Bill Mauldin – American cartoonist hero

Put this Bill Mauldin stamp on your envelopes ……..

Bill Mauldin stamp honors grunts’ hero.

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. 

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!

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:

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.

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.”

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.

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