Bill Mauldin


William Henry "Bill" Mauldin (October 29, 1921January 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.

Childhood and youth

Mauldin was born in Mountain Park, New Mexico. His grandfather had been a civilian cavalry scout in the Apache Wars and his father was an artilleryman in World War I. After growing up there and in Phoenix, Arizona, Mauldin took courses at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts under the tutoring of Ruth VanSickle Ford. While in Chicago, Mauldin met Will Lang Jr. and became fast friends with him. Mauldin entered the U.S. Army via the Arizona National Guard in 1940.

World War II cartoonist

While in the 45th Infantry Division, Mauldin volunteered to work for the unit's newspaper, drawing cartoons about regular soldiers or "dogfaces". Eventually he created two cartoon infantrymen, Willie (who was modeled after his fellow comrade and friend Irving Richtel) and Joe, who became synonymous with the average American GI. His cartoon work continued as he fought in the July 1943 invasion of Sicily and the Italian campaign. Mauldin began working for Stars and Stripes, the American soldiers' newspaper; by March 1944 he was given his own jeep by which he roved the front, collecting material and producing 6 cartoons a week. His cartoons were viewed by soldiers all over Europe during World War II, and also published in the United States. Willie was on the cover of Time Magazine in 1945, and Mauldin himself made the cover in 1958.

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.

Postwar activities

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.)

Congressional candidate

In 1956, he ran unsuccessfully for the United States Congress as a Democrat in New York's 28th Congressional District. Mauldin had this to say about his run for Congress: "I jumped in with both feet and campaigned for seven or eight months. I found myself stumping around up in these rural districts and my own background did hurt there. A farmer knows a farmer when he sees one. So when I was talking about their problems I was a very sincere candidate, but when they would ask me questions that had to do with foreign policy or national policy, obviously I was pretty far to the left of the mainstream up there. Again, I'm an old Truman Democrat, I'm not that far left, but by their lives I was pretty far left."

Return to cartooning

In 1958, he returned to cartooning on the editorial pages of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The following year, he won a second Pulitzer Prize and the National Cartoonist Society Award for Editorial Cartooning. In 1961 he received their Reuben Award as well. In 1962 he moved to the Chicago Sun-Times. One of his most famous post-war cartoons appeared in Chicago in 1963, following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The cartoon shows the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial, his head in his hands, crying.

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).


From 1969 to 1999, cartoonist Charles M. Schulz (himself a veteran of World War II) would annually pay tribute to Bill Mauldin in his Peanuts comic strip on Veterans Day. In the strips, Snoopy, dressed as an army vet, would go to Mauldin's house to "quaff a few root beers and tell war stories."


The films Up Front (1951) and Back at the Front (1952) were based on Mauldin's Willie and Joe characters.

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.


  • "Certainly none of the advances made in civilization has been due to counterrevolutionaries and advocates of the status quo." Back Home, 1947
  • "I was a born troublemaker and might as well earn a living at it." The Brass Ring, 1971
  • "The surest way to become a pacifist is to join the infantry." Up Front
  • "I would like to thank the people who encouraged me to draw army cartoons at a time when the gag man's conception of the army was one of mean ole sergents and jeeps which jump over mountains." Up Front
  • "I'm convinced that the infantry is the group in the army which gives more and gets less than anybody else." Up Front
  • "More than anyone else, save only Ernie Pyle, he caught the trials and travails of the GI. For anyone who wants to know what it was like to be an infantryman in World War II, this book is the place to start--and finish." -- Stephen Ambrose, introduction to the 2000 edition of Up Front

See also


External links

Most of these links also include examples of Mauldin's cartoons:

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