Humor is the best medicine, relieving tension and anxiety, especially for soldiers at war. As a GI himself, Bill Mauldin understood that. His cartoons tickled the funny-bones of the dogfaces across Europe and those back home during WWII.
While serving in the 45th Division in Italy, Bill Mauldin drew cartoons for the “45 Division News.” He was so well liked that it wasn’t long before he became a regular feature in the “Stars and Stripes” (the official Army newspaper). Mauldin’s depiction of the American GI as disheveled, unshaven and disrespectful drew General Patton’s wrath. But Patton’s disapproval couldn’t compete with Bill’s popularity with the troops.
Willie and Joe populated most of Bill’s cartoons. These tired, dirty, bearded GI’s viewed the war from the bottom – be it a mud-filled fox hole or a bombed-out town. Bill often ruffled feathers with his irreverent humor, but it was just what the men needed as they slugged their way through Naples, Anzio, Cassino, Rome and the Italian mountains. Bill’s cartoons rang so true to the enlisted men loved him. So much so that his cartoons were syndicated in papers back in the states and by 1945 Bill published his first book, “Up Front.” For his cartooning talent Bill Mauldin was awarded his first of two Pulitzer Prizes at only 23 years old.
“Up Front” is a compilation of cartoons Bill drew for “Stars and Stripes” accompanied by Bill’s narrative of his experiences during the war. Rather than an account of where he was and what he did, Bill vividly described what life was like for a rifleman or dogface, as he called them. He also gives background information for some of his drawings. Most of Bill’s cartoons were set in Italy and Southern France where he served most of his time. And, yes, Bill did fight. His cartooning began as a one afternoon a week assignment. The rest of the time he was one of the suffering dogfaces fighting the war.
A couple of quotes from “Up Front” will illustrate some of Bill’s thoughts and ideas.
“I’m convinced that the infantry is the group in the army which gives more and gets less than anybody else. I draw pictures for and about the dogfaces because I know what their life is like and I understand their gripes. They don’t get fancy pay, they know their food is the worst in the army because you can’t whip up lemon pies or even hot soup at the front, and they know how much of a burden they bear.”
“Mud, for one, is a curse which seems to save itself for war. I’m sure Europe never got this muddy during peacetime. I’m equally sure that no mud in the world is so deep or sticky or wet as European mud. It doesn’t even have an honest color like ordinary mud.”
Here’s Bill’s suggestion for understanding an infantryman’s life – at least a little, as stated in “Up Front.”
“Dig a hole in your back yard while it is raining. Sit in the hole until the water climbs up around your ankles. Pour cold mud down your shirt collar. Sit there for forty-eight hours, and, so there is no danger of your dozing off, imagine that a guy is sneaking around waiting for a chance to club you on the head or set your house on fire. Get out of the hole, fill a suitcase full of rocks, pick it up, put a shotgun in your other hand, and walk on the muddiest road you can find. Fall flat on your face every few minutes as you imagine big meteors streaking down to sock you. After ten or twelve miles (remember you are still carrying the shotgun and suitcase) start sneaking through wet brush. Imagine that somebody has booby-trapped your route with rattlesnakes which will bite you if you step on them. Give some friend a rifle and have him blast in your direction once and a while. Snoop around until you find a bull. Try to figure out a way to sneak around him without letting him see you. When he does see you, run like hell all the way back to your hole in the back yard, drop the suitcase and shotgun, and get in.”
My father was a Bill Mauldin fan and he treasured his copy of “Up Front.” I have my father’s book and a couple of years ago one of my grandsons picked it up and started reading. He loved it. I immediately bought him a copy for his very own. (The one I have is a first edition and would not stand up to much handling.) I’m told that my grandson often carries the book with him to read when he has a little spare time. It pleases me that I have furthered his interest in World War II history.
In researching I found several sites with more information about Bill Mauldin. Much as I would like to post some of his cartoons on my website, I don’t want to violate any copyrights so the images posted here are covers for books available on Amazon and other online book sellers. I have also provided links to sites where you can see a few of his cartoons.
The 45th Division museum has a large collection of Bill Mauldin’s original cartoons. Their website is at http://www.45thdivisionmuseum.com/Exhibits/Mauldin.html
Other websites with information about Bill Mauldin, his life and his cartoons are listed below.
This site shows Bill in the movie “Red Badge of Courage” with Audie Murphy. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0560887/