« Food for Thought | Main | The Garden of Chelm »

Manny and Bill, Willie and Joe

By Bob Levin

My Uncle Manny, a doctor, was at the Battle of the Bulge. When he came home, he lived with us on 46th Street. After he moved out, he left behind a collection of German beer steins and some books. He never talked about the war in my presence, and only one of those books pertained to it: the cartoonist Bill Mauldin’s Up Front.

When I was older, I would wonder what my uncle and other vets thought of us kids, armed with cap guns, storming the Omaha Beaches of our driveways, seizing the Mt. Suribachis of our front steps. I had not looked at Mauldin’s book for nearly 60 years, when Willie and Joe: The WW II Years (Fantagraphics. 2011) fell into my hands. [Up Front had held 160 of Mauldin’s cartoons, amidst 30,000 words of text. Fantagraphics offers 700, nearly all a page in size and half from his Willie and Joe period.] What, I wondered, had led my uncle to welcome Mauldin into his civilian life? Why had he chosen that volume with which to burnish his memory?

He was a gentle man. After the war, he became a radiologist, partially, I suspect, because he had seen enough firsthand blood. I recognize it is impossible to enter another person’s consciousness. It is beyond presumptuous of me to imagine what his experience at the front may have been. But looking at Mauldin’s cartoons, I can see what they mean to me and assume this applies to others.

Bill Mauldin was born October 29, 1921, in Mountain Park, a small town in New Mexico’s Sacramento Mountains. In his biography, Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front, Todd DePastino calls Mauldin’s mother, a gambling, drinking, probably promiscuous renegade from a DAR-descended family, "bi-polar or borderline." Mauldin’s father, a part-Cajun, part-Apache, orphaned-at-eight, brothel-raised, whore-chasing alcoholic, who failed as an apple farmer, citrus grower, cotton picker, gold prospector, land developer, miner, outhouse builder, and wrench salesman, strikes me as her equal at ink blot interpretation.

Childhood rickets left Mauldin undersized, jug-eared, baby-faced, physically inept. He smoked at three and drank whiskey at ten. He started countless fights, losing, he recalled, them all. Despite an over-140 IQ, he failed to finish high school. His sole realized talent was drawing. At 14, after taking a mail order course in cartooning, he left home. From his first 2500 cartoons, he earned only enough to cover the cost of his postage and envelopes. Unable to find steady work, in September 1940, he enlisted in a quartermaster unit, within the army’s 45th Division, to become a truck driver; but he soon transferred to the 180th Infantry. No one, he was told, had been dumb enough to transfer from the quartermasters to the infantry before.

Mauldin served with the 45th across North Africa, into Sicily, and during its horrendous campaign up the Italian boot. He was with it through Salerno, Naples, Venafro, on the hellish beach at Anzio, where Axis artillery trapped Allied troops for four months, and then into France at Cannes. In its first 40 days in combat, the 45th lost nearly a third of its men. Within a year, DePastino writes, most of the men Mauldin had shipped with were "dead, wounded, captured, or deemed psychologically unfit to continue...." Mauldin spent most of his time at the front, but not as a rifleman. Instead, he covered the war as a cartoonist, first for the 45th Division News, for whom he had worked stateside, and then Stars and Stripes Mediterranean edition, where Willie and Joe were born. (Mauldin fired his rifle once, he said, killing a cow so starving Italians could butcher it.) Though not a combatant, he roamed close enough to battle to be nearly killed by German mortar fire and receive a Purple Heart for his wounds.

Mauldin’s commanding officers had conceived of his work as a safety valve. If he expressed the men’s gripes, it was thought, they would not explode. But overseas, Mauldin widened his view, he wrote in Up Front, to honor the "nobility and dignity" of these "strange, mud-baked creatures who fight the war," who, amidst rain and shit and cold, knowing they may die at any moment, risk their lives to aid and succor each other. Imagine yourself in a hole in the ground, he instructed his civilian readers, attempting to provide enlightenment, in pouring rain, your neighbors waiting to crack your skull if you emerge. Then fill a suitcase with rocks and carry it through the mud for 10 or 12 miles, diving to the ground every few minutes, occasionally crawling through brambles while being buzzed by lethal hornets. And then repeat every day for three months.

Mauldin had already sharpened his cartoonist skills. He had abandoned racial caricature as a source of humor. He had ceased dividing a single frame into multiple cartoons, delivering a single, more potent daily. He eliminated the clutter of multiple word balloons, replacing them with a gag line below his drawing. He developed his inking to infuse his work with depth and power. He became a fiend for accuracy, whether depicting weaponry or equipment, dress or bodily position. But his most significant change occurred in early 1944, when he transformed the numerous, amorphous characters who had populated his work into the two iconic dogfaces who would immortalize him.

Willie was beak- and Joe snub-nosed. Willie was angry- and Joe sleepy-eyed. Both were married. Willie had a son–and smoked more cigarettes. Otherwise, they were equals: unshaven, rumpled, exhausted, battered by cold and fear and fatigue, their eyes, DePastino, wrote "expressing grief, exhaustion and flickering hope," "too old for their young bodies."

Mauldin omitted death. Deemed bad for morale — as if the soldiers were unaware of it — his superiors would have spiked it if submitted. Still, Mauldin attracted attempts to censor him. George Patton was among those who sought to confiscate his pen, objecting to his "disheveled soldiers" and "subversive humor." But here, Mauldin gave no ground. His cartoons found humor in drinking, wenching, culture clashes, price gouging, the war souvenir market, the pettiness of officers and M.P.s, K-rations, personal hygiene (or the lack thereof), raw recruits, the elements, disconnect with home and the world, the frequent nonsense of medals, sore feet, and the pretensions of non-combatants.

And death was not far removed from his pages. It glimmered through the bullet holes stitched across Joe’s helmet, through which he wiggles five fingers. It echoed in the "law of averages" which Willie worries he has defied, while tracers fly above his head. It shown through both men’s dulled-to-numbness stares and broken bodily slumps. It was evoked by the degree of love his warriors extend to one another through an arm slung over a shoulder or an offer of dry socks. It radiated from the vacant typewriter with which Mauldin honored the war correspondent Ernie Pyle, slain by a sniper on Okinawa.

Remarkably, Mauldin extended his compassion even to the enemy. No cartoon depicts the Germans as beasts. They do not appear as monocled madmen or baby bayonetters. They are as mud-caked as Mauldin’s own. When they and Americans meet, mid-battle, their reactions are equally human. When Joe plays "Lily Marlene" on his harmonica in one trench, they sing from their side of the barbed wire. In his Pulitzer Prize winning cartoon of 1944, Mauldin counterpoints a newspaper quote extolling the capture of "ragged, battle-weary" Germans by "high-spirited American troops" with a drawing in which bedraggled, rain-drenched, bone-tired Wehrmacht veterans are guarded by equally bereft Americans. He reminds us that carnage surrounds everyone and that a common, lurking fate makes family of us all.

Seeing Willie and Joe across the napalmed gulf of Vietnam and through the blazing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan is not a simple task. Children do not seem to play at war any longer. I do not spot them defending Khe Sanh or even killing Bin Laden in their driveways. The parents I know do not lay mock M-14s beside their Christmas tree or menorahs.

But Mauldin created great art. His illustrative skill still catches our eye. His depth of thought and feeling still draw us in. We ponder Willie and Joe. We weigh their posture. We stare into their ravaged eyes. Who are these men, we ask? Where did they come from? Where will their paths lead? (Mauldin had planned to mark VE Day with an empty foxhole, remnants of Joe and Willie’s blasted possessions splayed around it. An editor convinced him otherwise.) Mauldin’s creations are as isolated and as awaiting-of-an-unknown-fate as Vladimir and Estragon. Their foxhole encapsulates their existence with the totality of Nagg and Nell’s garbage cans. Day-by-day, Willie and Joe confronted their readers, making no progress but enduring.

After the war, Mauldin worked as a movie actor, best selling author, and syndicated editorial cartoonist, winning a second Pulitzer in 1958. He opposed McCarthyism and segregation. He covered Korea, Vietnam and the build up toward the first Gulf War firsthand. On January 22, 2003, he passed away, silenced by Alzheimer’s and bed-ridden for months by infections following a scalding. After word of his condition became public, he received more than 10,000 cards and letters from veterans and widows of veterans whom he had touched. So many appeared to express their gratitude in person for the pride and grace he had provided, they had to be turned away.

Uncle Manny was not among these mourners. His contribution to Willie’s law of averages came three decades before, shoveling clear his garage. The heart that carried him through the snow of the Ardennes succumbed to that of Baldwin, L.I. Fantagraphics has honored him and them, the survivors and the fallen, while enriching the rest of us with this collection.

From April, 2012

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.firstofthemonth.org/movabletype/mt-tb.cgi/128

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Manny and Bill, Willie and Joe:

» wh-poker-promo-code.net from wh-poker-promo-code.net
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on May 12, 2012 05:20 AM

» Gre words list from Gre words list
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on September 30, 2012 10:29 PM

» go to the website from go to the website
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on October 21, 2012 04:18 PM

» squidoo.com from squidoo.com
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on October 24, 2012 06:21 PM

» payday loans from payday loans
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on January 14, 2013 11:59 PM

» play minecraft for free from play minecraft for free
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on February 17, 2013 01:15 AM

» online video game shopping from online video game shopping
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on February 22, 2013 03:26 PM

» torrents YTD Video Downloader from torrents YTD Video Downloader
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on February 27, 2013 07:35 AM

» torrents Auslogics Disk Defrag from torrents Auslogics Disk Defrag
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on February 27, 2013 10:58 AM

» minecraft for free from minecraft for free
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on March 1, 2013 06:35 AM

» WinZip cracked download from WinZip cracked download
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on March 8, 2013 04:54 PM

» VLC Media Player null from VLC Media Player null
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on March 9, 2013 01:32 AM

» WinZip null from WinZip null
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on March 9, 2013 10:54 PM

» torrents DriverMax from torrents DriverMax
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on March 10, 2013 08:17 AM

» crack Free CUDA Video Converter from crack Free CUDA Video Converter
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on March 11, 2013 11:32 AM

» download free SlimDrivers Free from download free SlimDrivers Free
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on March 12, 2013 06:39 AM

» WebcamMax nulled from WebcamMax nulled
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on March 13, 2013 08:47 PM

» torrent KMPlayer from torrent KMPlayer
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on March 15, 2013 09:03 AM

» Wise Registry Cleaner crack from Wise Registry Cleaner crack
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on March 18, 2013 08:26 PM

» torrent SlimDrivers Free from torrent SlimDrivers Free
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on March 20, 2013 08:27 AM

» reputation risk management from reputation risk management
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on March 20, 2013 09:41 AM

» Any Video Converter free download full version from Any Video Converter free download full version
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on March 20, 2013 09:36 PM

» meleefilms.com from meleefilms.com
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on March 22, 2013 06:59 AM

» uTorrent cracked from uTorrent cracked
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on March 23, 2013 10:40 AM

» brands for less from brands for less
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on March 24, 2013 11:11 AM

» Advanced SystemCare torrents cracked from Advanced SystemCare torrents cracked
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on March 24, 2013 03:36 PM

» Free Youtube Downloader free from Free Youtube Downloader free
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on March 26, 2013 12:42 PM

» Microsoft Point Generator from Microsoft Point Generator
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on March 26, 2013 07:03 PM

» descargar ares from descargar ares
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on March 30, 2013 05:43 PM

» branded entertainment from branded entertainment
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on April 1, 2013 07:04 AM

» lawrence crane enterprises from lawrence crane enterprises
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on April 2, 2013 05:13 AM

» Avira Free Antivirus 2013 torrents cracked from Avira Free Antivirus 2013 torrents cracked
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on April 6, 2013 01:03 AM

» film porno streaming from film porno streaming
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on April 7, 2013 09:39 PM

» lawrence crane enterprises from lawrence crane enterprises
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on April 8, 2013 05:59 PM

» lawrence crane enterprises from lawrence crane enterprises
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on April 9, 2013 10:40 AM

» I suppose I need to from windows7productcode.webs.com%2
I suppose I need to find specialists that have a. [Read More]

Tracked on April 14, 2013 05:59 AM

» option binaire forex from option binaire forex
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on April 27, 2013 06:10 AM

» ralph lauren outlet from ralph lauren outlet
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on April 28, 2013 01:43 AM

» speedypc pro License key from speedypc pro License key
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on April 29, 2013 02:50 AM

» http://www.financebuster.com/louis-vuitton.php from http://www.financebuster.com/louis-vuitton.php
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on April 29, 2013 05:52 AM

» simply click the following page from simply click the following page
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on May 3, 2013 05:08 PM

» lawrence crane enterprises from lawrence crane enterprises
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on May 7, 2013 06:17 AM

» video x from video x
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on May 9, 2013 05:37 AM

» 9 led flashlight wholesale from 9 led flashlight wholesale
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on May 14, 2013 08:57 PM

» ergo baby carrier from ergo baby carrier
ergo baby carrier http://www.ergobabycarrieroutlet.com.au/ [Read More]

Tracked on May 15, 2013 07:40 AM

» cheap designer bags from cheap designer bags
First of the Month cheap designer handbags [Read More]

Tracked on May 22, 2013 04:44 AM

» film porno streaming from film porno streaming
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on May 29, 2013 08:26 AM

» louis vuitton outlet online from louis vuitton outlet online
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on June 6, 2013 01:56 AM

» electrician in Ashland from electrician in Ashland
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on June 8, 2013 08:13 PM

» warez download from warez download
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on June 12, 2013 11:55 AM

» cheap milan lucic black jersey from cheap milan lucic black jersey
its personal closed new era hats wholesale platform. Publishers see that as lowering the perceived value of the books. And, from their view, that's appropriate. The price of printing and handling paper books constitutes only two or three dollars of a ... [Read More]

Tracked on June 13, 2013 12:26 PM

» acid reflux diet plan from acid reflux diet plan
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on June 19, 2013 09:04 PM

» fake oakleys from fake oakleys
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on June 22, 2013 07:27 PM

» cheap christian louboutin shoes from cheap christian louboutin shoes
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on June 23, 2013 01:48 PM

» Minecraft Texture Packs from Minecraft Texture Packs
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on June 24, 2013 01:45 PM

» oakley sunglasses discount from oakley sunglasses discount
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on June 24, 2013 02:51 PM

» AYEfBiuD from AYEfBiuD
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on June 26, 2013 03:51 PM

» TrpXBFGt from TrpXBFGt
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on June 26, 2013 03:51 PM

» nMzkZWwg from nMzkZWwg
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on June 26, 2013 03:51 PM

» tViQsQCZ from tViQsQCZ
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on June 26, 2013 03:51 PM

» RAosyzBK from RAosyzBK
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on June 26, 2013 03:51 PM

» nqMsEepq from nqMsEepq
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on June 26, 2013 03:51 PM

» HqeDQhpQ from HqeDQhpQ
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on June 26, 2013 03:52 PM

» tory burch shoes from tory burch shoes
pro brand designer is considered the a person who is familiar with the way to design logos inside the greatest way by taking in each of the needed elements, and maintaining away from the many wrong-doings of logo coming up with. Also, expert designer c... [Read More]

Tracked on June 28, 2013 03:42 PM

» tory burch from tory burch
Will which look insane? Commonly the precise approach? Not likely think from time to time that you could learn plenty of nutritional dietary supplements you don explore things to take into account! I'm talking about, We been instruction with regard to ... [Read More]

Tracked on June 29, 2013 03:26 PM

» umhngetasche leder from umhngetasche leder
Tinted glasses could be the best accessories for all those who are fond in spicing things up or simply just in want of needing some fun and manner.. [Read More]

Tracked on June 30, 2013 12:07 PM

» Cheap Louis Vuitton Handbags from Cheap Louis Vuitton Handbags
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on July 1, 2013 04:50 AM

» Louis Vuitton from Louis Vuitton
If you're lucky, enough to obtain a store like Top1replica.. [Read More]

Tracked on July 3, 2013 05:45 AM

» nike free run günstig from nike free run günstig
Nike Free 4.0Einige Leute m枚gen unter der hei脽en Sonne in dem Sommer schwitzen, einige Leute durch was die k眉hle Brise in der Nacht mutwillige run - Leben egal, welche Methode vo... [Read More]

Tracked on July 5, 2013 09:11 AM

» cheap wow gold from cheap wow gold
hello!this is very nice website! [Read More]

Tracked on July 9, 2013 10:25 PM

» Minecraft Seeds from Minecraft Seeds
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on July 16, 2013 06:15 AM

» minecraft from minecraft
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on August 3, 2013 04:59 AM

» oakleys glasses from oakleys glasses
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on August 12, 2013 03:12 AM

» cheap Atlanta Falcons Jerseys from cheap Atlanta Falcons Jerseys
to users of its devices. It isn't just to make an quantity of funds that is dwarfed by what the hardware sales deliver. The concept is to lock customers into the continued want for Apple devices to get access to the content material they previously pur... [Read More]

Tracked on August 21, 2013 11:03 AM

» nike foamposites for cheap from nike foamposites for cheap
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on August 21, 2013 12:34 PM

» medium gratuit from medium gratuit
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on August 22, 2013 09:23 AM

» go to these guys from go to these guys
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on August 28, 2013 08:06 PM

» burberry outlet from burberry outlet
Very good fantastic write-up. My partner and i tested out this specific plus it beautifully worked well. [Read More]

Tracked on September 10, 2013 02:25 AM

» cheap jordans from cheap jordans
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on September 13, 2013 12:31 PM

» Basketball Shoes For Men from Basketball Shoes For Men
Ter badly broken by a buffalo cow in Moncler USA sikukunis coit seemed empty Christian Louboutin Outlet and very soon there ... [Read More]

Tracked on September 14, 2013 04:19 PM

» ralph lauren uk from ralph lauren uk
within the Songza information a person state we live within a renaissance connected with social websites.. btw indicates "rebirth" and my very own know-how social networking is reasonably new, therefore causeing this to be the genesis or trend. Remorse... [Read More]

Tracked on September 14, 2013 08:22 PM

» web site from web site
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on September 14, 2013 08:24 PM

» karen millen dresses from karen millen dresses
please show me an individual would not simply utilize a wikipedia web-site to try to verify a point...... [Read More]

Tracked on September 16, 2013 02:13 PM

» christian louboutin shoes from christian louboutin shoes
Industry analysts have a tendency expect less expensive costs regarding smartphone services
By LEONG STRUNG YEE [Read More]

Tracked on September 26, 2013 12:37 AM

» christian louboutin outlet from christian louboutin outlet
Great to find out 'someone' is usually lastly combating typically the RIAA Cricca. We've viewed that evil situation collect drive several years rear, considering: "surely an individual in existence understands the large injustice and also inequality a ... [Read More]

Tracked on September 26, 2013 09:42 PM

» just click the following internet site from just click the following internet site
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on September 30, 2013 08:29 AM

» youtube.Com from youtube.Com
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on October 1, 2013 08:17 AM

» film porno from film porno
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on October 5, 2013 06:37 PM

» film porno from film porno
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on October 5, 2013 06:39 PM

» christian louboutin sale from christian louboutin sale
Because of ()z through March twenty second. Yes functioned a delicacy along with preserved us a lots of reading through and also seeking. I must say I didn't understand all their uploads/downloads would be p2p. My spouse and i function peerguardian and... [Read More]

Tracked on October 6, 2013 09:50 PM

» Sac Vanessa Bruno Pas Cher from Sac Vanessa Bruno Pas Cher
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on October 12, 2013 11:34 AM

» Ray Rice Ravens Jersey from Ray Rice Ravens Jersey
If you like football, you almost certainly have a favourite group from the National Football League or two and have a list of players who like to have seen. [Read More]

Tracked on October 16, 2013 12:46 AM

» click web page from click web page
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on January 21, 2014 10:36 AM

» mold allergy symptoms from mold allergy symptoms
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on February 14, 2014 08:46 AM

» Chateau Nightclub from Chateau Nightclub
first of the month [Read More]

Tracked on February 17, 2014 03:36 AM

» Is MI40 a Scam from Is MI40 a Scam
first of the month [Read More]

Tracked on February 17, 2014 07:50 AM

» Infrared 3s 2014 from Infrared 3s 2014
http://jordan3infrared23.teenblog.com/ Buy Infrared 3s [Read More]

Tracked on March 2, 2014 03:39 AM

» cheap jordans from cheap jordans
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on June 20, 2014 12:57 PM

Comments