The U.S. Postal Service today unveiled a 44-cent stamp honoring New Mexico native Bill Mauldin, an award-winning editorial cartoonist, and two of his most famous creations, World War II infantrymen Willie and Joe.
The event, at the New Mexico History Museum Auditorium, featured the New Mexico State Police Honor Guard, a rocking acapella version of the National Anthem (thank you, retired postal worker Eunita Holmes, and your family), a variety of speakers, and a stamp that just might rival the size of your average postal truck.
More than 150 people attended the First-Day-of-Issue Ceremony; even more lined up in the lobby to purchase stamps and commemorative materials.
Mauldin was recalled as “an infantry man’s infantry man,” and the conscience of a nation. He won both a Purple Heart and a Pulitzer Prize for his work during World War II, which included his battle-weary Everymen, Willie and Joe.
“Willie and Joe were our brothers, our sons, our neighbors, speaking for all of us without romance or artifice,” Dr. Frances Levine, director of the museum, said during the ceremony. “They simply told the truth.”
Later, Mauldin used his wry editorial humor to document the trials of the civil rights era. One of his most famous cartoons crystallized a nation’s reaction to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In it, the statue of Abraham Lincoln holds his head in his hands, sobbing.
Nearly 50,000 subjects are suggested each year for placement on a postage stamp; a maximum of 30 get chosen. (Here’s some history on Postal Service stamps and a densely dizzying timeline.) Mauldin’s legacy rose to the rare honor this year both for what he accomplished and for its symbolic tie to the importance of a hand-written letter.
“In the middle of the most catastrophic war in history, there was little to cheer (the soldiers’) spirits except the long-awaited letter from home,” said Mickey Barnett, a member of the Postal Service Board of Governors.
John Garcia, secretary of the state’s Veterans Services Department, asked those audience members who were veterans to stand. About a dozen did so, receiving applause that was second only to the stamp’s unveiling in its duration.
As a child, Garcia said, his ex-military father spoke of Willie and Joe so frequently and fondly that “I thought they were guys he served with.”
A dozen of Mauldin’s children and grandchildren attended the event, and stayed along with the speakers to add their autographs to the event program for a long line of attendees.
Other New Mexico-themed stamps have included Concha Ortiz y Pino de Kleven, Georgia O’Keeffe, U.S. Sen. Dennis Chavez, Smokey Bear, hot-air balloons and, in 2002, the Greetings from New Mexico stamp: