Tag Archives: U.S. Army

Inside the head and heart of famed newspaper cartoonist Bill Mauldin

February 5, 2011

0 Comments

On Saturday, Nov. 23, 1963, the back page of the Chicago Sun-Times carried what may be the most memorable editorial cartoon of the 20th century.

Cartoonist Bill Mauldin’s drawing of a weeping Abraham Lincoln from his Lincoln Memorial chair captured the emotion of a nation when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

That Mauldin was able to get to the core of human feelings shouldn’t have been surprising to those who had been able to literally be in the foxholes with soldiers during World War II thanks to the cartoons of “Willie & Joe” that Mauldin drew from the front lines and newspapers across the nation carried.

How Mauldin was able to document history in the space of an editorial page cartoon is documented itself by Todd DePastino in a thorough biography published by Norton in 2008 and now out in paperback, “Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front.”

There’s all the usual biographic information, of course, but DePastino takes us inside the complex artist-journalist-author to learn what drove the man to do all he did. Readers will learn not only how Mauldin crafted those “Willie & Joe” cartoons by why he did them and why they were important enough to society to earn Mauldin the Pulitzer Prize.

The war-time “Willie & Joe” cartoons first made Mauldin a celebrity, but the cartoonist’s path to fame took him first to Army life where pettiness and inequality reigned, allowing Mauldin to take the side of the underdog, the abused foot soldier, with the aim of helping them make it through the grim, grimy, death-filled, often hopeless side of combat and army life.

Mauldin’s confrontation with Gen. George Patton — and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower telling Patton to leave the cartoonist alone — is a freedom-of-the-press scene that never made it into the award-winning “Patton” movie but DePastino tells well.

Like each of us, though, Mauldin was not without his faults, and DePastino isn’t shy about recording the lows of his subject’s life as well as the highs. The ambiguity of human life becomes clear as we read how this one talented artist could prick the conscience of so many — and really have an impact that forces change — while having conscience failings of his own in his personal life.

More than a few Mauldin cartoons help illustrate each chapter, but this isn’t a picture book. For a complete list of that kind of work, go to http://www.billmauldin.com. Most of his work is out of print, but they might make for a fun search when your browsing your local used books store. — bz

Continue reading...

Can’t get enough of WWII history?

April 12, 2010

0 Comments

pacific cover

“The Pacific: Hell Was an Ocean Away,”

by Hugh Ambrose

Whether you love reading about the Second World War because you lived through it — or like me — you feel you were born too late and missed it, you’ll sate your appetite for a good long while reading “The Pacific.”

It’s the companion book to the HBO miniseries, sharing some content with the video version. It’s also the untold half of the war from “Band of Brothers,” which covered the European Theater of Operations in a similar way.

“The Pacific,” too, tells its story through the lives of a handful of men who served in several branches of the U.S. armed forces, and most of those pretty much the full length of the war.

From Pearl Harbor to the acceptance of the surrender of the Japanese and beyond, this is an exactly researched collection of not just battle stories but human stories gathered often from first-person material: diaries kept by the combatants themselves and letters they wrote back home that were saved and cherished.

War’s brutality never hidden

Reading what happened to marines abandoned by Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines, how other marines survived suicide attacks as they fought from Guadalcanal, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, among other island invasions, you can’t help but admire and be grateful for the sacrifices made by thousands and thousands.

“The Pacific” takes readers inside the minds of frightened naval aviators who had never landed on an aircraft carrier but had to not only do that but attack Japanese navy ships and airfields while flying through flak and fighting off enemy planes. These people were truly amazing.

Their stories are told straight. “The Pacific” doesn’t leave out facts like the number of men who left the battlefields frightened into shell shock by the non-stop bombing and the horror of the bodies of their fellow marines blown apart. The number of instances of Japanese brutality to those they captured winds up turning U.S. forces into revenge and brutality in kind.

No sugar-coating here

While the strategies of war that are successful are noted, so are the errors that needlessly cost lives. The flyers tell of poorly designed aircraft and poorly planned assignments. Marines point to ill-advised attacks, weak officers and lines of communication so bad officers are writing notes to their troops on scraps of papers that runners have to deliver.

The U.S. Marines’ disregard for soldiers in the U.S. Army comes out clearly, especially their thoughts about the grandstanding of the Army’s MacArthur. The supreme commander’s flamboyant “return” to the Philippines — wading through the water to the peaceful beach — didn’t play well with either the marines he sacrificed as his forces fled to the safety of Australia in early 1942 or with the marines who hit beach after beach and left thousands of their buddies’ bodies in the sands and jungles of the islands they won back from the Japanese.

Author-historian Ambrose does a brilliant job of piecing the stories of his primarily five men into a readable flow that moves readers day-by-day, month-by-month and year-by-year through the war in the Pacific. You’ll feel you’ve come to know “Shifty” Shofner, “Manila John” Basilone, Gene “Sledgehammer” Sledge, Sid Phillips and Mike Micheel.

What some of these men did as warriors falls into the superhero category. Ambrose, thankfully, include a chapter titled “Legacies” in which he writes about the aftermath of the war, how it impacted his subjects and their lives after the war. While the bombing of the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki isn’t given the treatment that one might expect, it would not be a stretch to wonder how many lives — both Japanese and American — would have been lost had the U.S. been forced to invade and conquer mainland Japan as it did the Japanese islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, where the Japanese fought until the last soldier even when there was no hope of victory. This book will not end the debate about whether or not the dropping of the atomic bombs on the two Japanese cities was ethical.

More maps needed

What is missing from this book — and I hesitate to fault such a wonderful read and terrific history — are more maps. I would think few of his readers who aren’t WWII vets could find the Solomons or identify the islands that make up the Phillippines, and as the battles island hopped up toward mainland Japan I kept losing track of what was where.

For those who have seen or are watching the HBO version, Ambrose notes that the book differs from the video. Two of the characters the book features are absent from the miniseries, and one of the video’s central characters appears just briefly in the book. As the author explains, “While the book and the miniseries share a core story, they are different mediums. Each must do what it does best.”

As satisfying reading, “The Pacific” does its best very, very well. — bz

Continue reading...