Friday, November 20, 2015

Up Front by Bill Mauldin

Up Front by Bill Mauldin

Nine dogfaces gathered in the enlisted men’s latrine to discuss WW II, POWs and aircraft crashes on American soil, and what Ernie Pyle called “the finest cartoonist the war had produced.”  Bill Mauldin’s work provided insight into “the tiny percentage of our vast Army who are actually doing the dying.”  The doggies grunted as follows:

Charlie:  It was a wonderful book.  It got me to thinking, how good was it without the cartoons – and I think it was still good.  The book gave me insight into what the poor guy in the infantry was thinking.   Very sympathetic, well written.  A

Mike:  This book gave me the feeling that a publisher came to Bill Mauldin and said, “Hey, you have some great cartoons, and we’d like to publish a collection of them.  Why don’t you write a paragraph or two about each one?”  Not a book for a book club, nor would I recommend it other than as a collection of Mauldin’s cartoons.  However, he did capture some of his defense of the dogface.  C+

Ron B:  I agree but for a higher grade. Stephen Ambrose was a better writer of the war experience, true.  But I found something compelling in Mauldin’s text.  I appreciated his insights, e.g., French vs Italiano.  He was not cynical in his views like Tony Hillerman (in his autobiography).  I was touched by the ending story:  the medics wounded, one dying.  He put a human face on the war.  I found it engaging.  A

Kenny G:  I agree with Mike and Rob.  It wasn’t great literature.  This is the first book we’ve read with cartoons.  This put me in the trenches with the foot soldier.  It made me pull out my WW II books, and made them more interesting.  B+

Bob Woods:  I give it an A.  Historically interesting.  I wish one of Caesar’s legionaries had written something like this – wouldn’t that have provided a great perspective.  The cartoons were fascinating, but I found it very interesting why he chose to draw that subject.  

Keith:  The US has issued a Bill Mauldin stamp featuring Willie and Joe.  For a prize, when was it issued, where was the First Day of issue, and what was the rate on the stamp?  (answer after the poem).
The Dog Face Soldier Song

I wouldn’t give a bean
To be a fancy pants Marine
I’d rather be a
Dog face soldier like I am

I wouldn’t trade my old ODs
For all the Navy’s dungarees
For I’m the walking pride
Of Uncle Sam.

On Army posters that I read
It says “Be All That You Can”
So they’re tearing me down
To build me over again

I’m just a dog face soldier
With a rifle on my shoulder
And I eat raw meat
For breakfast e’v’ry day

So feed me ammunition
Keep me in the Third Division

Your Dog Face Soldier’s A-Okay!

[This song is still sung every morning by the Third Division.  See here and especially here and elsewhere on YouTube and Wikipedia.]  [answer to quiz:  31 March 2010, Santa Fe NM, 44 cents]

Tom G:  I liked the writing and the point of view better than the cartoons.  The insight on the GIs was powerful, the cartoons to me were not humorous.  Ron’s word excellent:  I was engaged from the first several pages.  I came away with a strong sense of mud.  A lot of the war was just sitting around in very uncomfortable venues.  A-

Dick J:  As I said during our earlier discussion, I read this book as a child many times, and thus I wondered what my feelings would be reading it this time, as an adult.  The cartoons were still wonderful.  A-

Bob Simon:  I liked it also.  A-  An interesting expression of his experiences.  Next year we will be reading Kit Carson’s autobiography, as my Univ of Texas professor impressed on us the importance of primary source history.  This book provided a direct experience of what it was like to be in the war.  As a direct expression of his experience is why I chose it.  We will be dealing with direct experience for the next two years, with Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums (in 2017).
… and from well outside the combat zone …
It's very impressive what Mauldin did, via his cartooning, in WWII.  Give him A+ for that.  To me, though, the book got a bit tedious, repetitive as it went along.  I didn't finish it, even though I took it on my recent  road trip.  My grade:  B

Cartoons that particularly got my attention:

p. 59 - one of many cartoons demonstrating soldier-comradeship.  Every time I see WWII vet reunions on TV, it's so obvious and heart-warming how much the remaining few love each other.  In a different era, my cousin, Ross, is an example.  He was a Navy pilot in Vietnam, got shot down, was quickly helicopter-rescued.  He and his band of brothers get together annually.  When I see Ross, he loves to talk about these reunions, show me photos, videos, ...  He tears up, I tear up.

p. 13 - This one brings to mind the helmet-penetrability project I was on a couple of years ago. That soldier must have had a heck of a helmet liner - or skull.   It also illustrates a recurring theme for Mauldin about the disconnect between the foot soldiers and the brass above them.  Hillerman's autobiography had a lot on that theme.  His main beef, as I recall, was that Intelligence was nearly always wrong.

Sorry to miss the meeting, but I've long been a Suzy Bogguss fan.  I first saw her about 30 years ago when she opened here for The Statler Brothers.  She never made it up to the Rheba, Loretta, Patsy level, nationally, but she's persevered and I'm still a fan, have been to several of her appearances over the years, including one in Placitas (not Placates, damn you SpellChecker!) 3-4 years back. 

Until December!

Sorry to be missing the meeting but with the temperature about eighty and the surf breaking outside my doors I am surviving.

Bill Mauldin says at the start he is a cartoonist not a writer, and I agree.  The cartoons are great but most of the text was probably not necessary and not particularly amusing.  Therefore a B for the book, since I think we are judging the literature not the illustrations.
Dick Arms