news source.

"This transition is in line with Air Force Smart Operations-21," said Brig. Gen. Sam Angelella, 35th Fighter Wing commander. "Going to a Web-based information-delivery system provides our readers with real-time information. Additionally, deployed servicemembers and personnel on leave will have greater access to home-station news.

"The base's online news service allows public affairs to be far more proactive when providing late-breaking information to the base audiences and to remain relevant in this age of instantaneous news services," the general said.

And with the paper-version becoming a thing of the past, it is only fitting we look back at its beginning before we move forward into the future.

Since its humble beginnings in 1948, the Northern Light has chronicled base, Air Force and world history, and what a history it's been.

Volume 1, edition one, of the "no name" (the base newspaper hadn't been named yet) was published on June 12, 1948. It consisted of a single sheet of paper with a total of nine news pieces typed on both sides; moveable type was still in the future. These nine pieces mainly consisted of base announcements and what movies were playing at the Richard Bong base theater.

Edition two announced the contest that would decide the name of the new newspaper. Entries were whittled down to a final 12: Sky Rocket, Flight-Liner, High Flyer, Airman, Spamcan, Skipper, Strata-Sheet, Forty-Niner, Misawan, Piloteer, Wings and Windsock. The winner was announced in edition three, and the Misawa base newspaper became the Piloteer, which it would remain for the next two years. During this time, the Piloteer continued to be manually typed and all illustrations were hand-drawn.

In edition five, one of the stories announced that Private First Class Morris Forbes had become the 100th man to enter the base library. His prize - one carton of cigarettes.

Sometime between 1950 and 1953, the Piloteer became the Wingspread. Why this occurred is not clear because no editions from those three years are known to exist. But as the Korean War raged, news of the conflict as well as other national news stories and events began to replace base announcements on the front page and in the headlines.

As the decade of the 1950s progressed, Misawa grew and so did the Wingspread. By this time, moveable type had replaced typed copy and graphics were improving as well. This was well documented when photographs of movie queens Julie Adams (Creature from the Black Lagoon and Away All Boats) and Jane Russell (The Paleface and Son of Paleface) appeared in a 1956 edition of the Wingspread. They were to be followed by other starlets in the next decade such as Goldie Hawn and the first pair of twins to appear in Playboy magazine. Times were changing.

The war in Vietnam and the radical 1960s began to fill the pages of the Wingspread as social upheaval back home in America and the highly-charged politics of the decade began to top the headlines.

With the arrival of the 1970s, another milestone was reached on March 26, 1971, when the Wingspread became the Northern Light.

"The base wasn't going to host a flying unit anymore, so base officials determined that the name Wingspread, which suggested flying, wouldn't be appropriate," said Senior Master Sgt. Donald Koser, 35th Fighter Wing historian. "Another contest was held and was named Northern Light."

On May 15, 1971, the 356th Tactical Fighter Squadron left Misawa and with its departure, U.S. Air Force host flying operations ended for 13 years until the arrival of the 432nd Tactical Fighter Wing July 1, 1984.

The gas shortage and the sexual revolution of the 1970s were replaced by the advent of technology and computers as the world and the Northern Light stepped into the 1980s and 1990s. With these times came news of the assassination attempt of President Ronald Reagan (1981), the takeover of Grenada (1983), the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and the end of the Cold War (1991), Operations Desert Shield and Storm (1990-91), the Rodney King verdict and subsequent Los Angeles riots (1992) and the rise of social awareness issues.

Through it all, the Northern Light kept pace, reporting U.S. national and world events to a new generation of Airmen.

As the second half of the decade began and computer technology and budgetary constraints push the Northern Light into a new domain, it's only fitting that we look back over the last 58 years and realize how far Misawa's base newspaper has come. From a nine-article sheet of paper to the sophisticated cyber-domain it will occupy starting Jan. 8 at www.misawa.af.mil, the Northern Light, now Misawa Air Base News, remains a mainstay of news and information to the Airmen of the 21st century.

What a journey it's been.