My Friend Bill Mauldin
The U.S. Postal Service sent me a notice saying that it will be issuing a stamp honoring Bill Mauldin, the World War II cartoonist. It's the first time any friend of mine has been honored with a stamp by the Postal Service (known to me as "the Post Office"). I wish they had issued the stamp while Bill was alive so he could have appreciated it. Bill died in 2003.
I should know more about our Post Office and how they come up with things like this but I don't. In any case, I'm glad they're honoring my friend Bill Mauldin. The Post Office isn't really part of my life. I mail letters and people mail letters to me and I receive them.
I suppose there are a lot of Americans who never heard of Bill.
In my lifetime, I've been lucky to have known four very well-known Americans. (I'm not including the six well-known people I know in television. You can probably guess who they are.) I must know 10 famous people well enough so they call me "Andy." I'm proud of the people I've met and like, and I'm pleased and flattered by the fact that they know me by name. I've met many others: Harry Truman, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles Lindbergh, Lou Gehrig, Margaret Truman...and maybe a hundred others.
My famous friend Bill Mauldin gained his early fame with The Stars and Stripes in Italy but in the middle of the war he was shipped to London to draw cartoons for the bigger London edition. I don't remember what year Bill came. It was probably 1943 or 1944. I do remember that those of us on the staff of the newspaper in London were cool to Bill when he arrived. We regarded the London edition of The Stars and Stripes as the only real newspaper, and he had been with our little brother in Italy.
We were wrong about Bill, of course. He was one of the great cartoonists who has ever been -- in and out of the Army. I've looked at hundreds of cartoons he drew in my Stars and Stripes files, and he was a genius. His cartoons are still funny and perceptive. I've known a few geniuses in my life and what surprises me about all of them is how average they were in average situations. I knew Bill as both an average friend and a genius. He was good to be with and I would not initially have guessed how talented he was. In London, there was another cartoonist named Dick Wingert. Dick was often funnier than Bill but never so penetrating.
The Stars and Stripes was a stroke of genius on the part of our leaders during WWII. It could easily have been a poor propaganda sheet for soldiers, but someone -- Dwight Eisenhower, probably -- realized that our troops deserved a real newspaper and that's what The Stars and Stripes was. Not everyone in our Army liked it because the paper was not unfailingly supportive of the brass. It gained a strength of its own that could not be denied by any officer. They were more afraid of the paper than the paper was of the brass, and that's the way it should have been. Eisenhower did that for us.
Bill Mauldin fit in perfectly at the London edition of The Stars and Stripes and I hope he's never forgotten. He wanted us to win the war as much as anyone but he never resisted making fun of anything the lowliest soldier or our top brass did that was foolish -- and there was plenty of that. Bill was a sergeant, but no general officer in WWII had more power than Sgt. Bill Mauldin. He probably should have been called Gen. Bill Mauldin.
(Write to Andy Rooney at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207, or via email at email@example.com)
(c) 2010 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.