Bill Mauldin Book Review

Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front

By Todd DePastino

Hardcover in dustjacket, 325 pages, notes, and index.  Illustrated.

Published by W. W. Norton & Company, May 2009

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-0-393-06183-3

Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches

Bill Mauldin grew up during the Great Depression in New Mexico.  His parents had an unstable marriage, he and his brother Sid could be described as “wild children” who often were left to fend for themselves.  He joined the Arizona National Guard’s 45th Division in 1940 as America began to mobilize for the Second World War.  His artistic talents soon led him to work part-time as a cartoonist for the Division’s newspaper in addition to his other military duties.

The 45th was part of the U.S. invasion force which landed in Sicily in 1943.  By this time Mauldin was a Sergeant and on the Division paper’s staff full-time.  It was here that Mauldin created his best-known characters, Willie & Joe, two infantrymen.  Mauldin depicted his characters tired, wet, and unshaven, and used them to point out the ironies and petty inequities of Army life, always on the side of the common soldier.  He was given great editorial latitude and his own Jeep, which allowed him to venture to the front for inspiration and to scrounge for supplies to draw his cartoons and engrave them for printing.

Mauldin’s work was picked up by the Stars and Stripes and was syndicated to papers back in the States.  He moved from the Italian Front to France as the war progressed.  While he enjoyed the support of much of the high brass who saw his work as a way for the average “dogface” to let off steam, some saw the unmilitary appearance and attitudes of Willie and Joe as an affront to military discipline, most notably General Patton.  Mauldin famously had a meeting with Patton who had threatened to throw him in the stockade, but Eisenhower sided with Mauldin.

After the war Mauldin won the Pulitzer for Willie and Joe, and published a book named “Up Front” with his cartoons which was a best seller.  He continued as an editorial cartoonist for a variety of papers, authored several articles, acted, and ran for Congress but lost.  He won a second Pulitzer for a cartoon depicting Soviet author Boris Pasternik in a Gulag.  Perhaps his best-known drawing is of a weeping statue at the Lincoln Memorial after the Kennedy assassination.  Mauldin died in 2003.

This book pulls no punches with Mauldin’s life, and shows all the highs and lows, the struggles and successes.  Mauldin was married three times, and often got in his own way both personally and professionally.  Nobody is perfect, and author DePastino portrays his human side well.  The book is illustrated with photographs and several cartoons.  Recommended.

5 thoughts on “Bill Mauldin Book Review

  1. I’ll have to check this one out.
    I have a boxed set of his Willie and Joe comics and absolutely love it. Funny, yet very accurate in its portrayal of pre-war and wartime average Joe experience as well as the post war situations those guys had to deal with.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for this one Jeff, I’ll have to check it out.
    I suppose, for me at least, two of the greatest creative people to come out of the war, in terms of letting us know what the average guy went through, were Ernie Pyle and Bill Mauldin. I love the work produced by both.

    Liked by 1 person

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