Cartoonist Loved By Soldiers Everywhere
A Life Up Front
By Todd DePastino
W.W. Norton, 2008, $27.95
Todd DePastino's book, "Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front," can be found at both the Given and Southern Pines libraries.
It tells the life story of Bill Mauldin, and features marvelous World War II cartoons featuring two archetypal GI characters, Willie and Joe, boosting troop morale while exasperating Army brass.
Lt. Col. Don Van Roosen, of Pinehurst, who helped liberate France said, "There were several cartoonists in Stars and Stripes we really appreciated when they portrayed an incident that we'd experienced. Mauldin was the most appreciated. Willie and Joe reminded us that everyone else in the infantry looked just like we did -- tired, dirty, enduring the unendurable, and hoping for an end to the war."
Born in New Mexico, part Native American, Mauldin's family was constantly moving in search of a meal ticket. A rare talent for drawing was discovered early. For $20 he entered Charles N. Landon's Correspondence School of Illustrating and Cartooning. Tips from "Hillbilly Larry" Smith, a self-taught cartoonist and a year at Chicago's Academy of Fine Arts (tuition $500) completed his education. While studying, Arizona Highways paid two dollars each for 24 cartoons mostly about cowboys and Indians.
Mauldin experienced ROTC in high school and proudly joined the Arizona National Guard in 1940. When asked about his physical, he said, "They didn't really test our eyes, they sort of counted them."
His was the Division's second highest I.Q. test score. It was a hardscrabble outfit, many of whom had endured the Dust Bowl. Financially desperate, they received a stipend of $12 a quarter.
Bill Mauldin participated in the North African invasion, covering the war close up by drawing cartoons of soldiers that reflected war's humor and horror. He served in Sicily and Italy, where fighting was particularly intense. In 1944 General Mark Clark gave him his own Jeep, allowing him the freedom to go anywhere.
Mauldin produced six weekly cartoons and made the cover of Time magazine twice. Regular army officers were often offended by his telling brush, and Gen. George Patton threatened to put his "ass in jail." Eisenhower considered Mauldin a vital military asset and ordered Patton to relent.
Mauldin's cutting commentary made him the common soldier's hero. He was awarded the Legion of Merit, joining distinguished recipients, including Eisenhower and ironically, Patton.
He won a Pulitzer in 1945 at the age of 23, and again in 1959. In 1956 he ran for Congress, losing as "too liberal." His pro-civil rights, anti-Joe McCarthy and anti-House Un-American Activities cartoons were not welcomed by many Dixie newspaper publishers.
Charles M. Schultz paid tribute to Mauldin each Veterans Day by including Willie and Joe in his Peanuts comic strip. In 2003 Mauldin joined fallen comrades of the "Greatest Generation."
Paul R. Dunn may be reached at PaulandBJ@nc.rr.com.
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