I’m not big on heroes. I figure that any of us who cope with life and go through our days without purposely hurting others are heroes in our own little way.
So, I don’t have a lot of heroes. People I admire, to be sure, but actual heroes in some sort of a Greek myth sense, not so much. But sometimes I find individuals who surmount adversity in a slightly different manner. They aren’t necessarily people of heroic mien, but their actions and the results of what they accomplish render them heroic in my eyes.
Two individuals come to mind to me. They are a couple of guys, Americans, who rose above themselves and faced adversity head-on, despite the fact they wanted little to do with the adversity.
They are two men who worked in realms of which I am familiar: One was a journalist, and the other was a cartoonist. No, they weren’t brave soldiers, but their offerings from World War Two made the lives of a lot of brave soldiers seem worthier.
They are: Ernie Pyle and Bill Mauldin.
GUAM, April, 18–Ernie Pyle died today on Ie Island, just west of Okinawa, like so many of the doughboys he had written about. The nationally known war correspondent was killed instantly by Japanese machine-gun fire.
Pyle hated war. It not only frightened him, it disgusted him, and the brass were offended when he sometimes offered words of compassion about wounded and dying German soldiers, who he saw as just kids, like the boys from Iowa or Brooklyn, The power fucks may have disliked what he wrote, but the GIs loved it and his honesty boosted their morale. Indeed, so powerful was his message that they even made a pretty honest and decent movie out of his writings: The Story of GI Joe, with Bob Mitchum and Burgess Meredith.
As I say, Pyle (pictured left) was not, in his mind, cut of heroic cloth. He was in peacetime a profligate womanizer, slackass and alcoholic who wrote well but was pretty directionless in his life. And then came the war, and he signed on as a correspondent. And the rest was history of a sort. He notes in his diaries when he had been in North Africa for months that it had come to his mind that he’d not had a drink in a year. He had other things – like survival – on his mind.
As I noted, he died in the Asian campaign, and died ignominiously by a sniper’s bullet. Kind of a Shakespearean demise. I once embarked on a quest to find his grave situated in the Punchbowl of the Pacific military cemetery on Oahu. Despite the fact Pyle was not in the military he was laid to rest with full military honors. It was a moving experience for me.
Bill Mauldin was a cartoonist, so again I could relate (at a much lesser level). He was also a soldier in the European Theatre of War. And he sat in the foxholes and mud and shit with the other dogfaces and from that experience a couple of guys evolved. They were named Willie and Joe, Mauldin’s prototypical infantrymen. Roughhewn, unshaven, profane, drunk when they got the chance, they came to represent every soldier in every conflict in the world. The forgotten guys who spilled blood and guts and prayed to get home to Becky Sue or Brenda. Some did, too many didn’t. Mauldin captured their reality wonderfully.
After the war Mauldin became a noted editorial cartoonist, but it is for Willie and Joe he’ll be most remembered. He was remembered by fellow cartoonist Charles Schulz each year, when Snoopy always made a Bill Mauldin reference on Veteran’s Day in the US.
My heroes: I choose them carefully.