OT: Bill Mauldin Gets a Postage Stamp

Bill Mauldin stamp honors grunts' hero
By Bob Greene, CNN Contributor
March 7, 2010 9:53 a.m. EST
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
Bob Greene lauds the Postal Service for issuing stamp in honor of
cartoonist Bill Mauldin
Greene: Mauldin's funny, honest WWII soldiers, Willie and Joe,
comforted millions
He writes Patton wanted Mauldin to stop drawing his pointed cartoons,
but Ike overruled him
When Mauldin was dying, old soldiers came in droves to visit and honor
him, Greene says
Editor's note: Bob Greene, a CNN contributor, is a best-selling author
whose new book is "Late Edition: A Love Story."
(CNN) -- 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's going to happen this month: Bill Mauldin is getting
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 were their laughs, his heartaches
were their heartaches. He was one of them. They loved him.
The cartoonist beloved by GIs and regular guys
He never held back. 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.
Mauldin's drawings of his exhausted, whisker-stubbled infantrymen
Willie and Joe were the voice of truth...
--Bob Greene
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
himself or herself, the story of Mauldin's young manhood will humble
you. Here is what, by the time he was 23 years old, Mauldin had
accomplished:
He won the Pulitzer Prize. He 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 he grew
older, he never lost that boyish Mauldin grin, he never outgrew his
excitement about doing his job, he 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.
"You had to be reading a soaking wet Stars and Stripes in a water-
filled foxhole and then see one of his cartoons."
--Bob Greene, quoting veteran talking about Bill Mauldin
RELATED TOPICS
World War II
U.S. Postal Service
George Patton
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Alzheimer's Disease
He had achieved so much. He had 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 that 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 that Bill would not feel so alone. Soon more
than 10,000 letters and cards had arrived at Mauldin's bedside.
Even better than that, the old soldiers began to show up just to sit
with Mauldin, to let him know that they were there for him, as he,
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."
Mauldin is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. This month, the kid
cartoonist makes 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 are keeping 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.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bob
Greene.
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