Award-winning WWII Cartoonist Bill Mauldin Remembered

 

 Oct 29th, 1921 – 2003    
 
He meant so  much to the millions of Americans who fought in World War II, and to those  who had waited for them to come home.
He was a kid cartoonist for Stars and  Stripes, the military newspaper; Mauldin’s drawings of his muddy, exhausted,  whisker-stubble infantrymen Willie and Joe were the voice of truth about  what it was like on the front lines.
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Mauldin was  an enlisted man  just like the soldiers for whom he drew; his gripes  were their gripes, his laughs their laughs, his heartaches their heartaches. 
He was one of them. They loved him.
He never  held back.
Sometimes, when his cartoons cut too close for comfort, superior  officers tried to tone him down.
In one memorable incident, he enraged Gen.  George S. Patton, who informed Mauldin he wanted the pointed cartoons  celebrating the fighting men, lampooning the high-ranking officers to stop. 
Now! “I’m  beginning to feel like a fugitive from the’  law of  averages.” The news  passed from soldier to soldier.
How was Sgt. Bill Mauldin going to stand up  to Gen. Patton? It seemed impossible.
Not quite. 
Mauldin, it turned out, had an ardent fan: Five-star Gen. Dwight D.  Eisenhower, SCAFE, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe.
Ike put  out the word: “Mauldin draws what Mauldin wants.”
Mauldin won. Patton  lost.
If, in your  line of work, you’ve ever considered yourself a young hotshot, or if you’ve  ever known anyone who has felt that way about him or herself, the story of  Mauldin’s young manhood will humble you.
Here is what, by the time he was 23  years old, Mauldin had accomplished:+
“By the way,  wot wuz them changes you wuz  gonna make when you took over last month,  sir?” 
He won the  Pulitzer Prize & was on the cover of Time magazine.
His book “Up Front”  was the No. 1 best-seller in the
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All of that at  23.
Yet, when he returned to civilian life and grew older, he never lost  that boyish Mauldin grin, never outgrew his excitement about doing his job,  never big-shotted or high-hatted the people with  whom he worked every day.
I was lucky  enough to be one of them. Mauldin roamed the hallways of the Chicago  Sun-Times in the late 1960s and early 1970s with no more officiousness or  air of haughtiness than if he was a copy boy. That impish look on his face  remained.
He had  achieved so much.
He won a second Pulitzer Prize, and he should have won a  third for what may be the single greatest editorial cartoon in the history  of the craft: his deadline rendering, on the day President John F. Kennedy  was assassinated, of the statue at the Lincoln Memorial, slumped in grief,  its head cradled in its hands.
But he never acted as if he was better than  the people he met. He was still Mauldin, the enlisted  man.
During the  late summer of 2002,as Mauldin lay in that California nursing home, some of  the old World War II infantry guys caught wind of it.
They didn’t want  Mauldin to go out that way.
They thought he should know he was still their  hero.
“This is  the’ town my pappy told me about.”
Gordon  Dillow, a columnist for the Orange County Register, put out the  call in Southern California for people in the area to send their best wishes  to Mauldin.
I joined Dillow in the effort, helping to spread  the appeal nationally, so Bill would not feel so alone.
Soon, more than  10,000 cards and letters had arrived at Mauldin’s bedside.
Better  than that, old soldiers began to show up just to sit with Mauldin, to let  him know that they were there for him, as he, so long ago, had been there  for them.
So many volunteered to visit Bill that there was a waiting list.  Here is how Todd DePastino, in the first paragraph of his  wonderful biography of Mauldin, described it:
 
“Almost every day in  the summer and fall of 2002, they came to Park Superior nursing home in   Newport Beach , California , to honor Army Sergeant, Technician Third Grade,  Bill Mauldin.
They came bearing relics of their youth: medals, insignia,  photographs, and carefully folded newspaper clippings.
Some wore old  garrison caps. Others arrived resplendent in uniforms over a half century  old. Almost all of them wept as they filed down the corridor like pilgrims  fulfilling some long-neglected obligation.”
One of the  veterans explained to me why it was so important:
“You would have to be part  of a combat infantry unit to appreciate what moments of relief Bill gave us.
 
You had to be reading a soaking wet Stars and Stripes in a water-filled  foxhole and then see one of his cartoons.”
“Th’  hell this ain’t th’ most important hole in the  world. I’m  in it.” 
Mauldin is  buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
May 31, 2010, the kid cartoonist made  it onto a first-class postage stamp.
It’s an honor that most generals and  admirals never receive.
 
What Mauldin  would have loved most,
I believe, is the sight of the two guys who keep him  company on that stamp. Take a look at it.
 
There’s Willie. There’s  Joe.
And there, to  the side, drawing them and smiling that shy, quietly observant smile, is  Mauldin himself.
With his buddies, right where he belongs.
Forever. 
What a story,  and a fitting tribute to a man and to a time that few of us can still  remember.
But I say to you youngsters, you must most seriously learn of, and  remember with respect, the sufferings and sacrifices of your fathers,  grandfathers and great grandfathers in times you cannot ever imagine today  with all you have.
But the only reason you are free to have it all is  because of them.
I thought you would all enjoy reading and seeing  this bit of cherished American history.
 
God Bless all those who served in this Greatest Generation! 
 
Many died for my freedom, One died for my soul……..
 
To all I am eternally grateful.
For a look at Bill’s cartoons, click here: http://billmauldin.com/
Mauldin was recently honored in the 45th Infantry Museum — click here:
If you would like to help with the Military project Bill supported for our troops click here: http://www.thesoldiersproject.org/
 
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