Bill Mauldin, 81, the editorial cartoonist whose muddy, sarcastic dogface characters Willie and Joe were icons for the GIs of World War II, died Jan. 22 at a nursing home in Newport Beach, Calif. He had Alzheimer's disease, pneumonia and other ailments.

Mr. Mauldin drew for the military paper Stars & Stripes and the 45th Division News while serving as an Army sergeant in Europe. His depictions of the boredom, wretchedness and muted rebellion of average GIs against bad rations and fatuous officers were widely appreciated among the lower ranks and endeared him to Americans at home.

Willie and Joe's laconic observations on warfare were tolerated and even admired by some officers, including Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. There was one notable exception: Gen. George S. Patton, the Third Army commander who tried unsuccessfully to order him to spruce up his characters.

In his book "Up Front," Mr. Mauldin said his characters were typical of "infantry soldiers who have been in the war for a couple of years."

"If he is looking very weary and resigned to the fact that he is probably going to die before it is over, and if he has a deep, almost hopeless desire to go home and forget it all; if he looks with dull, uncomprehending eyes at the fresh-faced kid who is talking about all the joys of battle and killing Germans, then he comes from the same infantry as Joe and Willie," Mauldin wrote.

Collections of Sgt. Mauldin's cartoons also were published during the war, and with the help of correspondent Ernie Pyle, his work was syndicated in American papers. He won the first of his two Pulitzer Prizes for editorial cartooning in 1945, at age 23. It was a typical Mauldin effort showing dispirited infantrymen slogging through a downpour and was captioned, "Fresh American troops, flushed with victory."

Author and former Vietnam War correspondent David Halberstam later wrote: "One senses that if a war reporter who had been with Hannibal or Napoleon saw Mauldin's work, he would know immediately that the work was right."

Mr. Mauldin's first postwar collection of cartoons, "Back Home," was published in 1947, and he went on to publish three more books -- there were 16 in all -- and to see his work syndicated nationally.

He became, for a time, a national phenomenon. His face was on the cover of Time magazine, and one of his books was a national bestseller. He acted in two 1951 movies -- "The Red Badge of Courage" and "Up Front" -- wrote about the war in Korea for Collier's magazine, took up flying and ran unsuccessfully as a Democratic candidate for Congress from New York.

He joined the staff of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1958 and won his second Pulitzer the next year. That cartoon was a comment on the plight of the Soviet author Boris Pasternak. In it, one prisoner in a Siberian camp says to another, "I won the Nobel Prize for literature. What was your crime?"

Mr. Mauldin moved on to the Chicago Sun-Times in 1962. There, he drew one of his best-known cartoons, published after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It showed a grieving Abraham Lincoln, his hands covering his face, at the Lincoln Memorial.

In general, Mr. Mauldin told an interviewer, he had a lust for "picking on people," provided they were powerful, unchallenged and unduly admired. A reviewer of a 1961 collection of Mauldin cartoons, "What's Got Your Back Up?," said Mauldin the rebel had "become the satirist" and suggested that "for the first time in years, [Washington Post cartoonist] Herblock has formidable competition."

William Henry Mauldin was born in Mountain Park, N.M., and returned to live in New Mexico later in life. He failed to graduate from high school, took a correspondence course in cartooning and then studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.

Before the war, he tried making a living from gag cartoons. Most were rejected but some were published by Arizona Highways. He enlisted in the Arizona National Guard in 1940, five days before the guard was federalized. Mr. Mauldin, who had rickets as a child and might have been rejected on medical grounds if drafted, was automatically in the Army.

While serving in Oklahoma, he began doing drawings for the newspaper in Oklahoma City. In 1943, his division was shipped to Sicily, where he joined Stars & Stripes. He later was wounded while covering fighting at Salerno and was awarded a Purple Heart.

In the past year, after news of Mr. Mauldin's illness appeared in newspaper columns, thousands of veterans, widows and others wrote to him, offering thanks and stories of survival. Hundreds of letters poured in every day, and veterans arrived at the nursing home for visits.

"You have managed to capture the irony, double standards and outright insanity of Army life," one man wrote, "in a way that allows us to laugh at ourselves and our leaders and keep moving forward in the face of adversity."

Mr. Mauldin, who was married three times, had eight children.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Editorial cartoonist Bill Mauldin smiles after receiving the Harry S. Truman Good Neighbor Award in Kansas City, Mo., in 1996.Mr. Mauldin's Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoon depicts Soviet novelist Boris Pasternak saying to another gulag prisoner: "I won the Nobel Prize for literature. What was your crime?"Pvt. Robert L. Bowman, left, poses for Sgt. Mauldin, then a cartoonist for Stars & Stripes, at the Anzio beachhead in Italy in May 1944.