- ISBN-13: 9780393050318
- ISBN-10: 0393050319
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
- Publish Date: December 2000
- Page Count: 228
- Dimensions: 9.58 x 6.38 x 0.94 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.16 pounds
These old soliders never die
My mother had four brothers, and during World War II, two of them went into the Army. My father was one of eight boys, six of whom (not including my father) went into the Army. Of those eight young men, five were in combat and at least three were wounded.
When it came time for my own military service a generation later, society gave me (so low had we sunk) three choices - Canada, Sweden or the draft. I took what really was the only way out and joined the Army. Confronted with that silent pantheon of uncles, I could, like Martin Luther, do no other.
Fortunately - unlike Uncles Clark, Lawrence, Will, Walter and Russell - I was never in combat. I indulge myself in telling this personal story because I have finished re-reading Bill Mauldin's Up Front, just reissued by Norton, and whenever I read Up Frontor anything about Mauldin I think of those five men. Somehow in their infinite variety they seem exactly like the men Mauldin drew and wrote about. Their service demands respect.
Mauldin, now close to 80, is a cartoonist, one of the greatest ever to ply the trade. He won two Pulitzer Prizes, the first when he was 23 and an Army sergeant drawing cartoons for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes in Europe. Up Front, a collection of those cartoons with accompanying text, was first published in 1945 and is a true World War II classic.
At the start, Mauldin says, "My business is drawing, not writing, and this text is pretty much background for the drawings." That's perfectly true, but it may lead you to think that the writing is secondary. Often it is as enlightening as the drawings, especially at a remove of more than half a century, when we lack the context of the times in which the drawings were made. As Stephen Ambrose says in his introduction, "More than anyone else, save only Ernie Pyle, [Mauldin] caught the trials and travails of the GI."
So he did, and like Pyle, our most famous and gifted war correspondent, he favored the infantry, because it has more trials and travails than any other part of the Army. With humor and esteem he drew - six days a week, often under arduous conditions - the hard and perilous lives of the dogface and won the admiration of nearly everyone in the Army, high and low.
His two chief characters are Willie and Joe, who, Mauldin admits, are all but indistinguishable from each other. And why not? They are Everydogface - dirty, grizzled, unshaven, tired, put-upon, baggy-pantsed, hungry. And indispensable.
Mauldin's drawing style is something to admire in itself - swift, sure, using bold strokes in stark black and white with no gray tones. So is his wisdom and depth of understanding, unusual in a man of so few years. Mauldin's drawings and writing are in different ways artless, the former the artlessness of the knowing professional, the latter that of the enthusiastic amateur.
Armed with this talent and understanding, he drew Willie and Joe fighting the enemy: the cold, the wet, privilege, cant - and the Germans. Each reader will have his or her favorite. Mine is one that probably will be shared by anyone who has occupied a low rung on the military ladder. Two officers are gazing at spectacular mountain scenery, and one says, "Beautiful view. Is there one for the enlisted men?"
In another, Willie and Joe are ducking shot and shell, and Willie says, "I feel like a fugitive from th' law of averages." Another expresses a universal urge amid the wreckage of war. Standing in a bombed-out house and staring at the lone pane of unbroken glass in a window frame, Willie says, "Go ahead, Joe. If ya don't bust it ya'll worry about it all night."
When the war ended Willie and Joe went home and, along with the other dogfaces, disappeared into the anonymity of civilian life. Mauldin brought them back into print only twice, for the funerals of Generals George C. Marshall in 1959 and Omar Bradley in 1983.
Up Front is a fine tribute to what Mauldin calls "men who have the quiet courage to stick in their foxholes and fight and kill even though they hate killing and are scared to death while doing it." Or, as Pyle called them in the title of his book, Brave Men.
Roger K. Miller is a freelance writer in Wisconsin.