I had planned to be elsewhere today but a lingering cold kept me home.
I still wanted to do something to honor our brave military Vets and the sacrifices they have made to keep us free.
Orange County Register columnist Gordon Dillow reminded me that the way to do so was sitting on my bookshelves.
His column, this morning, reminds his readers that one of the most famous veterans of WW2 lived and died in the OC.
Mr. Dillow gets a lot of unsolicited items in the mail, not to mention the tons of e-mail from readers, but the other day something arrived that prompted him to write a column:
a biography of an old World War II soldier who died in Orange County almost five years ago – and since today is Veterans Day, maybe it's an appropriate time to tell you about it.
The old soldier's name was Bill Mauldin.
If that name isn't instantly recognizable to you, it would be to your grandparents, or maybe your great-grandparents. Bill Mauldin was the most famous cartoonist of World War II, a young Army infantryman who drew cartoons about the war and military life for "Stars and Stripes," the GI newspaper, and eventually was syndicated in newspapers across the country.
The GIs loved him. His two main characters were a couple of dirty, unshaven dogface infantrymen named Willie and Joe, whose gripes about life in foxholes and jibes about rear-echelon troops and senior officers spoke for the millions of citizen-soldiers for whom the war wasn't a path to glory, but simply a miserable if necessary job.
After you read the rest of the column I hope you will return here because I am turning the rest of the post over to the spirit and memories of Bill Mauldin.
Over the summer I rescued two first edition hardcovers from the Tustin Library $2 a bag sale, their covers the worse for wear (Nothing a little mailing tape couldn't handle!), but otherwise a treasure trove to be read slowly and lingered over, the better to savor their pleasures.
What Bill Mauldin wrote and drew paid tribute to the daily lives and struggles of the Greatest Generation during and after the war, as well as paying attention to events in Europe as the Cold War began to heat up, even speaking to those of us who follow in ways very relevant to events in the headlines of the 21st century.
Without further ado, lets hear from Willie and Joe, and their comrades:
Published in 1945, the then 23 year old authors book took America by storm.
ON THE LEFT: "You'll get over it, Joe. Oncet I wuz gonna write a book exposin' the army after th' war myself."
ON THE RIGHT: "Must be a tough objective. Th' old man says we're gonna have th' honor of liberatin' it."
BILL MAULDIN on these pages: "Since hanging around many different divisions, I've just about come to the conclusion that when 15,000 men from 48 states are put together in an outfit, their thinking and their actions are going to be pretty much like those of any other 15,000. The efficiency and their accomplishements are altered to a certain extent by the abilities of their commanders, but the guys themselves are pretty much the same."
OUR ALLIES 1: "You blokes leave an awfully messy battlefield."
BILL MAULDIN on this cartoon: "There was a standing joke for a while between the British division at Anzio and one of the American divisions. The Americans, noted for their wealth of materiel, often littered the area with discarded euipment, and the thrifty British who relived them just couldn't understand it. if a British colonel draws an unneccessary pair of shoes for his regimental supply, he's likely to get a court-martial out of it, and God help the Tommy who loses his Enfield rifle.
So the British used to accuse the Americans of leaving a messy battlefield, and I drew a picture of a Tommy telling that to two dogfaces. The British up there seemed to like it okay, and the doggies at Anzio caught it. But the British brass in Naples made a complaint. They didn't understand the picture, but they were certain it was anti-British."
OUR ALLIES 2: "Some of you may not come back. A French convoy has been reported on the road."
BILL MAULDIN on his Quartermaster cartoons: "...the French army started tearing up the roads, and they made our worst quartermaster drivers seem like timid old ladies. All a Frenchman knows about a truck is the general location of the foot throttle. French convoys stop simply by smashing into one another's bumpers."
Eventually the war ended and the troops came home.
According to the text of the inside cover of his next book Bill Mauldin "discovered the post-war world with the frank surprise and curiosity of a modern Gulliver in a strange land."
Back Home was published to much acclaim in 1947.
The Press gets its chance to interview the victorious soldier upon his return:
"He thinks the food over there was swell. He's glad to be home, but he misses the thrill and excitement of battle. You may quote him."
God Bless the IRS!:
Signs - Bureau of Internal Revenue. Pay back taxes here.
"I never thought they'd git me fer that rifle I lost."
BILL MAULDIN on this cartoon: "Many guys who had been looking forward so long to a release from the bureaucracy and restraints of the army had forgotten that civilian life also had its bureaucrats and its drawbacks. Some boys who had owned property that had made money during the war were faced with several years' accumulation of taxes, and the internal revenue men can easily compete with company clerks and supply sergeants for devotion to petty detail and for irritability."
At the birth of the United Nations pessimism and skepticism was rampant, with at least one person openly expressing what many kept private.
"I just had a sudden thought. Them delegates might start behavin' themselves if we refuse to build 'em an air-raid shelter."
BILL MAULDIN on the UN: "My feeling about the behavior of the allies at the end of the war has made me do some retty pessimistic cartoons about the United Nations. This has caused me some trouble with people who tell me not to be cynical about it bacause if nobody believes in the UN it will never work. I think there is a hell of a difference between cynicism and pessimism. A person who is cynical about the idea of a UN thinks that human nature and selfishness will always cause war and that anything designed to prevent armed conflicts is a waste of time. A pessimist merely thinks UN is doomed to failure unless something happens to change the way it's going. And I believe it's silly to gloss over that fact, shut both eyes, repeat "UN will work" fifty times a night, and maybe do a little knee-bending on a prayer rug...
It will be curious to see, if enough of us survive to compile objective history books, just which nation of the big three has been most responsible for the failings of the United Nations. Anybody who is willing to guess is either extremely brilliant or extremely prejudiced. I find it very easy to blame Russia because the Russians have been far less subtle in their sabotaging than anybody else, but I'm far from sure."
The Post-war years saw the Baby Boom. Some of the newborn were more controversial than others and continue to be problem children even as they enter middle age.
Bill Mauldin was around to hear the first news from the delivery room.
"I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier..."
BILL MAULDIN on "The Atom":
"One of my pet cartoon subjects in recent months has been military versus civilian control of the atomic energy.
So long as we have that damn bomb, I think it is one of the most important controversies in the world. If the pro-military side wins, my pessimism about the future is going to turn into real dispair.
I've done a lot of drawings about it because I think most military people are destructive by training and by neccessity and would take this force and use it to wreck everything. They would unquestionably succeed in making the United States lord and master of the globe.
This would cause a lot of people to go to the trouble of bringing about a revolution to unseat us, because we would behave exactly like every other lord and master of the earth. I would rather see the thing in the hands of civilians with milder ambitions."
In the realm of "The more things change, the more they stay the same" this last cartoon, of two soldiers in post-war Berlin, brings us to the present:
"I hear Moscow an' Washington are snappin" at each other again, Ivan."
BILL MAULDIN on this cartoon, and US - Russian (And, by extension, the rest of the world.) relations:
"I look at the drawing of the Russian soldier and the American soldier drinking together, and I remember what I had in mind when I drew it.
I figured that the soldiers and the farmers and the clerks, with their wives, kids, and dependents, have a way of getting along with each other all over the world and have a common interest that keeps them from being natural enemies. They all want a little health, a decent job, a comfortable family, and a reasonable amount of security. I remember how German prisoners, Italian prisoners, French soldiers, British soldiers, American soldiers, soldiers from almost every nation whether they were officially enemies or friends, had a way of exchanging snapshots of each otehr's families and discussing such popular subjects as automobiles and liquor.
Now I don't find myself thinking so much about that. I have been living long enough in this country which is so isolated from the facts of life, to find it easy to think of Russia or France or Italy in terms of nations and politics, not as groups of millions of individuals who want the same things I do."
There are very few Vets left from WW 1, you know, and tourists are so schooled in the importance of battle sites from WW 2, that very few visit those old places of honor and valor.
Sooner than we imagine The Greatest Generation, too, will be gone and there are old books, like these, sitting ignored and forgotten in libraries, library stores, thrift stores, antique stores, used bookstores, swap meets, yard sales and even online sources such as Amazon.
Soon they, some documents and photos, and some old documentary film, will be all we have left to tell the stories of those who saved Civilization in the first half of the 20th century.
If you have the chance to read such a book... do so.
If you have chance, like I did, not just to read such books, but to save them from oblivion so future readers can enjoy them... do so.
Consider it your Patriotic Duty.
A Duty on behalf of Civilization, and the future.
To learn more about Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Bill Mauldin go here: