Todd A. DePastino has written a biography of famed WWII cartoonist Bill Mauldin. The book is called “Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front.” The Wall Street Journal has posted an excerpt online that recounts how tens of thousands of veterans wrote him letters when they learned that he was dying and so many tried to visit him that the care center had start turning them away. It’s an excellent read and once again demonstrates the power of cartoons.
The response was immediate and overwhelming. Within a week Dillow had received hundreds of calls. Hundreds more cards and letters addressed to Bill came from those too infirm to make the trip. In shaky handwriting, veterans told Mauldin that his cartoons “saved my soul in that war” and “kept my humanity alive” amid the slaughter. One man sent a pair of socks, in reference to Willie’s gesture during the war. Widows thanked the cartoonist for comforting their husbands before they were killed in battle.
When Bob Greene of the Chicago Tribune echoed Dillow’s call in a syndicated column on August 11, 2002, thousands more reached out. Mail arrived by the sackful, topping ten thousand letters by autumn. Countrywide, so many World War II veterans leapt at the chance to reach Bill’s bedside that the nursing home had to turn most of them away. Bill was not expected to live long enough to see them all.