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Bill Mauldin's Stamp

FEBRUARY 15, 2011

The following tribute, written by one of Mauldin's contemporaries and emailed to me by a friend, celebrates the USPS stamp comemmorating the cartoonist Bill Mauldin (1921-2003):
Bill Mauldin-WWII cartoonist and more.......

"Get out your history books and open them to the chapter on World War II. Today's lesson will cover a little known but very important hero of whom very little was ever really known. Here is another important piece of lost US history, which is a true example of our American Spirit.
Bill Mauldin's stamp honors grunt's hero. The post office gets a lot of criticism. Always has, always will. And with the renewed push to get rid of Saturday mail  delivery, expect complaints to intensify. But the United States Postal Service deserves a standing ovation for something that happened last month: Bill Mauldin got his own postage stamp.

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." 
"Th'hell this ain't th'most important hole in the world. I'm in it."

"This is the town my pappy told me about."

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. 
What a story, and a fitting tribute to a man and to a time that few of us can still remember.  But I say to you youngsters, you must most seriously learn of and remember with respect the sufferings and sacrifices of your fathers, grand fathers and great grandfathers in times you cannot ever imagine today with all you have.  But the only reason you are free to have it all is because of them.

I thought you would all enjoy reading and seeing this bit of American history!"