NEWPORT BEACH, Calif., Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Bill Mauldin, who created the cartoon soldiers Willie and Joe while serving in World War II and then became a Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist, has died. He was 81.
His family said that Mauldin died Wednesday of pneumonia but he had also been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
While Willie and Joe won Mauldin fame during the early part of his career, Mauldin's post-war editorial cartoons, which appeared in more than 200 newspapers, included the creation of some indelible images -- such as the drawing of Abraham Lincoln with his head in his hands, mourning the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Mauldin was a self-described liberal, but hardly hewed to one political line. While he joined liberals in opposing the war in Vietnam, he sided with conservatives in favoring deregulation of the oil industry "because I don't think the regulations are working."
Born in Mountain Park, N.M., Mauldin began his career as an artist at the age of 14 by painting signs and selling posters. Mauldin was 18 when he joined the U.S. Army shortly before America's entry in World War II. In 1943, his outfit, the 45th Infantry Division, joined American forces in North Africa.
His first editorial cartoons appeared in his company's paper and they soon attracted the attention of editors of Stars and Stripes, which put the drawings in wide circulation.
Mauldin's famous characters -- unshaven, war-weary Willie and Joe -- destroyed the myth that American soldiers were never dirty, that they ate fine food and that they never questioned the orders of higher-ups. Willie and Joe became unglamorous symbols of American draftees doing a tough job under poor conditions.
Memorable cartoons included one where one of his characters was delivering a coup de grace to his broken-down Jeep with a .45. In another, a dog-tired Willie told a corpsman doling out medals, "Gimme an aspirin. I already got a Purple Heart."
Mauldin's irreverent characters caused concern in some high military circles. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., an advocate of spit and polish, looked upon Willie and Joe as sorry specimens and thought about ordering Mauldin to clean them up. But Patton relented when he heard that the theater commander, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, chuckled at their antics and considered them morale-raisers.
After the war, Mauldin signed up with a news syndicate.
"They sold me as comic-page material," Mauldin said. "My stuff was always editorial as hell, but a lot of people apparently didn't realize it."
Mauldin left the syndicate to work for the New York Star, a liberal newspaper, and then spent 10 years free-lancing for various national publications. He also worked on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and in 1962, became a staff cartoonist for the Chicago Sun Times, and remained there until about 1991, when he injured his drawing hand while working on a Jeep.
Mauldin won Pulitzer Prizes in 1945 and 1958.
Mauldin was married three times, the last to Christine Lund in 1972. He is survived by his wife and seven sons.