Bill’s Maudlin Humor: WWII as seen through the cartoons of Bill Mauldin
By: Lauren Wong
December 7, 1941 was the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor; it was also the day the U.S. entered WWII. When the Army shipped out, they brought nine Divisions of National Guardsmen with them. The 45th ID was one of the largest and they took a large part in the campaign that led them into North Africa and into the boot of Italy. Bill Mauldin was one of these infantrymen and his widely recognized “Willie and Joe” cartoons famously chronicled their trek across war-torn Europe.
Because he was a soldier himself, his characters “Willie and Joe” were instantly relatable to other infantrymen and he quickly became a beloved face among the disgruntled G.I.s in wartime. The museum’s newest Intern Exhibit, “Bill’s Maudlin Humor: WWII as seen through the cartoons of Bill Mauldin,” features the work and influence of Bill Mauldin during his wartime years.
Bill Mauldin started out as an Arizona National Guardsman and he later served as a “Thunderbird” in the 45th ID (AZ, CO, NM, OK). Mauldin became infamous for his cartoons of Willie and Joe, the everyman soldier, because they portrayed what life was really like for the infantry soldier on the frontlines. With a dash of morbid humor, Willie and Joe are seen slogging through the mud and rubble of Italy, toughing it out in the extreme weather, and generally trying to survive the boredom and fighting that their lives have devolved into.
For his work as a wartime cartoonist, Mauldin won two Pulitzer Prizes for Editorial Cartoons (1945 and 1959). “Willie and Joe” would also see a resurgence in popularity among beleaguered G.I.s in the Korean and Vietnam Wars as well. Even today, “Willie and Joe” still live on among soldiers, proving that “old soldiers never die.” And, due to Willie and Joe’s stubborn refusal to die, they have yet to fade away.
If you remember Bill Mauldin or “Willie and Joe,” please share your stories with us by using the hashtag #MaudlinBill on Twitter (@NGMuseum) or Facebook (@NationalGuardMemorialMuseum).
– Exhibit by Lauren Wong, GWU Museum Studies Intern, Fall 2018.