William Henry "Bill" Mauldin (October 29, 1921 – January 22, 2003) was a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist from the United States. He was most famous for his World War II cartoons depicting American soldiers, as represented by the archetypal characters Willie and Joe. These cartoons were broadly published and distributed in the American army abroad and in the United States.
Those officers who were raised in the army during peacetime were generally offended by Mauldin, who parodied the spit-shine and obedience-to-order-without-question view that was more easily maintained during that time of peace. General George Patton once summoned Mauldin to his office and threatened to "throw his ass in jail" for "spreading dissent," this after one of Mauldin's cartoons made fun of Patton's demand that all soldiers must be clean-shaven at all times, even in combat. But Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander, told Patton to leave Mauldin alone, because he felt that Mauldin's cartoons gave the soldiers an outlet for their frustrations. Mauldin told an interviewer later, "I always admired Patton. Oh, sure, the stupid bastard was crazy. He was insane. He thought he was living in the Dark Ages. Soldiers were peasants to him. I didn't like that attitude, but I certainly respected his theories and the techniques he used to get his men out of their foxholes.
Mauldin's cartoons made him a hero to the common soldier. GIs often credited him with helping them to get through the rigors of the war. Mauldin himself served on the front lines, landing at Anzio, and receiving a Purple Heart after being wounded by an artillery shell fragment. He attained the rank of sergeant and was awarded the Army's Legion of Merit for his cartoons.
In 1945, at the age of 23, Mauldin won the Pulitzer Prize. The first collection of his work, Up Front, was a best-seller. The cartoons are interwoven with an impassioned telling of his observations of war.
After World War II, Mauldin turned to drawing political cartoons expressing a generally civil libertarian view associated with groups such as the ACLU. These were not well received by newspaper editors, who were hoping for more apolitical Willie and Joe cartoons. But Mauldin's attempt to carry Willie and Joe into civilian life was also unsuccessful, as documented in his memoirs, Back Home, in 1947.
He abandoned cartooning for a while, working as a film actor, freelance writer, and illustrator of articles and books, including one on the Korean War. He drew Willie and Joe only a few times afterwards: for the funerals of Omar Bradley and George C. Marshall, both of them considered "soldiers' generals"; for a Life Magazine article on the "New Army"; and to memorialize fellow cartoonist Milton Caniff. (Mauldin had wanted to have Willie and Joe be killed on the last day of combat, but Stars and Stripes dissuaded him.)
In 1969, Mauldin was commissioned by the National Safety Council to illustrate the booklet on traffic safety, which the council published every year. These pamphlets were regularly issued without copyright, but for this issue it was pointed out that Mauldin's cartoons were under copyright even though the rest of the pamphlet was not.
Mauldin remained with the Sun-Times until his retirement in 1991. Bill Mauldin was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame on May 19, 1991. On September 19, 2001, Sergeant Major of the Army Jack L. Tilley presented Mauldin with a personal letter from Army Chief of Staff General Eric K. Shinseki, a hardbound book with notes from other senior Army leaders and several celebrities to include Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw and Tom Hanks. He also promoted Mauldin to the honorary rank of first sergeant. He died on January 22, 2003, from complications of Alzheimer's disease and a bathtub scalding. Married three times, he was survived by eight children.
In April 2008, Fantagraphics Books released a two-volume set of Mauldin's complete wartime Willie and Joe cartoons, edited by Todd DePastino, titled Willie & Joe: The WWII Years (ISBN 978-1-56097-838-1).
Mauldin also appeared as an actor in the 1951 films The Red Badge of Courage and Teresa, and as himself in the 1998 documentary America in the '40s. He also appeared in on-screen interviews in the Thames documentary The World at War.