Three soldiers gathered together in right panel with the left panel reading “That can’t be no combat man. He’s lookin’ fer a fight.”

Mauldin Collection Page 088 (Stars and Stripes Archive)

With the combination of acerbic wit and ink drawings, cartoons and comics evoke certain emotions and portray events through a unique lens. They can tell the realities of situations without explicitness and have the ability to shape public perception with the single stroke of a pencil.

Soliders standing on a bullet-shell-covered land looking at a bare tree with a single flower sprouting on a branch | The bottom of the page reads, “Spring is here.”

Mauldin Collection Page 029 (Stars and Stripes Archive)

In December 1943, a young cartoonist from New Mexico was assigned to the Stars and Stripes Rome bureau. On Dec. 2, 1943, the first publication of Sgt. William “Bill” Mauldin’s cartoon “Up Front” was published in the Mediterranean editions of Stripes. This cartoon was the launch pad for Mauldin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning career in cartoon journalism. Drawing from his own experiences fighting in the Italian theater, Mauldin’s infamous characters, Willie and Joe, became icons in their own right. Rather than clean-shaven, fresh-faced recruits, Willie and Joe were grizzled, unkempt, war-weary infantrymen based on the men Mauldin served with.

“If he is looking weary and resigned to the fact that he is probably going to die before it is over, and if he has a deep, almost hopeless desire to go home and forget it all; if he looks with dull, uncomprehending eyes at the fresh-faced kid who is talking about all the joys of battle and killing Germans, then he comes from the same infantry as Joe and Willie.”

— Bill Mauldin

Unlike many cartoons of the day, “Up Front” depicted scenes from the frontlines as they were. Careful not to trip the media censors, Mauldin was able to convey the actual experiences and feelings of GIs fighting overseas. American troops often clamored for the latest edition to see what kind of hijinks Willie and Joe were up to and to see themselves reflected in his work.

Soldiers hiding in a foxhole in the right panel | The left panel reads ‘Try to say sumpin’ funny, Joe”

Mauldin Collection Page 404 (Stars and Stripes Archive)

In 1944, his cartoon was so popular that his editor arranged for the syndication of “Up Front.” Soon, his work was published by newspapers back in the U.S.

However, not everyone was a fan of Mauldin’s work. Gen. George A. Patton, commander of the Third Army, was not impressed. He was so offended by the depictions of Willie and Joe and the perceived disrespect toward officers that he tried to ban “Stars and Stripes” from the Third Army. When Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, heard of this, he told Patton that Mauldin would continue drawing and Stripes would continue circulation — it would not be censored. “Up Front” was a morale boost and a way for the troops to let off steam.

Four soldiers walking down the street taking up most of the page | The bottom of the page reads “ Fresh, spirited American troops, flushed with victory, are bringing in thousands of hungry, ragged, battle-weary prisoners.”

Mauldin Collection Page 256 (Stars and Stripes Archive)

In 1945, Mauldin won his first Pulitzer Prize in Editorial Cartooning for “Up Front.” As the war ended, Mauldin initially had morbid plans for his two beloved characters. When he approached his editor, he was told that it would not be published if he killed off Willie and Joe. Only twice did they show up after the war — once in 1959 upon the death of George C. Marshall and again in 1984 for the funeral of Gen. Omar Bradley.

Mauldin went on to work as a cartoonist and journalist for papers such as the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch” and the “Chicago Sun-Times.” While he was working for the Post-Dispatch, he won his second Pulitzer Prize for a political cartoon. He stayed with the “Chicago Sun-Times” until retiring in 1991. Although Mauldin died Jan. 23, 2003, his legacy lives on. The lasting impact of “Up Front” and Willie and Joe has been seared into the history books and is part of the rich heritage of Stars and Stripes.

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