Today in history: 29 October 1921
Born on this date, Bill Mauldin, was most famous for his World War II cartoons depicting American soldiers, as represented by the archetypal characters "Willie and Joe", two weary and bedraggled infantry troopers who stoically endure the difficulties and dangers of duty in the field.
During World War II, Mauldin’s cartoons, appearing in Stars and Stripes, made him a hero to many in the military. His sympathy for “dogfaces,” the slang term for soldiers in the infantry, was clearly expressed through his characters Willie and Joe, who gave their military audiences a hearty laugh and civilians an idea of what life was like for soldiers.
In 1945 Mauldin won the first of his two Pulitzers “for distinguished service as a cartoonist” and the Allied high command awarded him its Legion of Merit. His illustrated memoir, “Up Front,” was a bestseller. That same year, his “dogface” Willie appeared on the cover of Time.
Not every general was a fan, and certainly not General George S. Patton, Jr., who bristled as much at Willie and Joe’s “unsoldierly” dishevelment as at Mauldin’s subversive humor. Patton made it his goal beginning in 1943 to “get rid of Mauldin and his cartoons.” If the editors refused to move Willie and Joe out of the paper, Patton warned, he would block distribution of Stars and Stripes to his troops. Luckily, Mauldin and the editor of Stars and Stripes had an ally in General Eisenhower who had had enough. Officers, Ike stated plainly in a letter sent throughout the European theater, are “not to interfere” in “such things as Mauldin’s cartoons,” nor in other controversial materials published in Stars and Stripes. It was a matter of press freedom.
After World War II, Mauldin turned to drawing political cartoons expressing a generally liberal view associated with groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union. These were not well received by newspaper editors, who were hoping for more apolitical Willie and Joe cartoons.