Inside the Capitol

Friday, October 14, 2005

10-24 Bill Mauldin

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- One of New Mexico's many contributions to our nation during World War II was cartoonist Bill Mauldin.
Born at Mountain Park, near Cloudcroft, in 1921, Mauldin came from a pioneer family in the area. His grandfather had been friendly with Pat Garrett and Oliver Lee.
His father was a hard-drinking jack-of-all-trades who had much trouble finding work during the Depression. Life was hard. Mauldin suffered from rickets, a disease caused by vitamin D deficiency.
He was unable to engage in strenuous activity. His large head, spindly body and bowed legs led one of his father's friends to observe "If that was my son, I'd drown him."
Mauldin never forgot the insult and turned all his energy toward becoming a success in life. He had artistic talent and when he saw an ad from a mail-order art school promising great riches in cartooning, he talked his grandmother into loaning him $20 to sign up.
Armed with the skills he learned from that course, Mauldin began drawing his first cartoons for the Alamogordo High School newspaper. When his parents divorced in 1937, Mauldin and an older brother moved to Phoenix to finish high school.
When he was through with high school, Mauldin again hit up his grandmother for tuition to the Academy of Fine Art in Chicago. After a year, Mauldin returned to the Southwest, confident he could make his way in the worlds of cartooning and commercial art.
But the war got in the way. He joined the Arizona National Guard, which within days was federalized as the 45th Division, composed of guardsmen from Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Oklahoma. The headquarters were in Oklahoma.
Assigned to the infantry, Mauldin knew he didn't want to be a rifleman at the front as his father had been in World War I, so he volunteered all his free time as a cartoonist for the 45th Division News. Soon the division was sent to Sicily and Italy, where Mauldin continued cartooning.
As his battlefield experiences increased, lighthearted sarcasm gave way to irony and a grim sense of humor. By 1943 Mauldin's cartoons had become so popular among fellow enlisted men that they were reprinted in Stars and Stripes.
In 1944, Mauldin began a six-day-a-week assignment with the widely-disseminated armed services newspaper. There, he fully developed his most famous characters, Willie and Joe, highly competent at their jobs but keenly aware of the shortcomings and absurdity to be found in life during wartime.
They became huge favorites of enlisted men, whose morale was boosted by the knowledge that someone was out there who understood how war really was. Many top officers, all the way up to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, understood this.
But some of the older and more conservative generals didn't. Chief among these was Gen. George Patton, who attempted to have Mauldin court-martialed. Eisenhower got them together for a face-to-face meeting, hoping to make peace.
But it didn't work. Their stubborn efforts not to back down resulted in one of the most talked-about incidents in wartime journalism. The following year, his work won him the Pulitzer Prize and his fame spread throughout the United States, where major newspapers picked up his cartoons.
Mauldin's mature insights into human nature and the realities of war were truly amazing, considering all this happened while he was in his early 20s. But, growing up during tough times, Mauldin had been a keen observer of people under stress all his life.
Mauldin returned from the war a hero. He worked for major newspapers and was syndicated throughout the nation. He often returned to the peace and quiet of New Mexico In 1992, he received an honorary Doctor's Degree from New Mexico State University.
When he finally retired in 1990, he returned to New Mexico and lived in Santa Fe until Alzheimers put him in a California nursing home.
Mauldin died in 2003 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
MON, 10-24-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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