Sunday, April 25, 2010

Legendary WWII Cartoonist Bill Mauldin Honored With Stamp

This article was forwarded to me by a friend:

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Bill Mauldin stamp honors grunts' hero

The post office gets a lot of criticism. Always has, always will. And with the renewed push to get rid of Saturday mail delivery, expect complaints to intensify.

But the United States Postal Service deserves a standing ovation for something that's going to happen this month: Bill Mauldin is getting his own postage stamp.

Mauldin died at age 81 in the early days of 2003. The end of his life had been rugged. He had been scalded in a bathtub, which led to terrible injuries and infections; Alzheimer's disease was inflicting its cruelties. Unable to care for himself after the scalding, he became a resident of a California nursing home, his health and spirits in rapid decline.

He was not forgotten, though. Mauldin, and his work, meant so much to the millions of Americans who fought in World War II, and to those who had waited for them to come home. He was a kid cartoonist for Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper; Mauldin's drawings of his muddy, exhausted, whisker-stubbled infantrymen Willie and Joe were the voice of truth about what it was like on the front lines.

Mauldin was an enlisted man just like the soldiers he drew for; his gripes were their gripes, his laughs were their laughs, his heartaches were their heartaches. He was one of them. They loved him.

He never held back. Sometimes, when his cartoons cut too close for comfort, his superior officers tried to tone him down. In one memorable incident, he enraged Gen. George S. Patton, and Patton informed Mauldin he wanted the pointed cartoons -- celebrating the fighting men, lampooning the high-ranking officers -- to stop. Now.

The news passed from soldier to soldier. How was Sgt. Bill Mauldin going to stand up to Gen. Patton? It seemed impossible.

Not quite. Mauldin, it turned out, had an ardent fan: Five-star Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied forces in Europe. Ike put out the word: Mauldin draws what Mauldin wants. Mauldin won. Patton lost.

If, in your line of work, you've ever considered yourself a young hotshot, or if you've ever known anyone who has felt that way about himself or herself, the story of Mauldin's young manhood will humble you. Here is what, by the time he was 23 years old, Mauldin had accomplished:

He won the Pulitzer Prize. He was featured on the cover of Time magazine. His book "Up Front" was the No. 1 best-seller in the United States.

All of that at 23. Yet when he returned to civilian life and he grew older, he never lost that boyish Mauldin grin, he never outgrew his excitement about doing his job, he never big-shotted or high-hatted the people with whom he worked every day.

I was lucky enough to be one of them; Mauldin roamed the hallways of the Chicago Sun-Times in the late 1960s and early 1970s with no more officiousness or air of haughtiness than if he was a copyboy. That impish look on his face remained.

He had achieved so much. He had won a second Pulitzer Prize, and he should have won a third, for what may be the single greatest editorial cartoon in the history of the craft: his deadline rendering, on the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, of the statue at the Lincoln Memorial slumped in grief, its head cradled in its hands. But he never acted as if he was better than the people he met. He was still Mauldin the enlisted man.

During the late summer of 2002, as Mauldin lay in that California nursing home, some of the old World War II infantry guys caught wind of it. They didn't want Mauldin to go out that way. They thought he should know that he was still their hero.

Gordon Dillow, a columnist for the Orange County Register, put out the call in Southern California for people in the area to send their best wishes to Mauldin; I joined Dillow in the effort, helping to spread the appeal nationally so that Bill would not feel so alone. Soon more than 10,000 letters and cards had arrived at Mauldin's bedside.

Even better than that, the old soldiers began to show up just to sit with Mauldin, to let him know that they were there for him, as he, long ago, had been there for them. So many volunteered to visit Bill that there was a waiting list. Here is how Todd DePastino, in the first paragraph of his wonderful biography of Mauldin, described it:

"Almost every day in the summer and fall of 2002 they came to Park Superior nursing home in Newport Beach, California, to honor Army Sergeant, Technician Third Grade, Bill Mauldin. They came bearing relics of their youth: medals, insignia, photographs, and carefully folded newspaper clippings. Some wore old garrison caps. Others arrived resplendent in uniforms over a half century old. Almost all of them wept as they filed down the corridor like pilgrims fulfilling some long-neglected obligation."

One of the veterans explained to me why it was so important:

"You would have to be part of a combat infantry unit to appreciate what moments of relief Bill gave us. You had to be reading a soaking wet Stars and Stripes in a water-filled foxhole and then see one of his cartoons."

Mauldin is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. This month, the kid cartoonist makes it onto a first-class postage stamp. It's an honor that most generals and admirals never receive.

What Mauldin would have loved most, I believe, is the sight of the two guys who are keeping him company on that stamp.

Take a look at it.

There's Willie. There's Joe.

And there, to the side, drawing them and smiling that shy, quietly observant smile, is Mauldin himself. With his buddies, right where he belongs. Forever.

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Thanks to Bill Mauldin and to the members of the Greatest Generation who saved the world for the rest of us.

Charles M. Grist

Friday, April 23, 2010

Big Problems in Afghanistan

"Send us to war to win, or don't send us at all."
From the book "My Last War: A Vietnam Veteran's Tour in Iraq" by Charles M. Grist

I once read an assessment of the French campaign in Indochina, a hard-fought effort that ended with their defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 by the Viet Minh, the forerunners of the Viet Cong.

This assessment said that the French ultimately lost because they could not control the countryside. Because they limited their primary efforts to defending the cities and towns, the Viet Minh overran the small hamlets and villages, terrorizing and murdering anyone who opposed them.

The American stategy in Vietnam was to take the fight to the guerrillas, not limiting the war to the defense of the major cities, but using our airmobile capabilities to keep the enemy on the run. Our civil affairs soldiers worked hard to win "the hearts and minds" of the Vietnamese people.

Of course, the political will of America was defeated by the willingness of the communists to simply outlast us. We were not defeated militarily in Vietnam; we were defeated politically. The peace talks that extracted us from Vietnam let the enemy wait until we were gone. Then the communists achieved their final victory.

Now it appears that the Obama administration's strategy may very well mimick the French. By giving up on the countryside and defending only the cities, the Taliban will have a free rein, and they will use this to cement their power among the people.

Furthermore, by telling the Taliban that we will begin withdrawing our forces from Afghanistan in 2011, we have given them a timetable. All they have to do is wait for us to leave. Then, like the Vietnamese communists, these Islamic fundamentalist fanatics will do what they want.

Once again, America is involved in a "half-war" in Afghanistan. If the war cannot be won, or if we are unwilling to do what must be done to win it, then we must pull our troops out now.

I was in Vietnam after the withdrawal had begun. As we endured our hazardous infantry missions in the jungle, we would joke that we didn't want to be the last G.I. to die in Vietnam.

I wonder if some of our troops in Afghanistan are now asking themselves the same question.

The following article and video are from and the Associated Press:

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Video Shows Taliban Swarm Former US Base
April 20, 2010
Associated Press

KABUL -- Taliban fighters swarmed over a mountaintop base abandoned last week by the U.S. military following some of the toughest fighting of the Afghan war, according to footage on a major satellite television station.

The video aired Monday by Al-Jazeera television is a morale booster for Taliban fighters, though the U.S. insists the decision to withdraw from the base in the Korengal Valley was sound and the area has no strategic value.

The footage showed armed men walking through the former U.S. base, which was strewn with litter and empty bottles, and sitting atop sandbagged gun positions overlooking the steep hillsides and craggy landscape. Fighters said they recovered fuel and ammunition. But a U.S. spokesman said ammunition had been evacuated and the fuel handed over to local residents.

"We don't want Americans, we don't want Germans or any other foreigner. We don't want foreigners, we want peace. We want Taliban and Islam -- we don't want anything else," one local resident said on the tape.

Another man identified by Al-Jazeera as a local Taliban commander said the militants intended to use the base for attacks on U.S. forces.

Maj. T.G. Taylor, a spokesman for U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan, said the Americans destroyed major firing positions and observation posts before they left, and if militants tried to use the base "we have two companies that can do an air assault there anytime we want."

The pullout last week of the remaining 120 U.S. Soldiers from the Korengal was part of a strategy announced last year by the top U.S. and NATO commander, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to abandon small, difficult-to-defend bases in remote, sparsely populated areas and concentrate forces around major population centers.

Many of those outposts were established years ago to monitor Taliban and al-Qaida infiltration from Pakistan but proved difficult to resupply and defend.

Last October, about 300 insurgents nearly overran a U.S. outpost in Kamdesh located north of the Korengal Valley, killing eight Americans and three Afghan soldiers. It was the bloodiest battle for U.S. forces since an attack on another remote outpost in July 2008, when nine Americans died.

"When we repositioned our forces we knew that there was a real possibility of insurgent forces going into there, but we still believe that decision was the correct one based on the resources that we have available and the objectives that we want to achieve," said a U.S. spokesman, Col. Wayne Shanks.

The withdrawal from Korengal, which U.S. troops dubbed the "Valley of Death," marked the end of near-daily battles with insurgents in the 6-mile (10-kilometer) valley in Kunar province. More than 40 U.S. troops were killed there over the last five years.

They included three Navy SEALS who died in a 2005 ambush. Insurgents also shot down a helicopter carrying Special Forces sent to rescue the SEALS, killing another 16 Americans.

Also Monday, an American Soldier was killed and several wounded in an explosion at an Afghan National Army facility just outside the capital, Kabul, Shanks said. The blast originally was reported to have killed an Afghan soldier.

Afghanistan's intelligence service also announced the arrest of nine members of a militant cell and seized nearly a quarter-ton of explosives, foiling a plot to stage suicide bombings and other attacks in Kabul.

The cell could have been linked to five would-be suicide bombers arrested April 8 at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Kabul. Officials said at the time the five were planning to hide out with a support network in the capital before launching attacks.

Intelligence service spokesman Saeed Ansari said four of the suspects were arrested Monday while traveling in a vehicle in the city's eastern district, while five others were picked up at an Islamic school in Kabul.

He said security forces also confiscated six rifles, two machine guns, two rocket-propelled grenades, 440 pounds (200 kilograms) of explosives, six suicide bomb vests and a vehicle. The dates of the arrests were not disclosed.

The suspects, one of whom was a Pakistani citizen, ranged in age from 16 to 55 and had been given specific responsibilities within the group such as arranging accommodation or transporting arms, Ansari said. Three of the group were identified as would-be suicide bombers, although Ansari said the cell possessed enough explosives and vests to equip up to six suicide attackers.

He said the group was acting under orders from a Pakistan-based Taliban faction, which rented a house in eastern Kabul, shipped weapons across the border, and provided funds for the purchase of a vehicle to be used in suicide attacks.

The last major attack within Kabul took place Feb. 26 when suicide bombers struck two small hotels in the center of the city, killing at least 16 people, including six Indians. Afghan authorities blamed the attack on Lashkar-e-Taiba, the same Pakistan-based Islamist militia that India blames for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks that killed 166 people.

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As we old Florida boys like to say, it's time to either "fish or cut bait". As a retired solder, I say do what has to be done to win (including cleaning out the Al Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan), or get out altogether. If you can't control the countryside, then the war cannot be won.

I have heard stories of troops in Afghanistan with insufficient water, ammunition, supplies, artillery, mortar, or air support. For the courageous American warriors who are giving 150% to complete this treacherous mission, such poor support is intolerable. I remember being told to "conserve ammunition" in Vietnam, a comment that reflected the inadequate support that we were receiving as our troops were being withdrawn.

After all, the original mission in Afghanistan was to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and those who planned, organized and executed 9/11.

The mission was not to bring the Afghans from the stone age to the modern era with only a handful of troops.

Charles M. Grist

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

An Old Cop Gets Ready to Retire

I reached a milestone today when I took my last wellness/physical testing as a police officer. For most of several decades, I have had to take PT tests every April and October for both the military and the police department. After this, I will still exercise, but there won't be a "grader" standing nearby.

The paperwork is in, the decision has been made, and I will finally retire as a police officer on May 31, 2010 at the age of 61. Like the old cop in the cartoon on the left, I must admit that I am watching the calendar day by day. I am still on "A" Squad, working uniform patrol on those wonderful 12 hour shifts.

I keep thinking what it will be like to wake up on June 1 and, for the first time in 42 years, I won't be working at a job, getting ready to start a job, going to college, or serving in the military.

It will be a strange feeling, but liberating in a lot of ways. I plan to work more on promoting my current book, I have an outline for another one, and I want to share more of my days and nights with my best friend on earth, my wife Debbie. Lord knows she has put up with me for all these 36 plus years, but she has always been there, and she knows how desperately I love her still.

Retirement means different things to those who begin this new phase in their lives.

For guys like me, it simply means that the next adventure awaits.

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I thought a lot this past Easter weekend about all the things I've experienced as a cop. One unique memory also happened on an Easter morning a long time ago.

Another officer and I responded to an apartment complex where a man was waiting with two young boys about 6 and 9 years of age. The boys were the man's nephews, and they had spent the night with him after a basketball game. When the man brought them home, the boys' mother didn't answer the door, even though her car was parked out front.

The man and the boys waited at a nearby apartment while the other officer and I obtained a key from management and entered the apartment. The place was spotless, and we moved from room to room calling the woman's name. As we entered the hallway to the bedrooms, we finally saw her.

Through the door to the master bedroom, I saw her legs folded as they must have been when she was sitting on the edge of her bed. When I reached the door, I could see that she was lying on the bed on her back, with a pool of blood under her head. Her right hand hung off the side of the bed; just below her lifeless hand was a silver revolver lying on the carpet. I seem to remember a woman of about 30, dark hair, pretty dress, with a horrible expression on her face. I checked her pulse, but she was obviously dead and had been for several hours.

On the dresser in front of her was an ashtray with a cigarette that had burned down to the filter. A glass next to the ash tray held the remains of an unfinished mixed drink with the ice melted. A stereo was behind the glass and the ashtray. It was still on, but the cassette tape had played to the end.

As any cop will tell you, although it appeared she had committed suicide, such deaths are homicides until all the facts say otherwise. (We would eventually learn that she was distressed over the breakup of her marriage.) Leaving the scene undisturbed, we walked to the other end of the hall to her sons' bedroom. At the foot of each bed was a large Easter basket filled with candy and other treats. These were her final gifts to her sons.

After the detectives and the crime scene technicians took over, I left the apartment and drove to a fast food restaurant for lunch. Couldn't help it; after hours at the apartment, I was starving.

I took my place in line behind a man in a suit, a woman in her Easter finery, and their small daughter who was wearing her own brand new Easter dress. I was only five minutes from the body of the dead woman, so I was a little surprised when the mother of the little girl asked me, "Hello, officer; and how is your Easter going today?"

I smiled at this beautiful family and said, "Fine, m'aam, just fine."

I guess this is what it's like to be a cop. One minute you must endure one of life's worst moments; minutes later you have the opportunity to witness one of the wonderful things that life has to offer.

After all, it is the job of a cop to try and shield the innocent from the horrors and the evils of this world.

I have been honored to be part of such a profession.

Charles M. Grist

Monday, April 5, 2010

Military Writers Society of America Selects "My Last War" as Book of the Month for April, 2010

I'm proud to announce that my book, "My Last War: A Vietnam Veteran's Tour in Iraq", has been selected as the "Book of the Month" for April, 2010, by the Military Writers Society of America.

It is an honor to belong to this group of active and retired military writers. It is even more of an honor to have such a group of professionals acknowledge my book.

You can read the review from the MWSA at this LINK.

Thanks again to all who have supported me.

Charles M. Grist