Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mud, Mules, and Mountains

My father was called to active duty in January 1941 and remained on active duty until January 1 1946. He was overseas in combat for three and one half years(see blog entry of June 19, 2009). I was three and one half years old when he left and six years old when he returned. While he was gone I looked forward to every letter, photograph, etc that he sent home. One day a long wooden box arrived, which I opened, with help. I pulled out a long cavalry saber which he had acquired from a French army warehouse in North Africa. I was four years old at the time. I could barely get it off the floor with two hands and all my strength, but since it came from my dad, I was thrilled. I said “Oh boy, just what I've always wanted!”

Dad would send home postcards and pamphlets that he thought we might find interesting, and sometimes cartoons done by Bill Mauldin. Bill Mauldin was a young GI in the 45th Division who had joined the Army by way of the Arizona National Guard in 1940. Bill was a cartoonist who did some cartoons for the 45th Division newspaper and then later was picked up by Stars and Stripes, the Army newspaper. Eventually he was pulled out of line, given his own Jeep and did cartooning full time. He was a combat infantryman before being pulled out and after being pulled out spent three days out of 10 at the front. He was wounded by mortar rounds at Monte Casino in Italy. Since he covered much of the same ground as my father(Sicily, Italy, Southern France)I was very interested in his cartoons.

Bill Mauldin received the Pulitzer Prize in 1945 for his cartoons. Shortly after the war he published a book of his cartoons, along with his comments on the war. The book is called Up Front. As a kid I read and re-read that book so many times I practically wore it out. Mauldin became an editorial cartoonist for the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the Chicago Sun Times and won a second Pulitzer in 1958 or 1959.
Below is a typical Bill Mauldin cartoon, with Willie and Joe, his usual GIs, dog faces, grunts,also known as combat infantry enlisted men, in a pile of rubble.

A few months ago we sold my dad's house and finished cleaning it out. As we were going through his books, there were two copies of Up Front, and in one of them was a 6 x 9 inch paper pamphlet entitled Mud, Mules, and Mountains by Bill Mauldin, with “Mike” written on the outside cover in my mother's hand writing. It's about 40 pages long, with cartoons from the Italian campaign, and an introduction by Ernie Pyle. Ernie Pyle was probably the most famous war correspondent of WWII. Like Bill Mauldin he went to the front with the infantry and told their story. Ernie went to the Pacific theatre before the war ended and was killed there.

I was quite pleased to find this and I do not remember seeing it before. I suspect that I saw it when we first got it and then my mother put it away for safe keeping. I had looked through it once when we found it, and was looking through it again at home when I noticed something bleeding through the fly leaf. The fly leaf was clinging to the front cover. I pulled it away and saw the inscription shown below.

I think that dad got this at an Italian naval base. His outfit was in line near Florence and was pulled out and sent back to refit for the invasion of Southern France. The date on the inscription is August 5. D-day for Southern France was August 15, in which his outfit participated.

Thanks, Dad, from your little boy, Mike. And thanks, Mom, from your big boy.


  1. What an amazing gift to discover. Lovely post paying tribute to your great father. And thanks for striking my interest in a war cartoonist.

  2. A treasure to find the book, but even more so the inscription from your daddy with all his love. I know how much that means.


  3. A touching reminder of your father and the War that separated you. But also an important reminder that you must carefully go through all the "remains of the day" because treasures like this should never be discarded.