Up front with Bill Mauldin

One of the famous cartoons from this book shows a grimy soldier standing before a seated medic who is offering him a box with a medal in it. The caption reads—“Just gimme a coupla aspirin. I already got a Purple Heart.”

Mauldin believed one of his best cartoons was of an old time cavalryman with his hand over his eyes while he is aiming his pistol at his Jeep stuck in the mud with a broken axle. Another famous drawing is of an officer in his Jeep looking back at several “dog-faces” who are standing in the muddy road with their shovels. The caption reads—“Mighty fine road men.” Another shows Willie and Joe sitting in the pouring rain under a tree. The caption reads --”This tree leaks.”

Then there is the one of two soldiers in a fox hole huddled beneath a German Tiger tank with the caption --"Able Fox Five to Able Fox. I got a target but ya gotta be patient.” One can understand why Mauldin was so beloved. He found the American soldier to be the remarkable combination of boy and man with just the right touch of honor and larceny. The cartoons remind us that survival was at the core of battlefield life.


The memoir contains Mauldin’s explanation of his frequent run ins with military superiors and recounts his problems with General George Patton who took offense at the cartoons that he thought undercut his emphasis on military decorum and dress. Mauldin was respectful but unapologetic in these disputes because he lived with the troops and knew what they were enduring. The book acknowledges the abilities of some officers but clearly sides with the ranks whose food, quarters and clothing were often neglected.

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The men whom Mauldin portrays yearn for warm food, hot coffee and a safe place to sleep. For me, Mauldin’s touching tribute to the comforts of the hay filled barn made me feel guilty about my life that has never involved the cold and wet and stinging misery of even one night in a freezing foxhole.

If a picture is worth a thousand words so too is a fine cartoon.  The benefit of these superb drawings by Mauldin is the clear picture they provide of the horrors of war. These cartoons capture as even the finest history books cannot, the ordinary life of the “dog-faces” who did the fighting. It was they who slogged across Europe and the Pacific Islands. It was they who preserved our way of life. And it is they whom the newspapers tell us were forced to break into memorial sites which our politicians used a budget crisis to close.

It is too late to say the fitting thanks to most of them now. But to fail to respect their achievements and memory is beyond insulting. It is dishonorable.