By Kevin M. Hymel

Bill Mauldin understood war from the grunt’s-eye view. An enlisted man with the 45th Infantry Division, he turned his hobby into an art, penning Army life in World War II from Sicily and Italy to France and Germany. His two main characters, Willie and Joe, survived the elements, the Germans, and even their own commanders to win the war with little glory or fanfare. All they wanted was a hot shower, a warm meal, and some sleep.

Willie and Joe became a favorite comic in the Army’s newspaper Stars and Stripes, where soldiers identified with the two mud-covered dogfaces who always had a wry comment for their latest mission. Willie was based on Rayson Billey, a fellow 45th soldier, whom Mauldin called the bravest man he ever knew. Joe was drawn in Mauldin’s own likeness.

Mauldin’s creation won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1945 and guaranteed him a place in American history. After the war, Willie and Joe made a few, rare appearances. Sadly, the two soldiers will never pick up arms again. On January 22, Bill Mauldin passed away from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. If Willie and Joe could have been there, they would have helped fire off the 21-gun salute, and probably have shrugged their shoulders and scratched their heads at the inevitability of losing a buddy.

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