The place was Luxembourg, 1945. A very red-faced Gen. George S. Patton stopped World War II temporarily to confront a baby-faced, baggy-trousered GI with muddy boots about the pictures he was drawing of soldiers in the American army.
"I asked him what he thought was inaccurate," the ex-GI said yesterday. "He admitted that the men looked like that at the front. I think I won that one."
So Willie and Joe continued their shrewd and shaggy ways.
And, still, the Allies won the war.
Bill Mauldin, whose cartoons brought warmth and laughter to cold, damp, bug-ridden World War II GIs, sat at a hotel bar in Washington yesterday, his beard a reminder to an old friend that when Mauldin was plaguing the brass he only shaved twice a week.
The former boat-rocking soldier, now 58, draws five political cartoons a week for the Chicago Sun-Times. He lives on a 320-acre farm in Santa Fe, N.M., with his wife, Chris, and 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Kaja.
It took an Army ceremony, wouldn't you know, to get him to Washington. He came for an honor wreath and plaque ceremony for the 45th Infantry Division. Oklahoma National Guard, yesterday at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
It was warm during the long ceremony and Mauldin, who had spent a long evening with friends the night before, stood at a sort of civilian attention in the hot sun. He said later, "I kept thinking about those soldiers in London who fall flat on their faces during the changing of the guard and no one helps them."
On a shady bench, waiting for a ride back to town. Mauldin talked about his usually casual attire. Living the rough life in New Mexico does not make one a clothes horse. he was dressed in the only suit he owns. It reminded him of the time he decided to buy a tux, then went to a Washington banquet attended by Sen. John Kennedy and his brother Robert.
"Jack and Bobby were pushing notes back and forth to each other with comments on the other guests and laughing when the waiter spilled a bottle of soda water on me. Bobby said, "That's all right, newspaper guys always wear rented tuxedos.'"
Mauldin has been drawing ever since he can remember. Born in New Mexico and raised there and in Arizona he took off to Chicago in 1939 with $500 from his maternal grandmother to attend the Academy of Fine Arts.
He learned cartooning during the day and at night drew gag cartoons. He figures that after submitting at least 3,000 to 20 magazines he might have sold about 50 at $2 each.
A year later he joined the Arizona National Guard and during a four month period he drew 64 days of KP.
Assigned to truck driving, he was found to be an expert at stripping gears, and the officer in charge of the motor pool gave him permission to try out as a cartoonist for the division news paper.
Most of his early work he called "latrine humor" and he became very popular with the division.
When the outfit moved to Italy, Mauldin broadened his horizons and, in 1943, Willie and Joe began to take shape.
"I was always scrambling for materials," Mauldin remembered. "Ink, pens, brushes. The lines had to be bold, no light washes. The Italian engravers did not have the materials to produce fine engravings.
"The best paper I found to draw on was the double-thick photo prints. I would rip a picture a Mussolini off the wall, or Hitler, and draw on the back."
Mauldin thrived on depicting the boredom of the GI, waiting around and waging a house-keeping-and-washing war.
Near Casino, Italy, in 1943, he received a superficial wound from a mortar shell; he applied for a Band-Aid and was handed a Purple Heart.
Turning the incident into a gag, he had Willie in front of a medic saying, "Just gimme a coupla aspirin, I already got a Purple Heart."
Shortly after returning from the war, Mauldin had his marriage founder and end in divorce. Like most ex-GIs he was having a tough time adjusting to civilian life.
"I had a guilt feeling that I had made something good out of the war.It wasn't a nice feeling."
He began lashing out at the Ku Klux Klan and race discrimination as early as the late 1940s, but he was still suffering through a period of letdown. "I began to feel like a bore with not much to say."
He published his first postwar collection of cartoons, "Back Home," in 1947, and shortly after began an intensely active period. He published three more books, acted in two movies, remarried, covered Korea for Collier's magazine, took up flying and bought a $9,000 Piper Tri-Pacer.
Living on a 10-acre estate 35 miles north of Manhattan, he ran for Congress but was defeated soundly by a Republican in a GOP stronghold.
Moving to St. Louis, he went to work for the Post-Dispatch after the retirement of cartoonist Dan Fitzpatrick, whose work Mauldin had admired for many years. It was there that Mauldin won his Pultizer.
But his second wife was killed in a tragic car accident, leaving him with four young sons.
In 1962, he moved to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Now he works full-time out of New Mexico, sending his drawings in by AP wire. He feels his work has improved since he's gotten out of the office.
"It might bug an editor or two, but I must say it's a nice way to work, no one learning over the shoulder."
Because he says the transmitter was not picking up the subtle washes he had been using, Mauldin has returned to the heavy lines of his earlier style, the one he used in Italy many years ago. His simplicity of design and economy of line always were his fortes.
Mauldin relaxes by trying to raise a plant that produces the tough jojoba bean.
"It might be the answer to saying the whales," he said. "I gives off that very fine oil they now get from the whale for delicate instruments.
"I have had trouble with my first crop, not enough rain, but I am going to try again. Who knows, I could become the jojoba king of the West."
When he talked of John Kennedy there was a lot of admiration. A little less of Bobby. As for Teddy, he hasn't really made his mind up yet.
"I never knew much about him," he said. "He's a good senator. I think during his run I only made a couple of cartoons mentioning Cappaquiddick. Maybe it was because I like his big brother."
Mauldin changed subjects, laughing as he told a story about his son Bruce from his first marriage. A career Army major, Bruce did two tours in Vietnam as a chopper pilot.
"On a trip one day, my kid picked up Patton's son, then a general.
"Patton looked at the name tag over Bruce's pocket, pointed, stared and nodded.
"Bruce nodded back and they both laughed like hell."