Mauldin May Be Retired, but He's Not Retiring


Bill Mauldin was close to euphoric.

Not at the prospect of telling a visitor his life story, or of showing off the Pulitzer Prizes on the breakfast room wall.

And not at the opportunity to autograph books for the appliance repairman who showed up at the front door at his home here with three copies of Mauldin's classic World War II cartoons.

Nope, it was the impending delivery of an automobile engine that had Mauldin in high spirits.

A brand-new, straight-from-the catalog, 350-cubic-inch V-8 engine was on its way, and he couldn't wait to drop it into his '73 Buick.

The lineup in Mauldin's driveway also includes a '72 Chevy pickup truck, a '67 Clark Cortez motor home, an '83 Volvo and Mauldin's signature vehicle, a '46 Willys Jeep.

"I grew up in a family of grease monkeys," said Mauldin, a native of Mountain Park, N.M., near Alamogordo. "I usually manage to get 20 years out of a car."

The Jeep, complete with snowplow and tire chains, was ready for winter.

"I bought it off the showroom floor--paid 1,300 bucks for it," Mauldin recalled with fondness. "They're indestructible if you take care of them."

Mauldin developed his affinity for Jeeps during World War II, when he was assigned his own as he was chronicling the war in Europe.

One of his most famous cartoons depicts an old-time cavalryman shooting a Jeep that has a broken axle. Mauldin in recent years did a small sculpture of the scene; it sits outside his front door.

After a half-century-long career in cartooning, Mauldin retired in 1991. He had injured his drawing hand in an accident while trying to attach the snowplow to the Jeep.

"The hand now is perfectly OK. But I decided I've had enough deadlines, so I'm staying in retirement," said Mauldin, 74, who spent nearly 30 years with the Chicago Sun-Times and its syndicates.

Only rarely does he draw a cartoon now. He did a cover for the New York Times Book Review for an issue that featured D-day books.

But he hasn't stopped thinking like a cartoonist.

"I'm always thinking of stuff to bash Clinton with these days," Mauldin said of the president.

A surprising statement from a man who emerged from retirement in 1992 to help Bill Clinton get elected.

At that time, Mauldin was angry that President George Bush was making Clinton's avoidance of Vietnam service an issue. Today, he fears Clinton is "getting us involved in a . . . Balkan war" to curry favor with the military.

"I mean, basically, I'm antiwar. I always have been," Mauldin said.

Some wars need to be fought, he added--but none since World War II, or perhaps Korea.

War made Mauldin famous. He was an infantryman in World War II with a unit that suffered hundreds of casualties fighting its way north from Sicily, Italy. His drawing skills eventually landed him at Stars and Stripes, the overseas Army daily newspaper.

He told the story of war through the poignant observations of Willie and Joe, two grubby dogfaces who typified infantrymen.

Mauldin was hugely popular--though not with Gen. George Patton, who complained that Willie and Joe made soldiers look like bums and were bad for morale.

Mauldin won his first Pulitzer Prize at age 23, when he was still in uniform, a sergeant. His second came in 1959, for a cartoon on the fate of Soviet novelist Boris Pasternak, best known in this country as the author of "Dr. Zhivago."

Mauldin earned numerous other honors, awards and prizes in his long career. He covered Korea and Vietnam, wrote magazine articles, published 15 books.

He also learned to fly a plane. And he married three times and is the father of eight children. He now lives with wife Chris, 47, their 9-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter.

Retirement suits him just fine.

"I'm having a ball. I'm up to my elbows in grease," Mauldin said. His two-car garage has been converted into a workshop--a metalworking shop, actually, equipped to make anything from car parts to door keys.

"I love this stuff. I just love machinery," Mauldin said as he picked his way past drill presses, lathes and vises to show off drawer after drawer of drill bits. "I'm just really a damn good mechanic, but I'd love to be a machinist."

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