Enchanting People of New Mexico - Bill Mauldin

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Episode 15 - Bill Mauldin

Michael Swickard here. Welcome to Enchanting People of New Mexico sponsored by the Fresh Chile Company in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Our award-winning Hatch Green and Red Chile is from locally owned farms in Hatch, NM, The Chile Capital of the World. Every Monday and Friday I do Historical and Cultural New Mexico Podcasts. Wednesdays, I celebrate people.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for cartoonists. Early in my life, the newspaper funnies on Sunday were special to me. Later, editorial cartoons were a happy time. I even was a cartoonist for about six weeks which I will tell you about one day.

My father, Sergeant George Swickard, had a soft spot in his heart for a cartoonist he was around in World War Two in Italy. That was eighty years ago so many young people have never heard of Bill Mauldin who in the second world war started drawing a cartoon featuring two infantrymen, Willie, and Joe.

How does this connect to New Mexico you might ask? William Henry Mauldin best known throughout his life as Bill Mauldin was born October 29, 1921, in the small New Mexico community of Mountain Park, New Mexico. It is right next to High Rolls and just down from Cloudcroft on the road from Alamogordo. Bill Mauldin’s father and older brother were both named Sidney and a grandfather was a civilian scout in the Apache Wars. Some of older brother Sidney Mauldin’s family live in Las Cruces.

Bill Mauldin had a legacy throughout his life formed in just a couple of years as a soldier. You see, he and his brother moved to Phoenix when Bill was sixteen because their parents divorced. They attended Phoenix Union High School which was founded in 1895 and it closed in 1992. He did not graduate, missing some time in biology. However, in 1945 after winning the Pulitzer Prize while having his Willie and Joe cartoons in the military Stars and Stripes newspapers along with newspapers in the United States, the High School gladly sent him his diploma.

From his earliest days he was someone who liked to draw and in high school he was encouraged to do cartooning since he had a knack for it. Money was very tight, and he became part of the ROTC unit because it had uniforms to wear. He enjoyed the military training. In 1940 Bill Mauldin enlisted in the Arizona National Guard which was soon nationalized into the 45th Infantry Division. He was throughout his time in the Army a foot soldier. Yes, he worked his way into being on the staff of Stars and Stripes as a cartoonist, but deep down he was always one of the foot soldiers in combat in World War Two. He was wounded and received a purple heart award. In 1941, Mauldin’s Army division moved to Camp Barkeley which is near Abilene, Texas. They were there getting ready for the coming war for 15 months. Then it was overseas. During this time Bill Mauldin had worked his way into the 45th Division Newspaper as the cartoonist, which he did outside of his duty time. He was 21 when he went into combat.

Let us talk about his cartoons. His eye for the Army saw the soldiers which he and others called doggies or dog faces, there in the mud, soldiers who haven’t shaved in a while because they were in the thick of combat. Citizen soldiers, enlisted men and Non-commissioned officers they were the lifeblood of the combat units. And yes, they were a rough looking group in their combat clothes and with an attitude of irony and somewhat army sarcasm very much like what it was like being in a combat unit. Two things happened quickly. The in the field troops loved his cartoons about the muddy and difficult lives of two combat soldiers, Willie, and Joe, while the spit and shine officers, many who went to West Point hated the cartoons and Sergeant Bill Mauldin. It was classic the elites versus the common soldiers.

Michael Swickard, Enchanting People of New Mexico. Each Wednesday we do a podcast on people who are special to New Mexico. Hit subscribe to automatically get these podcasts.

I’m talking about New Mexico born Bill Mauldin who while being a combat rifleman in his spare time would draw editorial cartoons for the Army Division Newspaper and later for the Stars and Stripes Military Newspaper. The men in the field fighting the war saw the humor of his two battle bedraggled soldiers, Willie, and Joe while the officers not at the front thought that he should be disciplined for his drawing. One Officer in particular, General George Patton, Jr. who was in command of the Seventh Army in the Mediterranean and the Third Army in France and Germany was very bothered by Mauldin’s cartoons. Before he could get ahold of Sergeant Mauldin and discipline him severely as was his intention there was a great moment. Five Star General of the Army Dwight Eisenhower heard about Patton’s anger and he, himself, General Dwight Eisenhower had laughed out loud at some of the Mauldin cartoons. He thought they were good, had even made him laugh and were good for the morale of the troops, so he very directly made Patton leave Mauldin alone.

General Eisenhower and Bill Mauldin were two soldiers that father admired from his time in the Army Air Corp in Italy during WWII. My father was a combat photographer both on the ground and at times in the air. He never would speak much about the horrors he saw and photographed in war but he did speak about how he would laugh out loud at the Mauldin cartoons in the Stars and Stripes Newspaper where occasionally he would have a photograph that he took. He met Mauldin a couple times, didn’t have any stories other than my father at 6-6 was very much taller than the rather small Mauldin who seriously looked like he was about 15 years of age even though he was just past 21. I still have a Presidential I like Ike button from 60 some years ago that my father proudly gave me. My father was never political because he was a career Air Force Staff Sergeant who served proudly throughout WWII, Korea and one tour of duty in Vietnam. He also finished his career teaching at the Air Force School of Photography in Denver.

Now Mauldin had been a soldier since 1940 so in 1945 at the young age of 23 it was incredible that he won a Pulitzer Prize for his wartime Willie and Joe cartoons. Many soldiers wrote home and tried to tell of the war but found they could send a Mauldin cartoon that was spot-on.

Perhaps over the years the most important view of that time we have is his second book, another bestseller. His first book was his cartoons in a collection called Up Front. His second book, which I have as a first edition, is his 1947 book, Back Home. I am going to talk about that book as it connects with us today after I get a few details done about Bill Maulding coming home.

Mauldin was by nature shy and let his cartoons and writings speak for him. He wrote a number of articles in current magazines when he got back and in 1947 his book Back Home. Now this might be a bit controversial, and I’ve talked and written about this subject a number of times. Today looking back, we call those servicemen and women The Greatest Generation.

But this is the cold hard truth of that time. Many were not treated with respect when they returned to civilian life for lots of reasons. When I write that some were abused by the society most people today say, No, they were the greatest generation. While I agree, for the ultimate history lesson of that time get the Bill Mauldin book, Back Home which came out in 1947. It details how badly America treated the returning soldiers, especially the combat soldiers.

We can’t argue about what Bill Mauldin wrote because the ink is on the page. The 1947 ink is on the 1947 page in the 1947 Mauldin book, Back Home. The returning combat soldiers were treated very much like returning soldiers from the Vietnam conflict. That is the truth, and we have Bill Mauldin to thank for recording what others were trying to hide. Again, read the book.

After returning to the states and becoming a civilian, Bill Mauldin had a wonderful career as an editorial cartoonist. In 1959, he won a second Pulitzer Prize, at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. From 1962 to his retirement in 1989 he spend his time cartooning for the Chicago Sun-Times, though it is interesting that at some point he made two appearances in movies: with Audie Murphy the most decorated soldier in WWII and then a movie star in the John Huston film, The Red Badge of Courage and also in a film Teresa by Fred Zinnemann. He also spoke at gatherings of WWII veterans and was popular in person and on radio. He died in 2003 at age 81 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

His legacy in many ways are the clippings that many families have shown me over the years that came from World War Two combat sons which had a few lines about being in a theatre of war and then there often was an Ernie Pyle column and a couple of Bill Mauldin cartoons. He spoke for them in ways they could not and they appreciated him greatly.

Michael Swickard, Enchanting People of New Mexico. Each Wednesday we do a podcast on people who are special to New Mexico. Hit subscribe to automatically get these podcasts.

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Michael Swickard here. This is the Enchanting People of New Mexico. Thank you for your time today. We will always have lots of News and stories about New Mexico for you on these Podcasts. If you have something you want me to talk about in a future podcast, write to: michael@freshchileco.com

The same is true if there is someone you would like me to talk about who was or is important to our little slice of paradise.

Have a great rest of your day. Oh yes and eat plenty of that good Hatch Valley Chile. Like I always say, “Some Chile is good, more is better.” Bye for now.

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