“Bill Mauldin’s wild fifty-year career defied F. Scott Fitzgerald’s oft-quoted remark about there being no second acts in American lives,” wrote Tom Brokaw in Drawing Fire: The Editorial Cartoons of Bill Mauldin. “Mauldin first catapulted to fame at age of twenty-two as the greatest cartoonist of the Second World War, delivering grim humor from the frontlines to newspaper readers back home. After the war, he stunned fans by using his syndicated cartoon as a bully pulpit to protest racial discrimination and anti-communist hysteria.”
Mauldin, a sergeant in the 45th infantry division during World War II, understood that for many veterans the war did not end when they came home. The work of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Stars and Stripes cartoonist resonated so deeply with soldiers and veterans alike that his cartoon strip of two war-weary grunts “Willie & Joe” found wild popularity throughout the 20th century.
“You know, I had planned to kill Willie and Joe on the last day of the war,” Mauldin recalled to HistoryNet in 1989. “That’s the one thing every soldier dreads, getting killed on the last day. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it. Most likely I would have had a shell land in their foxhole or had them cut down by a machine gun. I wouldn’t have drawn their corpses. I’d just have shown their gear with their names on it, or something like that.”
Drawing Fire, out now, draws from Mauldin’s decades-long cartoonist career and features 150 images selected from more than 4,500 Mauldin cartoons housed in Chicago’s Pritzker Military Museum & Library.
Edited by Mauldin’s biographer Todd DePastino, with a preface written by Tom Hanks, Drawing Fire includes the famed cartoonist’s wartime and political cartoons to kick off the museum’s celebration of what would have been Mauldin’s 100th birthday.
Bill Mauldin returned home before V-J Day. His reluctance to wear his uniform or talk about his wartime experiences led many strangers to assume that, because of his youth and civilian clothes, he had avoided military service, and he was subjected to much bravado from home front GI’s. (Originally published in United Feature Syndicate, Inc., 1945).
This cartoon from January 1945 plays on ordinary civilian concerns about self-presentation in public to highlight both Willie and Joe’s disheveled and grimy appearance and their dependence on alcohol to cope with the trauma of war. It was precisely this kind of cartoon that rankled the spit-and-polish General Patton. (Originally published in Stars and Stripes, 1945).
In the summer of 1941, the War Department held the Louisiana Maneuvers, a massive exercise designed to test the underfunded Army’s readiness for war. Bill accompanied the 45th Division to Louisiana, where soldiers still clad in World War I -vintage uniforms often wielded two-by-fours instead of actual machine guns. Two men in seersucker suits and a big Oldsmobile approached Bill and convinced him to produced a souvenir book of cartoons to sell to the troops. Bill drew fifteen cartoons and twenty-five drawings in forty-eight hours for a book he called Star Spangled Banter. It cost twenty-five cents and was a hit with the 45th Division, though Bill never saw any royalties or the two men again. (Originally published in Star Spangled Banter, 1941).
A strong proponent of civil rights and social justice campaigns throughout his lifetime, Mauldin illustrated here that those who advance reforms or policies are often the most unqualified to do so. (Originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times, 1974).
The U.S. Victory in the First Gulf War left Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in power and raised a number of questions about the United States’ role in the region. Mauldin saw that despite President Bush’s proclamation of victory, the Middle East was far from won. (Originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times, 1991).
Mauldin drew this cartoon on June 6, 1968. In the early hours of that day, forty-two-year-old Senator Robert F. Kennedy died in the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles after being shot on June 5 at the Ambassador Hotel by assassin Sirhan Sirhan. Following on the heels of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination tow months earlier, RFK’s assassination triggered national soul-searching about the role of violence in American history and society. (Originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times, 1968).
Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of the Pritzker Military Museum & Library. Captions from Drawing Fire: The Editorial Cartoons of Bill Mauldin.
Thank you for visiting historynet.com. If you buy something through our site, we might earn a small commission.