Americans old enough to remember World War II, especially those
who fought in it, were saddened by the news of the death of Bill
Mauldin on Wednesday.
Americans old enough to remember World War II, especially those who fought in it, were saddened by the news of the death of Bill Mauldin on Wednesday.
Mauldin achieved national fame as a cartoonist for The Stars and Stripes, the service-wide publication for U.S. forces, with his creations, Willie and Joe. They were two weary dogfaces whose incessant battle against fatigue and the weather as well as the enemy had instant appeal for real-life soldiers who often slept in the mud and rarely had a satisfying sleep.
Some officers, relatively few, resented the pomposity with which Mauldin portrayed his cartoon brass. One was Gen. George Patton, who charged that his cartoons undermined discipline, and threatened to throw him in jail if he was rash enough to come into his command area again.
But Mauldin’s supporters were legion and included the big boss, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Mauldin understood the underdog and mistrusted those who tried to manipulate him or his efforts. He told an interviewer during the war, “Keep in mind that the men who talk about the big picture, civilian or military, and who are prepared to spend thousands of lives for a victory are rarely talking about their own life.”
Next to Ernie Pyle, the war correspondent killed in the final months of the war, he was the spokesman and hero to the infantryman and other branches of the service.
Willie and Joe were no near-supermen who constantly overwhelmed superior enemy forces with feats of derring-do. They were two lowly soldiers who grew battle-wise after many campaigns but realized that their mortality balanced on such imponderables as in being in the wrong spot as a shell landed or assigned to a patrol probing enemy lines. And even though they griped on the proud tradition of servicemen, they were prepared to slog along until peace was attained.
His portrayal of the pair brought Mauldin a Pulitzer Prize in 1944 as he was going on 23. He won another years later when his newspaper editorial cartoon showed Russian writer Boris Pasternak explaining to a fellow political prisoner, “I won the Nobel Prize for literature. What was your crime?”
Mauldin continued cartooning after the war and wrote a number of books, including “Back Home” and “A Sort of a Saga.” He attacked such institutions as racism and those that practiced it and warned his fellow Americans to be careful of “people who want to abridge any American’s rights. They may take a look at yours next.”
This man who cherished peace but gained fame as a soldier will not be borne to Valhalla with somber music rising behind him. Any afterlife of his choice would include the millions of Americans who fought in World War II, including Willie and Joe.