Happy Veterans Day! This newspaper, the Field of Honor at Wayne Community College, and many other signs in the media and in our community remind us to remember and honor the men and women who serve our country during conflict and peacetime. These celebrations recall many literary works — some of which malign war, others which exalt it — that try to capture the experience of war.
My husband, Dave, himself an Air Force veteran of the Cold War, finds fascination in World War II in which his dad served. His favorite readings come from Ernie Pyle’s “Brave Men” and Bill Mauldin’s “Up Front.” Both men captured the war experience in uniquely different ways, Pyle as a journalist and WWII war correspondent and Mauldin as a cartoonist. Both Pyle and Mauldin garnered prizes for their works and left a legacy appreciated even today.
Ernie PyleBorn in 1900 near Dana, Indiana, Pyle was the only child of a tenant farmer father. Disdaining farming, Pyle enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve in World War I after high school graduation. The war ended before he could transfer to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, so Pyle enrolled at Indiana University where he took courses in economics because the university offered no journalism degree, just journalism courses of which Pyle took as many as he could, becoming editor in his junior year of the Indiana Daily Student, the campus student newspaper.
According to the Wikipedia article about him, “Pyle’s simple, storytelling writing style ... later became his trademark style as a professional journalist and columnist for the Scripps-Howard newspaper syndicate.”
Pyle developed a penchant for travel during his junior year when he and three fraternity brothers took a semester off to follow the college’s baseball team on a trip to Japan. Pyle left college in January 1923 without graduating, taking a job as reporter on the staff of the Daily Herald in La Porte, Indiana, before heading to Washington, D.C., to become reporter and copy editor for the Washington Daily News. After a year off traveling 9,000 miles across the U.S. with his wife, Pyle returned to the Daily News where he wrote an aviation column. Never a pilot himself, Pyle flew about 100,000 miles as a passenger. From 1935 to early 1942, Pyle and his wife again traveled across the nation where Pyle wrote human-interest stories about the people they met. His column, called the “Hoosier Vagabond,” was published six days a week, gaining popularity with readers.
After a trip to London to cover the Battle of Britain, Pyle returned to Europe in 1942 as a war correspondent, writing about the North African campaign, the Italian campaign, and the Normandy landings. He was killed in action in April 1945 while reporting about the invasion of Okinawa when he was only 44 years old.
Like Mauldin, Pyle was interested in writing about the common man’s war experience, and his columns appeared in two books, “Here Is Your War” in 1943 and “Brave Men” in 1944. His love of the “dogface G.I.” led Pyle to propose that soldiers in combat should get “fight pay,” a plan that Congress approved into law in May 1944, calling it the Ernie Pyle bill that gave combat soldiers 50% extra pay. War took its toll on Pyle, as “war neurosis” affected him to the extent that he wrote in his column, “If I hear one more shot or see one more dead man, I will go off my nut.” He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1944, and he received many other honors in his career as a journalist.
Bill MauldinUnlike Pyle, Bill Mauldin was born in October 1921 into a family of military service members. Though his birthplace is Mountain Park, New Mexico, he and his older brother Sidney moved to Arizona after their parents’ divorce. They attended Phoenix Union High School where Mauldin took journalism courses, but he didn’t graduate until 1945 when the school gave him a diploma based on his accomplishments in editorial cartooning. He joined ROTC in high school, an experience that served him well in his military career.
His art teacher’s encouragement sent him to Chicago’s Academy of Fine Arts in 1939 to study political cartooning. Returning to Phoenix, he had commissions for election-year cartoons before he became cartoonist for the 45th Division News which Walter M. Harrison, editor of the Daily Oklahoman and Oklahoma City Times, established. Mauldin had enlisted in the Arizona National Guard, 45th Infantry Division which was “federalized” and sent to Oklahoma. In 1941, the division moved to Texas, and by 1943, Mauldin and the division headed to Italy. He created the characters Willie and Joe as representatives of the average American G.I. while Mauldin was working for the 45th’s newspaper.
By 1943, Mauldin was working for Stars and Stripes in addition to the 45th Division News, publishing six cartoons every week which sometimes parodied war and ridiculed generals like George Patton after he ordered all soldiers be always clean-shaven (Willie and Joe are always scruffy). Patton called Mauldin an “unpatriotic anarchist” and threatened to have him thrown in jail, but Gen. Eisenhower told Patton, “Stars and Stripes is the soldiers’ paper, and we won’t interfere.”
At age 23, Mauldin won a Pulitzer Prize for his cartoons that depicted war realistically and sardonically at times. He continued drawing cartoons after the war, winning a second Pulitzer and garnering many other honors. His most revered cartoon he drew after the assassination of John F. Kennedy showed the statue of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial with his head bowed into his hands in despair.
LegacyCharles Schulz, cartoonist of the Peanuts comic strip, honors both these men, depicting Snoopy’s visits to Bill Mauldin’s house to “quaff a few root beers and tell war stories” 17 times. Himself a veteran of WWII, Schulz created tributes to Ernie Pyle in 1997 and 1999. Buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Mauldin joined other soldiers whom he drew with compassion and respect. Pyle’s body resides in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, likewise with the men whom he honored.
Liz Meador is a retired English instructor from Wayne Community College and an adjunct at North Carolina Wesleyan College.