Van E. Harl
SNOOPY IN COMBAT
Everyone is familiar with the Peanuts character Snoopy. Snoopy has been known to fight the WW I flying ace, the Red Baron in many battles over the skies of France for years in the Peanuts comic strip. He would get shot down by the Baron and cry “curses, foiled again.” Snoopy spent hours in French bars drinking root beer remembering his time at “the front.” There was even a hit song 30 plus years ago on the radio about Snoopy and the Red Baron.
Charles Schulz, the artist who created and drew the Peanuts comic strip for over 50 years, died in February 2000. That was the end of any new Peanuts cartoons but the old comic strips are re-run in syndication. With the comic strip running for 50 years in 2600 newspapers and in 75 countries there is a lot of material that can be re-seen and enjoyed as if it was a new production.
What has been appearing in the papers recently is Snoopy in the Army during WW II. He just landed 8 June on Omaha Beach and is now fighting his way through France. Snoopy versus the Red Baron was mostly a light hearted outlook at war, but the Snoopy of WW II is not. Snoopy’s infantry soldier persona is a much more serious character, because unlike the WW I fighter pilot (which Schulz was not,) Schulz was a WW II combat infantryman.
Charles Schulz was an infantry squad leader in the US Army during WW II. He was in the 20th Armored Division. Schulz was drafted into the Army in 1943 and took part in the manning of the 20th Armored Division as it was being formed at Ft. Campbell, KY. The Division shipped out for Europe and was fighting in Germany in that terrible cold winter of 1945. As an infantryman he saw war up close and personal. He was drawing cartoons during this time but unlike Bill Mauldin of Willie and Joe comic strip fame, Schulz did not become nationally know until Oct 2, 1950 when Peanuts first appeared in newspapers. It went on to become the most popular comic strip of all times.
Even after Schulz’s death the comic strip lives on. Because of the popularity of Peanuts, Schulz is the second highest paid deceased person in the country, only after Elvis Presley. Snoopy is the most famous character and the only one to spend time in the military, two wars in fact.
One of the WW II Snoopy comic strips that recently ran in the paper is of Snoopy sitting in his foxhole. It is cold and rainy and he is manning his .30 caliber machinegun. The caption reads “Dear Mom Just a note to tell you I am well. They say we will be home by Christmas. I hope so.”
Home by Christmas was and still is the dream of every frontline combat troop. Schulz was not going for humor in these comic strips. He was using his influence of the mass media to show the sadness and high stress factor that a combat troop (like him) endures in war. You could easily take Snoopy out of his WW II foxhole, place him in a desert camouflage uniform, riding a top a Hummer vehicle in Baghdad and the above caption would still convey the same meaning. Charles Schulz understood the infantry soldier in combat.
I attended a memorial a few years ago in New Mexico where they honored Bill Mauldin. They had a bronzed jeep statue that looked like the jeep in the Willie and Joe comic strip. One of Mauldin’s relatives told a story about Charles Schulz and Snoopy. On many a Veteran’s Day in the Peanuts comic strip, Snoopy dressed as a WW II soldier would go to Bill Mauldin’s house to drink root bear and tell war stories. Schulz would even take the original hand drawn comic strip and send it to Mauldin. Mauldin did not really understand why he was being honor both in the newspaper comic strip and having the extremely valuable artwork given to him, until he finally met Charles Schulz.
These men where two old WW II combat veterans, who had a common bond in life: war. Mauldin had worked for Stars and Stripes drawing his comic strip but he was wounded by artillery fire at Anzio Beach and received the Purple Heart. Bill Mauldin’s artwork honored and remembered the combat troops during WW II. Charles Schulz’s artwork even after his death, quietly through Snoopy, without upsetting the politically-correct, continues to honor our combat veterans.
The 4th of July is this week, brought to you by a combat veteran.
©Copyright June 11, 2007 by Van E. Harl