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Mauldin, Bill

Bill Mauldin

Born October 29, 1921

Mountain Park, New Mexico

Died January 22, 2003

Newport Beach, California


Bill Mauldin was one of the twentieth century's outstanding editorial cartoonists. The Pulitzer Prize-winning artist portrayed World War II's (193945) grim reality, laced with his own brand of humor, and in so doing he immortalized the American serviceman. He was considered a great reporter and was also credited with being a positive influence on morale for the armed services during the war.

Mauldin's cartoon characters, Willie and Joe, slogged their way through battle-scarred Europe surviving the enemy and the elements with their humor intact. They mirrored the lives of soldiers in the European theater as they encountered the blunders and efficiency, the irritations and comradeship, of life in the army.

Mauldin interpreted World War II for the soldiers, also called GIs, as well as for Americans at home. His popular cartoons were reprinted and widely circulated in U.S. newspapers. This exposure allowed him to tell the story of the lives of soldiers to people on the home front and made America smile when it needed to most.

Growing up in the West

William Henry Mauldin was born on October 29, 1921, on the family farm at Mountain Park, near Santa Fe in New Mexico. Katrina Bemis and Sidney Mauldin proudly named their second son after his paternal grandfather, William Henry Mauldin. Bill and his brother, Sidney Junior (Sid), lived on the mountain apple farm with their parents and had their maternal grandparents close by. They enjoyed a happy childhood, but money was always tight. Sidney Mauldin decided to try other ventures and moved his family to a variety of western locations. From mining in Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico, to homesteading in the desert west of Phoenix, Arizona, the outcome was always the same and the family would return home to Mountain Park. When the Mauldins' marriage ended in divorce, Bill and Sid moved back to Phoenix together to finish their high school education.


Bill enjoyed drawing pictures from an early age. While thumbing through a copy of Popular Mechanics magazine at the age of thirteen, he came across a group of ads for cartoonists' correspondence schools. Bill selected the Landon School in Cleveland, Ohio, because its advertisement noted that some practitioners of this art made as much as a hundred thousand dollars a year. It was the fourth year of the Great Depression (192941) and Bill thought he had found the answer to all his problems. The Great Depression was a severe economic crisis starting in the United States in late 1929 that soon spread throughout the world during the 1930s.

While attending Phoenix Union High School, Bill solved his clothing budget problem by joining the ROTC battalion, which required members to wear uniforms four days each week. Several teachers at the school took an interest in Bill because of his artistic talent and directed him to the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, in Chicago, Illinois, which had a good cartooning department.

Military service

Bill Mauldin finished his year at the Chicago Academy in 1940 and enlisted in the Arizona National Guard, which was

part of the 45th Infantry Division. The 45th was about to become the very first Guard division to be federalized, or made a part of the regular army. Mauldin was initially assigned as a rifleman, but once his cartooning abilities were discovered he was attached to headquarters staff at Division News, the newspaper for the 45th Division. It was here that he honed his craft and began to develop his most famous characters, Willie and Joe, two riflemen in World War II. When Mauldin's division shipped overseas, the army daily newspaper, Stars and Stripes, began publishing his drawings as well.

Mauldin's characters were usually infantrymen, sometimes combat medics, and occasionally artillerymen. However, they were always haggard and full of the line soldier's practical point of view. They were also men who always got the job done. Mauldin was convinced that the infantry was the group in the army that gave more and got less than anybody else did. Mauldin never fought as a line soldier but spent much of his time with line companies in Italy, one of the grimmest theaters

of the war. His visits to the front were reflected in the reality of his cartoons. As an enlisted man, he gave the soldiers hope and an occasional laugh on the battlefield. He drew pictures of the infantry because he understood what their perilous life was like.

Willie and Joe began as clean-shaven recruits and progressed to unshaven, bone-weary infantrymen. The characters were soldiers who had been in the war for several years, and they portrayed the tedium and treachery of war to the American people. The two characters were all but indistinguishable from one another by design. If anything set them apart it was Joe's hook-nose compared to Willie's rounded one.

James Montgomery Flagg

While Norman Rockwell (18941978) painted rural America, James Montgomery Flagg (18771960) focused on the urban ideals. Born in 1877, Flagg was a child prodigy (child having extraordinary talent) whose talent saw him earning a steady income as an artist in all the popular magazines of the day by the time he was a teenager. Flagg was outspoken and lived a decidedly bohemian (not living by conventional values) lifestyle. His healthy ego served him well in the highly competitive illustration markets of the day.

Flagg's work featured many of his favorite models. His wife, Nellie, appeared in numerous illustrations, but the majority of his models were professional. They became known as "Flagg girls," and they were highlighted in books and posters, as well as every major magazine published at the time. These women always reflected the artist's view of the ideal woman rather than any current fad regarding beauty. His definition of that ideal, centered around classic

femininity and graceful poise, never changed throughout the years of his career.

Flagg was also a contributor to the new medium of silent films, both as an actor and as a writer. The films were so well received that during World War I (191418) he was asked to write promotional films for the marines and the American Red Cross. During this time, Flagg recorded the movement of America in his countless illustrations that appeared in every prominent magazine in the country. He was already too old to fight by the time World War I erupted and so New York governor Charles S. Whitman (18681947) appointed Flagg as State Military Artist in 1917.

Although he produced forty-five other posters for the government, Flagg's most famous painting was of Uncle Sam pointing at the viewer with the caption "I Want YOU for the U.S. Army" (1917). Flagg himself was the model for the character of Uncle Sam. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (18821945; served 193345) wrote to praise him for his resourcefulness in saving the cost of a model. The truth was that Flagg had an ideal prototype of masculine good looks and charm, just as he did for females, and he felt that he represented the male ideal as well as any of his models.

Flagg chose to transform the formerly benign old man of the "stars and stripes" into a compelling leader who meant business. His original watercolor drawing of Uncle Sam appeared on the cover of Leslie's Weekly magazine before it was considered for the military poster. The poster was to become the most famous of both World Wars and was to appear in several variations. The changes reflected the temper of the times both in mood and tastes. Originally drawn in decorative pen and ink washes in the first war, the posters for World War II (193945) were splashy and contrived by comparison. An estimated four million copies of the poster were issued in World War I, with another four hundred thousand printed for World War II.

Mauldin's cartoons drew many laughs but also some high-ranking criticism from those who felt officers were not portrayed in the most favorable light. Mauldin's nonconformist approach brought him a face-to-face chastising from General George Patton (18851945), who felt that any characters representing the U.S. military should be neat and clean-shaven. For his part, Mauldin disliked Patton's insistence on battlefield "spit and polish" and for what he felt was Patton's low regard for the GIs. However, many officers enjoyed the cartoons and felt Mauldin's humor was good for troop morale, so he continued drawing without censorship. His art allowed soldiers to laugh at themselves as well as their leaders, and still move forward in their purpose.


In 1945, at age twenty-three, his series Up Front With Mauldin won Mauldin the first of his two Pulitzer Prizes for editorial cartooning. He also appeared on the cover of Time magazine and had the country's number one best-selling book in Up Front.

After the war, Mauldin went on to draw cartoons about the soldier's difficult transition back to civilian life on the home front. Any recognition or honor Mauldin received personally was used to direct attention back to the plight of the returning soldier in America. He worked to create a sense of appreciation for the endless sacrifice of those coming home from the war. He wanted to ensure they would be taken back into civilian life and given a chance to be themselves again when the war was over.

Mauldin freelanced for a time, and then in 1958 he joined the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as an editorial cartoonist. It was there that he won a second Pulitzer Prize in 1959. In 1962 Mauldin moved to the Chicago Sun-Times, where he was to draw one of his most poignant and famous cartoons on the day of President John F. Kennedy's (19171963; served 196163) assassination. The drawing showed a grieving President Abraham Lincoln (18091865; served 186165), his hands covering his face, at the Lincoln Memorial.

Career highlights

Mauldin wrote and illustrated sixteen books during his lifetime. He also acted in two movies, including John Huston's (19061987) 1951 production of The Red Badge of Courage, starring real-life war hero Audie Murphy (19241971). Mauldin continued his life's work as a political cartoonist until his retirement in 1992. He moved back to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and began to sculpt much of his early cartoon work. Mauldin had seven sons from his three marriages. They cared for him until he died of complications from Alzheimer's disease at the age of eighty-one in a nursing home in Newport Beach, California, on January 22, 2003.

For More Information


Mauldin, Bill. The Brass Ring. New York: W.W. Norton, 1971.

Mauldin, Bill. A Sort of a Saga. New York: William Sloane Associates Publishers, 1949.

Mauldin, Bill. Up Front. Cleveland and New York: World Publishing, 1945.

Meyer, Susan E. James Montgomery Flagg. New York: Watson-Guptill Publishers, 1974.

Web sites

"In Memorium: Bill Mauldin." PBS Online News Hour. (accessed on July 22, 2004).

"James Montgomery Flagg." Spartacus Educational. (accessed on July 22, 2004).

"William Henry 'Bill' Mauldin, Sergeant, United States Army." Arlington National Cemetery Website. (accessed on July 22, 2004).

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Bill Mauldin

Bill Mauldin

The incomparable cartoon biographer of the ordinary GI in World War II, Bill Mauldin (born 1921) earned two Pulitzer prizes and syndication in over 250 newspapers for his mordant drawings.

The son of Sidney Albert and Edith Katrina (Bemis), Bill Mauldin was born on October 29, 1921, in Mountain Park, New Mexico. He attended public schools in New Mexico and Arizona, depending upon where his father happened to be unemployed. A scrawny boy, often confined to bed by rickets, he expressed his daydreams in drawings of himself as a cowboy or other heroic figure. While in high school, Mauldin took a correspondence course in cartooning. In 1939 he studied cartooning at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Mauldin then worked in Phoenix, drawing gag cartoons for Arizona Highways.

Awarded Purple Heart in WWII

In September 1940 he enlisted in the Arizona National Guard, which five days later was federalized. A member of the U.S. Army's 45th Division, Mauldin went overseas in 1943 to Sicily, where he joined the Mediterranean edition of Stars and Stripes, the Army's wartime newspaper. Mauldin covered the fighting in Sicily, Salerno, Monte Cassino, and Anzio and then in France and Germany. He was wounded at Salerno and received the Purple Heart.

Mauldin's cartoons for Stars and Stripes pictured the ordinary, unheroic GIs, wearily slogging on, getting a job done, and wanting to go home. Like Ernie Pyle's prose, they vividly portrayed what GI life was really like and intimately expressed the Gl's hopes and dreams, fears and hardships. For many Americans, Mauldin's combat-weary team of Willie and Joe became the archetypical GIs of the war in Europe. Disenchanted yet dignified, dirty and bearded, the battle-hardened Willie and Joe were more interested in dry socks than in the lofty rhetoric of war aims, and they hated officers almost as much as they hated the war.

Cartoons Portrayed Real Army Life

While most of the Army hierarchy approved of Mauldin's cartoons as a healthy outlet for the average conscript's emotions, some officers—particularly Gen. George S. Patton—objected to the grimy, realistic public image Willie and Joe were projecting of the U.S. Army. Nevertheless, Mauldin's melancholy pen-and-ink commentaries on Gl life were brought together in several published collections, including Star Spangled Banter (1941 and 1944), Mud, Mules and Mountains (1944), and Up Front (1945), which earned Mauldin a 1945 Pulitzer Prize.

Released from the army in June 1945, Mauldin went to work for United Features Syndicate, which distributed his cartoon strips to more than 180 newspapers in the United States under the evolving titles "Sweating It Out," "Back Home," and "Willie and Joe." Although his first postwar collection, Back Home, won critical acclaim, the angry, bitter tone of Mauldin's liberal cartoons soon led him to be dropped by one newspaper after another.

In 1950 he went to Hollywood to try his hand as an actor and technical advisor in several films, and early in 1952 he went to the war front in Korea. His report of the experience was published as Bill Mauldin in Korea (1952). In 1956 he ran as a Democrat for Congress in New York's heavily Republican 28th Congressional District and was easily trounced by the incumbent, Katherine St. George.

Cartoons Syndicated to Newspapers

Mauldin joined the staff of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as editorial cartoonist in 1958 and won another Pulitzer Prize for his cartoons the next year. His wry satires on the politics of Eisenhower's last years in the presidency were collected in What's Got Your Back Up? (1961). I've Decided I Want My Seat Back (1965) summed up his liberal commentaries on the desegregation struggles of the early 1960s. In June 1962 Mauldin moved to the Chicago Sun-Times, where his editorial cartoons were syndicated to more than 200 newspapers. Continuing "to buck power," as he put it, to satirize the high and mighty, Mauldin earned the reputation as a worthy successor to Herblock, the editorial cartoonist for the Washington Post. His books included The Brass Ring (1971) and Mud and Guts (1978). An avid flying buff, Mauldin described his air experiences in articles for Sports Illustrated. His honors included the 1962 Cartoonist of the Year award of the National Cartoonists Society and the Sigma Delta Chi journalism fraternity's 1963, 1969, and 1972 awards for editorial cartooning.

Mauldin's work was part of an exhibit at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. in 1992. The exhibit, called "Draw! Political Cartoons From Left to Right," featured Mauldin and five other prominent political cartoonists. A fiftieth-anniversary edition of his classic Up Front was published in 1995.

Further Reading

Bill Mauldin's best known books are Up Front (1945); Back Home (1947); What's Got Your Back Up? (1961); and I've Decided I Want My Seat Back (1965); His wartime cartoons are analyzed in John Morton Blum, V Was For Victory, Politics and American Culture During World War II (1976); Biographical data appears in Who's Who in America (1964-1965). Also see American History Illustrated (March/April 1992); and The Atlantic Monthly (June 1995). □

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Mauldin, Bill (William)

Mauldin, Bill [William] (1921–), trained through correspondence classes as well as a year spent at the Chicago Academy of Art, American editorial cartoonist of World War II.Mauldin was unable to gain steady employment as a newspaper cartoonist, so the New Mexican native enlisted in 1940 in the Arizona National Guard. Mauldin's talents were first recognized during his assignment to the 45th Division's newspaper staff. Still he served as an infantryman once the United States entered the war.

In 1944, Mauldin joined Stars and Stripes and developed the distinctive characters of “Willie” and “Joe” to depict the drudgery and misery faced by the average G.I. in the European theater. Filthy, aged beyond their years, irreverent in their attitudes toward officers and rear echelon personnel, Willie and Joe became among the most widely recognized symbols of the American combat infantryman. Mauldin was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1945, and the United Features Syndicate distributed his cartoons to hundreds of newspapers. In his book Up Front (1945), an instant bestseller, Mauldin interpreted his cartoons and the experiences of the average soldier.

After the war, Mauldin continued his career as a cartoonist, satirizing a variety of political and social topics. During the Korean War, he visited the front and described his experiences in Bill Mauldin in Korea (1952). Mauldin spent much of his postwar career with the Chicago Sun‐Times.
[See also Culture, War, and the Military; Illustration, War and the Military in.]


Frederick S. Voss , Reporting the War: The Journalistic Coverage of World War II, 1994.

G. Kurt Piehler

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"Mauldin, Bill (William)." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . 18 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Mauldin, Bill (William)." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . (December 18, 2017).

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Mauldin, Bill

Bill Mauldin (William Henry Mauldin), 1921–2003, American cartoonist, b. Mountain Park, N.Mex. During World War II, in which he served as an infantryman-cartoonist in Italy, France, and Germany, Mauldin achieved fame with his sardonic cartoons. He depicted the squalid yet often funny reality of the enlisted man's life mainly through the portrayal of two cynical and unkempt G.I.'s, Willie and Joe, who appeared in Stars and Stripes, the soldiers' newspaper, and elsewhere. Mauldin's cartoons won him two Pulitzer Prizes (1945 and 1959). He was also a political cartoonist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Chicago Sun-Times. Among his principal books of cartoons are Up Front (1945), A Sort of a Saga (1949), Bill Mauldin in Korea (1952), and The Brass Ring (1971). Mauldin appeared in the movies The Red Badge of Courage and Teresa (both: 1951).

See biography by T. DePastino (2008).

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