Monday, December 03, 2012
The Boys of New Mexico
Leaders or Individuals?
The Boys of New Mexico
Pyle and Mauldin
By Stephen L. Wilmeth
New Mexico has never produced a leader of the ages. There has never been a Washington or a Reagan judged on the basis of lasting legacy and the prism of time. A few visitors came within sight of the bullseye … militarists John Pershing, George Patton and Douglas Macarthur, but they, too, left this earth with only conditional brilliance.
John Chisum, Mangus Colorado, Lew Wallace, Geronimo, Albert Fall, and perhaps two or three living contenders could be categorized as resident near misses, but that remains their collective legacy. Perhaps they were strong individuals, but they didn’t create anything constitutionally inextinguishable.
Great ropers just don’t count.
New Mexico is a contradiction of grand proportions. It is blessed with resources, and, yet, those resources are largely incompatible with government dominion and progressive politics.
Government is the owner, the landlord, the policeman, the tax collector, the guidance counselor, the planner, the labor leader, the community organizer, and the major employer of the state. Fully, 36% of the state’s budget is derived from Washington. It’s little wonder that it consistently votes for the greatest purveyors of handouts. There really ought to be some consideration given to a new state motto. Never did ‘It grows as it goes’ capture the full essence of fact. ‘It (government) grows as it goes’ is a much more accurate depiction of reality of historical trends in the state.
In short, the state is not a fertile hotbed of aspiring leaders of free and independent men. Individualism and private enterprise are near contradictions in the state’s character.
Brilliance in the state, though, can be assigned to a handful of folks that tend to have a common personality trait. They tend to be individuals who take a stand and fight valiantly for their perception of moral authority. They prefer to remain aligned directly with the doer, the individual who is at risk.
Two of them can arguably be nominated as the most influential war correspondents in history. Today, too few even know their names.
Ernie Pyle began life, like many New Mexicans, as a sharecropper’s son. He was born in Indiana and almost graduated from that state’s most prestigious school of journalism. Within a semester of finishing, he quit. Some will argue that Mr. Pyle got cold feet on assuming the role of a genuine college graduate. He seemed to prefer sitting outside the circle of acceptance. It was there he could remain immune from the norm, from the mainstream, and from prevailing societal standards. He preferred to smoke, whittle, and spit with the boys rather than play the part of the learned.
I know Ernie Pyle because I got my grandmother’s war books. Through Mr. Pyle’s written words, I experienced the Greatest Generation in North Africa, through Sicily, on to Germany, and then back to that “lovely green orchard” in France where he sat writing how he was losing his ability to be objective about that terrible war.
Armed with his notepad, a pencil, and his old typewriter in a backpack, his courage under fire wasn’t invented on some editor’s desk. It came from that personality and the unique skill he perfected expanding insight of the war through common GIs, the guys who took the orders and marched to their deaths. It came from being in the foxholes with them during the shelling that killed and maimed human bodies.
He knew exactly what he meant when he witnessed filthy GIs awakening on winter mornings amidst rubble looking “like a tree full of owls” (I understood that phrasing when I eventually looked into the eyes of my mother-in-law in the final days of her Alzheimer’s battle).
In his book, Brave Men, he profiled no less than 600 brave young men. His text is filled with us and we. Try to find I or me and the pickings are few. There was no self aggrandizement in Ernie Pyle’s existence.
Before he went to the Pacific and his death, Mr. Pyle, struggling with depression, apologized to his readership that he “lost track of the point of the war”. He knew only one thing to do and that was to return home to attempt to rid his head of the demons of war.
He sought to restore his vigor under adopted New Mexico skies. He finally concluded he was ready to go “warhorsing around the Pacific”. It was there on the island Ie Shima where he and Colonel Joe Coolidge came under machine gun fire. Laughing, Ernie called to Joe asking him if he was hit. Those were his last words as the next moment he was shot in the temple. He died instantly.
Perhaps the greatest war correspondent on the ground in history, Ernie Pyle fought the establishment for the brave guy … the guy actually doing the dirty work.
High Rolls, New Mexico claims Bill Mauldin as son.
Mr. Mauldin became the most famous war cartoonist in history. By the age of 23, he was a Pulitzer Prize winner. His book Up Front was a number one best seller.
Like Ernie Pyle, Bill Mauldin’s weapon wasn’t a Thompson, or a Browning, or a Garand. It was a pencil and a sketch pad.
Bill Mauldin and his muddy, exhausted, whisker-stubbled cartoon characters, Willie and Joe, brought World War II to the kitchens across America. He brought the vision of truth to what it was like on the front lines. The same GIs that became Pyle’s heroes became Mauldin’s. Their gripes became his gripes, their laughs became his laugh, and their heartaches became his heartaches. He put a human face on a horrific conflict.
He was one of them and they loved him. He fought the establishment for the brave guy … the guy actually doing the dirty work.
When he put his pencil to work blasting George Patton, Patton threatened to take his pencil away and send him to the front line with a rifle.
“I’m beginning to feel like a fugitive from the law of averages,” Mauldin deadpanned in the midst of the donnybrook. He then sketched one of his most famous cartoons with the same byline.
General Eisenhower got wind of the incident and contacted General Patton. He informed him in no uncertain words that “Mauldin draws what Mauldin wants!”
In his entire life, Mauldin never deviated from the character that produced the brilliance of Joe and Willie. His fame didn’t change him. “He never lost his grin, he never outgrew excitement, and he never Big-shotted anybody”. He was a genuine guy … a soft spoken, independent New Mexican.
In his last days, he, too, suffered from Alzheimer’s’. Hearing about his plight, surviving GIs from around the Newport Beach area came by daily to brighten him up. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
If these men exist today, they remain unidentified or, at best, undiscovered. Their contemporaries are molded and shaped to frame a political agenda. As such, it appears the immense commitment that WWII required would be impossible today regardless of the threat to our nation.
Many of us ponder the perceived change in the American belief system since the time of ‘the boys of New Mexico’. At least a place to start would be to review the words Pyle and Mauldin used to describe their opinion of the war’s success.
“We won partly because the enemy was weakened from our other battles.” There was objectivity of their assessment of facts.
“We won because our men are brave, and … the gift of nature’s materials.” There was the common sense assessment that we stood the test, but we also used the abundance of resources of which we had been endowed.
“We won because we had magnificent top leadership.” Give credit where credit is due. It started with Roosevelt’s commitment to victory. Perhaps that legacy is the landmark achievement of that president.
“We won because we were audacious.” Are we audacious in our current form? Each of us should earnestly consider today’s truth of that.
In fact, each of us should seriously assess these points in the context of our nation today. The wars of recent years have demonstrated the will and the ability of our Armed Forces. We can win battles, but can we win wars?
That is the question isn’t it?
Pyle and Mauldin were national treasures. New Mexico had to have had influence in the way they thought, the way they interpreted their surroundings and the way they applied their craft. As individuals they excelled.
As for leaders, the state is still looking for candidates. If there is a lesson in the New Mexico experiment, the nation needs to be worried. Americans like Pyle and Mauldin emerge, but the paradigm doesn’t produce leaders. Isn’t that the risk the entire nation now faces?
Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “Reconsider the rationale for WWII successes herein … what is now missing?”