I recently traveled to northern California to give several talks about WWII cartoonist Bill Mauldin. Two presentations at the beautiful Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa anchored my trip.
Charles Schulz, who died at age 77 in 2000, admired Mauldin deeply and paid tribute to him every Veterans Day. Every November 11, Snoopy would don his WWI Flying Ace outfit or his WWII uniform and “go quaff a few root beers with Bill Mauldin.” Every year, “Sparky”–as friends, family, and Santa Rosans generally refer to the much-missed Schulz–signed the original drawing and sent it to Mauldin.
One of his final Mauldin tributes was this one, from November 11, 1998.
Sparky drew 18,000 Peanuts cartoons over fifty years and, unlike many others, always insisted on inking every line and letter himself. The above is a rare exception, perhaps the only one, to Schulz’s rule that he would be the only artist whose drawings would appear in Peanuts.
The Willie and Joe Schulz inserted into his 1998 panel come from a Mauldin cartoon published on June 26, 1944 in the Mediterranean edition of Stars and Stripes. The battlescape surrounding them is littered with purse-like bags about the size of binocular cases. The caption: ”I see Comp’ny E got th’ new style gas masks, Joe.” The Army had issued gas masks, but since the Germans didn’t use gas against the Americans, frontline soldiers routinely threw them away to reduce their burden by 3 1/2 pounds. Several vets have told me, however, that they often saved the cases because they were watertight: a perfect container for socks and cigarettes.
Schulz never heard from Mauldin after he sent his drawings. Mauldin was not one for thank you notes, and, for a time, he didn’t even open his fan mail, so it’s quite possible some of those envelopes from Sparky remained sealed and stacked in the spare room which held Mauldin’s voluminous papers.
One day in 1986, at a cartoonists convention, Mauldin spied Schulz and approached him. He asked Schulz why he drew his annual Veterans Day cartoon and sent the original to him. Sparky explained that he had been a machine gun squad sergeant with the 20th Armored Division in France and Germany in 1945.
“That’s all he needed to say,” said Mauldin. He understood the rest.
What Mauldin understood may be captured in a remarkable comment that Charles Schulz made toward the end of his life when a reporter asked him: “Out of all the awards you have received over your glittering career, which one means the most to you?”
Schulz responded, “the Combat Infantry Badge.”