Bill Mauldin, the Army sergeant who created Willie and Joe, the cartoon characters that became enduring symbols of the grimy, irrepressible American infantrymen who triumphed over the German army and prevailed over their own rear-echelon officers in World War II, died yesterday in Newport Beach, Calif. He was 81 years old.
After Willie and Joe won the war, Mr. Mauldin became a syndicated newspaper cartoonist and went on for more than 50 years to caricature bigots, super-patriots, doctrinaire liberals and conservatives, and pompous souls in whatever form they appeared.
He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for his World War II work and in 1959 for his commentary on Soviet treatment of writer Boris Pasternak. Mr. Mauldin gave up regular cartooning assignments in the early 1990s.
Andy Mauldin, one of the cartoonist's sons, said his father died of complications of Alzheimer's disease, including pneumonia, at a nursing home.
During the war, he excoriated self-important generals, insensitive drill sergeants, palate-dulled mess sergeants, glamour-dripping Air Force pilots, and cafe owners in liberated countries who rewarded the GIs who had freed them by charging them double for brandy. He was nothing short of beloved by his fellow enlisted men.
But no Mauldin characters were more memorable than Willie and Joe, the unshaven, listless, cynical dogfaces who spent the war fighting the Germans, trying to keep dry and warm and flirting with insubordination. They were the stars of Up Front, Mr. Mauldin's wartime best seller, and their exploits were reported regularly in service publications, including Stars and Stripes and the 45th Division News. Their likenesses were found in pup tents and bivouacs from Brittany to Berlin, tacked up next to the glossies of those other GI favorites, Betty Grable and Dorothy Lamour.
Gen. George S. Patton was one of a small minority who had no use for them. He liked his heroes clean-shaven and obedient, and he was uneasy that the men who served under him revered the likes of such unorthodoxy.
After the war, Mr. Mauldin seemed lost for a time. He covered the Korean War briefly for Collier's but was not entirely pleased with his work. He resuscitated Joe, made him a war correspondent and had him writing pearls of wisdom in letters to the stateside Willie.
In 1958, he visited Dan Fitzpatrick, editorial cartoonist for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who disclosed that he was planning to retire. Mr. Mauldin applied for the job, got it, and won his second Pulitzer Prize in 1959 for the cartoon showing two prisoners in Siberia, one of whom said to the other, "I won the Nobel Prize for Literature. What was your crime?"
Mr. Mauldin remained with the Post-Dispatch until 1962, when he joined The Chicago Sun-Times.
"If I see a stuffed shirt, I want to punch it," he said. "If it's big, hit it. You can't go far wrong."
William Henry Mauldin was born Oct. 29, 1921, in Mountain Park, N.M., one of two sons born to Sidney Albert Mauldin, a handyman, and Edith Katrina Bemis Mauldin. As a child, he suffered from rickets, a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin D, and was unable to engage in strenuous activity. His head seemed too big for his spindly body. When he was 8 years old, he heard one of his father's friends say, "If that was my son, I'd drown him."
Mr. Mauldin never forgot the insult and turned all his energy to teaching himself to draw. His family moved to Phoenix and while he was still in high school there, he enrolled in a correspondence cartoon school.
He continued his studies at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. His maternal grandmother gave him the $300 tuition fee.
He moved back to Phoenix and began to sell his drawings. In 1940, Mr. Mauldin created cartoons for both sides in the Texas gubernatorial campaign. He later said he joined the Arizona National Guard to avoid the Texas politicians, who discovered he was working both sides of the fence. The Guard required no physical examination and he was accepted.
When the Arizona Guard was federalized in 1940, Mr. Mauldin found himself in the Army 18 months before Pearl Harbor was attacked.
He scored more than 140 on his Army IQ test and later said the Army did with him what it tended to do with all bright people who become enlisted men - it gave him KP for four months.
Mr. Mauldin married Norma Jean Humphries in 1942. They had two sons, Bruce and Timothy. They were divorced in 1946. The next year he married Natalie Sarah Evans. They had four sons, Andrew, David, John and Nathaniel. She died in a car accident. In 1972, he married Christine Lund. They had a daughter, Kaja.