Tuesday, April 13, 2010


(Photo courtesy USPS)


The post office gets a lot of criticism. Always has, always will. There will be much more criticism when Saturday mail delivery is dropped. They can expect complaints to intensify.

But the United States Postal Service deserves a standing ovation for something that happened last month: Bill Mauldin has his own postage stamp.

My favorite cartoonist, Bill Mauldin died at age 81 in 2003. The end of his life had been rugged. Alzheimer's disease was inflicting its cruelties. Unable to care for himself, 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 other soldiers with the same gripes. He wrote about their laughs and heartaches for he was right there with them. He knew the World War II dogfaces and informed folks back home what was really going on, before or after encounters. The plodding infantry has never been shown in such clarity and integrity.

Bill Mauldin never held back. Newspaperman Bob Greene writes: "Sometimes, when his cartoons cut too close for comfort, his superior officers tried to tone him down. In one memorable incident, he enraged Gen. George S. Patton, and Patton informed Mauldin he wanted the pointed cartoons -- celebrating the fighting men, lampooning the high-ranking officers -- to stop. Now."

This word got around. From soldier to soldier they wondered how in the world Sgt. Bill Mauldin could stand up to Patton?

Greene relates in his commentary the end of the story: "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."

By the time Mauldin was 23 years old, he had won the Pulitzer Prize. (He later won a second Pulitzer.) He was featured on the cover of Time magazine. His book "Up Front" was the No. 1 best-seller in the United States . ("Up Front" is the treasure of my library.)

Bob Greene writes about Mauldin as few can. They worked together at the Chicago Sun-Times in the late 1960s and 1970s. He saw Mauldin had no officiousness or haughtiness than a copyboy. "That impish look on his face remained."

"What Mauldin would have loved most," Greene believes, is the "sight of the two guys who are keeping him company on that stamp." I'm off to buy a bunch of the Bill Mauldin 44¢ stamps.


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