Boxed set celebrates Mauldin’s WWII-era soldiers Willie and Joe
When cartoonist Bill Mauldin brought Willie and Joe to Stars and Stripes, they were just a couple of dog faces. Now, they’re icons.
The bedraggled soldiers delighted troops, irritated Gen. George S. Patton and earned the Stars and Stripes cartoonist a Pulitzer Prize. Now, they’re the focus of the two-volume boxed set “Willie & Joe: The WWII Years,” edited by Todd DePastino.
The set opens with a brief biography of Mauldin, who died in 2003. The first volume covers his work at Phoenix Union High School through his pre- deployment days drawing for the 45th Division News and Daily Oklahoman. The second volume covers his time overseas and his return to the States following the war.
The most interesting “Up Front” panels are contained in the second volume. The quirks of Army life proved fertile ground for Mauldin’s sense of humor and irony. Many of the panels focus on the weariness and frustration experienced by many frontline troops — with most observations accompanied by Willie and Joe’s unshaven faces and slouching frames.
Quite a few panels pick at the relationships between frontline enlisted troops and their officers and those in the rear echelons. A panel depicting soldiers lobbing fruit at officers in a victory parade and officers receiving preferential treatment at a theater drew Patton’s ire and spurred a face-to-face meeting. One of my favorites depicts a private telling a major: “One more crack like that an’ you can’t have yer job back after the war.”
Mauldin’s observations are so interesting and enlightening because he covered the war in Italy and Northern Europe from the front lines. When one private first class questioned the realism of “Up Front” in a letter to the editor, Stripes printed a note stating that Mauldin had received a Purple Heart just a week before — while at the front with the letter writer’s regiment.
The set is hefty in weight and price ($65), so it’s unlikely to find itself on any downrange soldier’s reading list. It does provide an excellent review of this great wartime cartoonist’s work.