Friday, October 09, 2009

The elusive nature of Army humor

The Army Sad Sack!

My father was one of the cheapest people I’ve ever met (like many people who survived the great depression), and I remember him telling me that bowling was for rich people! But we were truly poor, a family of three trying to survive on a disabled veteran’s meager pension.

However, dear old Dad was never stingy with comic books. For some reason, he figured that reading, or any sort was to be encouraged, and he bought me literally hundreds of Army related comic books like Beetle Bailey and The Sad Sack.

Actually, Dad enjoyed them more than I did, but it an iconic Army thing, dating from WWII when many folks in the Army "didn't read much" (that's the polite way of saying that they were illiterate).

Sad Sack depicted the lunacy of Army life, like getting a zillion shots each month:

Real Sad Sacks in the Army

The Sad Sack cartoon was targeted at intelligence somewhere below Beetle Bailey, juvenile slapstick humor that only a six year old or an Army private could enjoy:

But far and away, the most talented Army cartoonist was Bill Mauldin, a genius who wrote prophetic one panel cartoons for Stars and Stripes:

The Prince and the Pauper – Bill Mauldin

I just ordered these books of Bill Mauldin works:

- Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front

- Bill Mauldin's Army: Bill Mauldin's Greatest World War II Cartoons

- Willie & Joe: The WWII Years

I grew up within a half mile of an Army base, and I’ve known hundreds of soldiers over the years, and I can say that the Army attracts some very unique characters. People join the Army for a variety of reasons:

Join for the money – It’s sad to know, but there is a whole class of folks who join the Army because of the money! It’s great to get half pay for life after serving only 20 years, but because of the pathetic pay, the Army tends to get the folks from the lowest 10% of the high school graduating class. My Dad told me that his monthly Army pay in 1936 was $18 a month!

Join for free college – I have several West Point graduates who work for me, and while the service academies are not Ivy League, you can’t beat the price! They even pay you to attend!

Join to turn your life around - When I was a kid, I knew several soldiers who were “sentenced” to the Army! The judge would impose a jail sentence and let it be known that it would be forgiven if they signed-up. Even today, I have some family members who were saved by the armed forces because they could channel their violent demeanor into a place where that sort of thing is encouraged.

When I taught school on a military base, one of my students gave me a real Army manual, written in comic book style!

It’s actually as great concept, and I’m thinking of publishing some computer books in comic book form.