Bill Mauldin

I’ve posted several excerpts from Ernie Pyle’s dispatches describing the realities of army life during World War II. Another book that gives a vivid, accurate picture of the life of the infantryman is Bill Mauldin’s “Up Front,” which Mauldin wrote to accompany a selection of his famous cartoons featuring two “dogfaces” named Joe and Willie.

I’ll be putting up some of the cartoons, but in the meantime, here’s a passage describing two types of infantrymen:

“Look at an infantryman’s eyes and you can tell how much war he has seen. Look at his actions in a bar and listen to his talk and you can also tell how much he has seen. If he is cocky and troublesome and talks about how many battles he’s fought and how much blood he has spilled, and if he goes around looking for a fight and depending on his uniform to get him extra special privilieges, then he has not had it.

“If he is looking very 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 the joys of battle and killing Germans, then he comes from the same infantry as Joe and Willie.

“I’ve made it sound as if the only infantry is the kind that spends its time being miserable and scared in foxholes. There are other kinds. There are those who like it and those who have reasons of their own for wanting it. I know two of these notable exceptions: a swamp hunter from Georgia and an exiled baron from Prussia.

“The swamp hunter once killed eight krauts with one clip from his M-1 rifle. He loves to go on patrol, all alone, with a rifle, a luger pistol, a knife, plenty of ammunition, and half a dozen grenades hung to his belt by their safety rings, so he can pluck them and throw them like ripe tomatoes.

“The fact that hanging grenades by their rings is not a good way to live to a respectable old age doesn’t bother him at all. In fact, he tells with great relish how one came loose while he was creeping around a German position, and how it exploded under his feet, kicking his legs up in the air, but leaving him miraculously unscratched.

“He once saved his entire company by sheer guts, and he has been decorated several times. He says war is just like swamp hunting.

“The Prussian is a wild character who received a battlefield promotion to lieutenant after saving a patrol and the officer who commanded it from annihilation. He is famed far and wide for leading his own patrols fantastic distances through enemy lines. He admits he gets scared, but his hatred for the Germans is so intense that he keeps it up. He has been wounded several times.

“His favorite weapon is the tommy gun, although he used a carbine once to shoot a German officer through the throat, and then almost wept because he had shattered the officer’s fine binoculars. He has saved many lives and has got a lot of valuable information by the simple process of sneaking into a darkened kraut command post at night, demanding to know the plans and situation in his arrogant Prussian voice and then sneaking back to our side again.

“The army couldn’t get along without soldiers like that. They provide wonderful stories and they inspire their comrades to greater feats of arms, and they do a lot to make Jerry fear the American army.

“Joe and Willie, however, come from the other infantry — the great numbers of men who stay and sweat in the foxholes that give their more courageous brethren claustrophobia. They go on patrols 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 men 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.”