View Full Version : War veterans remember moments, comrades lost to the pages of history

11-10-02, 03:44 PM
By Ron Jensen, Stars and Stripes
Stripes Sunday magazine, November 10, 2002

My childhood heroes were Willie and Joe.

Not Mays and DiMaggio.

Just Willie and Joe.

I found them in “Up Front,” a book that belonged to my father. It was by cartoonist and soldier Bill Mauldin, and offers his observations and recollections of the war from foot-soldier level.

It includes his cartoons of the two unshaven, hunch-shouldered, disheveled GIs who paid scant attention to the nuances of the English language.

They became heroes to me.

The cartoons were funny. Still are. A favorite shows Willie and Joe hugging the ground while bullets whiz close overhead.

“I can’t git no lower, Willie,” Joe says. “My buttons is in th’ way.”

I was already interested in the war. My father had repaired B-24s in the Pacific. And my mother’s uncle is buried in Plot C, Row 1, Grave 58 at the Cambridge American Military Cemetery in England.

But Mauldin’s drawings captivated me. And, because he created Willie and Joe for the pages of Stars and Stripes, I was thrilled to land a job with the newspaper in 1988. My name would appear where Mauldin’s did. My stories would run on the pages where Willie and Joe shuffled along nearly 50 years earlier.

I was working for the newspaper read by all the soldiers who tramped across Europe in battle with Nazi Germany.

A few months after my arrival at Stripes, I was included on a team dispatched to Normandy to cover the 45th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Europe.

For a few days, I rubbed shoulders and drank beers with the real Willies and Joes. They told me their stories at the places they had occurred.

These were Mauldin’s cartoons come to life.


“Try to say sumpin’ funny, Joe.”

Raymond Moon of Orlando, Fla., was in a landing craft on D-Day. He hunkered down in the second row of soldiers waiting to storm the beach, listening to the rattle of machine gun bullets striking the door of the small boat, sounding like lethal popcorn.

“My God,” he thought, “they’re going to let down that door.”

They did, and the bullets raked the men at the front of the boat. Moon lived because the men behind pushed to get out and he fell over the dead body of the man in front of him. The man behind him, too, was killed.


Since that first trip to Normandy, I’ve walked with vets across the battlefields of the war, from those Normandy beaches to the Ardennes, site of the Battle of the Bulge, and on to Dachau, which I visited with the first Americans to witness the horrors of the concentration camp 50 years earlier. I even partied in Plzen in the Czech Republic with that city’s liberators.

The old vets were usually surprised to meet a Stars and Stripes reporter.

In 1989, colleague Vince Crawley and I were writing our stories at a bar booth in Ste. Mère Église, the first French town liberated on D-Day.

Into the bar came several vets. One asked if we were journalists. When we told him we were and where we worked, his jaw fell. He literally dragged his buddies in from the street to meet us.

“These fellows are with Stars and Stripes,” he told them.

One old vet sat down across from Vince and continually patted Vince’s hand, saying, “You guys did a great job for us during the war. You really did.”

Not us, of course. But we knew what he meant.

I recently bumped into veteran Keith Roberts at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, England. He had been a navigator aboard a B-24.

On his second mission, the aircraft was badly damaged and the crew was forced to jump. They wanted to jump on the friendly side of the front line, but no one knew where it was.

“I knew,” Roberts said. “I’d read it in Stars and Stripes that morning before we left England.”

With Roberts’ information, the pilot steered the faltering aircraft behind the Allied line and ordered the crew to jump.




11-11-02, 03:30 AM
Continuing a thought expressed in a previous post. Who are the heroes of Ron Jensen's children, and why?

What will THEY write about ther memories, forty years from now?,