This is a fascinating collection of Bill Mauldin’s cartoons, drawn while serving as an infantryman, then later as part of the press corps for the US Army in Europe during WWII. The cartoons are accompanied by the personal stories and recollections behind their inspiration and creation. These cartoons wouldn’t have made much sense to me, otherwise, having never served in the military or had family who served during WWII. He tells his stories with humor and empathy, but does not pull punches in describing the infantryman’s experience on the front lines of the war – fear and hunger and exhaustion and foxholes and trench foot and screaming meemie bombs and butterfly bombs and potato mashers. But he also speaks of courage and camaraderie and duty and brotherhood, the sort of commitment that keeps the men together and fighting their common enemy. And in this book, the common enemy is the German soldier, and Mauldin is explicit in describing the GI’s point of view.
Some shells scream, some whiz, some whistle, and others whir. Most flat-trajectory shells sound like rapidly ripped canvas. Howitzer shells seem to have a two-toned whisper.
Let’s get the hell off this subject.
It would take a pretty tough guy not to feel his heart go out to the shivering, little six-year-old squeaker who stands barefoot in the mud, holding a big tin bucket so the dogface can empty his mess kit into it… But there is a big difference between the ragged, miserable infantryman who waits with his mess kit, and the ragged, miserable civilian who waits with his bucket. The doggie knows where his next meal is coming from. That makes him a very rich man in this land where hunger is so fierce it makes animals out of respectable old ladies who should be wearing cameos and having tea parties instead of fighting one another savagely for a soldier’s scraps.
They go on patrol when patrols are called for, and they don’t shirk hazards, because they don’t want to let their buddies down. The army couldn’t get along without them, either. Although it needs men to do the daring deeds, it also needs me who have the quiet courage to stick in their foxholes and fight and kill even though they hate killing and are scared to death while doing it.
They are very different now. Don’t let anybody tell you they aren’t. They need a lot of people speaking for them and telling about them – not speaking for fancy bonuses and extra privileges. You can’t pay in money for what they have done. They need people telling about them so that they will be taken back into their civilian lives and given a chance to be themselves again.
Hardcover edition, loaned to me by my father. I read this for The 16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 3 November 11th. Book themes for Veterans Day/Armistice Day: Read a book involving veterans of any war, books about WWI or WWII (fiction or non-fiction). –OR– Read a book with poppies on the cover.