Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Bill Mauldin, Willie and Joe Get A Postage Stamp

I got an email forwarded to me by my neighbor and thought I'd pass the story along. It's yet another compelling story about those who fought in World War II. It's important to keep these stories alive as they are not only ingrained into the fabric of this nation, it is a part of our history that should not and cannot be forgotten.

Back in 2010, the United States Post Office released a commemorative stamp honoring a World War II Army cartoonist. What is so significant about a cartoonist getting a stamp? First of all, it's an extraordinary honor, secondly, there are many generals and admirals who have not received such a tribute.

The story below explains how and why this man came to be so beloved by GI's and how his work affected soldiers on the front lines.

Bill Mauldin was a cartoonist who drew for The Stars and Stripes, the United States Armed Forces newspaper. Some of you like me, may have seen some of Mauldin's drawings before but never knew about the man behind them. The story below fills in all those details.

Get out your history books and open them to the chapter on World War II. Today's lesson will cover a little known but very important hero of whom very little was ever really known. Here is another important  piece of lost US history.

Bill Mauldin in WWII

Makes ya proud to put this stamp on your envelopes...   
Bill  Mauldin's stamp honors a grunt's hero. The Post Office gets a lot of criticism.  Always has, always will.  And with the renewed push to get rid of Saturday mail delivery, expect complaints to intensify. But the United States Postal Service deserves a standing ovation for something that happened last  month:  
Bill Mauldin got his own postage stamp.
Mauldin died at age 81 in the early days of 2003. The end of  his life had been rugged. He had  been scalded in a bathtub, which led to terrible injuries and infections; Alzheimer's disease was  inflicting its cruelties. Unable to care for himself after the scalding, he became a resident of a California nursing home, his health and spirits in rapid decline.    

He was not  forgotten, though. Mauldin, and his work, 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.  

Mauldin was an enlisted man just like the soldiers he drew for; 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, 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 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 featured on the cover of Time magazine. His book "Up Front" was the No.1 best-seller in the United States    

 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 copyboy. 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. Last month, 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 enjoy reading and seeing  this bit of American history!

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