Monday, September 24, 2007

The Whales Way...

From the desk of Sir Jason...

This week I visited Depoe Bay, the "Whale Watching
capital of the world." There was a nice ocean view
from the hotel room. And a number of interesting
things to see-the sort of collections of small
concessionaires found in any coastal tourist town.
Two things I found notable:

The Historical Museum:

Oregon has been blessed with an uninteresting history.
There were few disasters, far away wars were always
far away and the Whites and Indians while not always
getting along warmly, could at least adapt to each
other in a sort-of civilized manner. However history
is not all crimes, vices, and follies. The Historical
Museum at Depoe Bay gives examples of everyday life on
the Oregon Coast for generations and is well worth a

Lest We Forget:

"Up Front" by Bill Mauldin

Every New Year the great World War I flying ace Snoopy
meets with Bill Mauldin to quaff root beer and tell
war stories. Charles Schultz, had been cheered by his
comics when he was a machine-gunner in France in 1944.
So was my grandfather. So was every American's

Bill Mauldlin started his unusual career publishing cartoons for a divisional newsletter. He had of course seen plenty of action-it would have been cheeky to make the jokes he did if he hadn't. But his greatest contribution came writing cartoons that became so popular that they were published to the entire audience. It says much for both the humility and thecommon-sense of the brass that he was able to get away with it. It could never have been done in many armies but GI always made it clear that his freedom was
loaned but never sold, and his commanders if not exactly understanding were at least tolerant on the whole.

Up Front is a collection of satires on military life as well as commentary on them. It is certainly grim and wouldn't have been so beloved by GI if it wasn't. The perennial protagonists were the anti-heroic Willie and Joe who were ugly mud-spattered and perpetually weary. Up Front is not an "antiwar" piece. The writer is definitely biased toward the allies as all writers were then. What it is is a way to show GI-without the extremes of flag-waving, on the one hand and exaggerated, over-sweet pity-that someone Back There does indeed understand him.

Up Front also has the advantages of being a piece written during the war and gives the perspective of the times.

All in all a fine piece. So when you wish check out Up Front and quaff root beer as you watch Willie and Joe trudging the "path of glory" soaked in mud and bent over into the shape of a question mark. They may not really have been "The Greatest Generation". But they were good enough.

Sir Jason


  1. Bill Mauldin gives several interesting details. For instance.

    Barns were the best billets. Billeting on a home is difficult as all soldiers are "temporary barbarians" and the civilians would naturally take it ill. However there is usually enough space in a barn for everybody to sleep on the floor in reasonable comfort. The only difficulty is that Germans know this too-and mine barns.

    One of the things Bill Mauldin hated the Germans for was their propensity to destroy everything. To be fair making sure that the enemy is marching through a desert is an old tactic. But the Huns were more then a little over-eager to use it. Another thing that made GI really mad was stoving liquor casks before they left-those horrible Huns!

    Foraging by soldiers and supply theft by civilians created a peculiar form of "trade." Bill Mauldin says that the populace got the better of it. One wonders. Of course that doesn't count the fact that the Germans were usually there before and they probably foraged more then Americans did.

    One of the most horrible things was that the miracles of the Arsenal of Democracy seldom got where it was needed. Hot food was seldom to be found(I have wondered why they couldn't issue a canteen sized thermos that could be taken forward). USO of course could only entertain the rear-echelon and those on leave. There were constant traffic jams and fuel, ammo, and basic rations had to have priority. And in Italy they still had to use mules for the high roads couldn't take trucks. Willie and Joe had it better then "Wellington's Invincibles"-when they got off the line. Up close it wasn't really much to choose.

    Once in awhile you find someone who is uncomfortably "comfortable" with the thing. Bill Mauldin describes a hunter from the Bayou country and a German exile who had a personal grudge. He also describes a former mob enforcer who adapted The Family's pecuiliar innovations in psychological warfare.

    When you march through a villiage you can tell it's recent past. For instance if most of the damage faces toward the enemy it indicates that he has given the villiage a pasting.

    Sir Jason

  2. The Oregon Historical Museum shows things like an old-fashioned spinning wheel. It also shows the team photo of a turn of the century basketball team. And a mock up of a forties-fifties gas station.
    "Great events" come and go but ordinary people remain.

    Sir Jason

  3. Interesting insights that most people are not aware of, today.

    Sir John