Willie, Joe, & Bill

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, which is a true example of our American Spirit.


Makes ya' proud to put this stamp on your envelopes........  

  

Bill  Mauldin stamp honors 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. (Issue Date: 03/31/2010).

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-stubbled 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 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 .  Last month (03/31/10), 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, grand fathers 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 Americana!

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This page last updated 06/06/2011