Rowell's Words: Bill, Fred and the Crow

William Rowell

We all had our heroes when we were young. Some of mine were Johnny Unitas, Ted Williams, Randolph Scott, Fred O. Seibel, and Bill Mauldin. If you are not familiar with the last two, read on.

Fred O. Seibel was a native of Upstate New York and got his start in newspapers with the Oneida Dispatch in 1908. He became the political cartoonist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1926 and stayed until1968.

I became a fan in the 1950’s and would turn first to the editorial page to see his daily contribution. This was the time of the Eisenhower administration in Washington and the Byrd Machine in Virginia. I recently researched his work on the internet; and, he covered all major events during his 42 years in Richmond. I can truly say that he taught me more about government than I got in any civics or history class.

He was a talented artist and his satire on current events were both dead on and humorous. Nearly each one featured his crow, “Moses”, somewhere in the corner. As a silent bystander, this bespectacled bird somehow reminded me of myself and others viewing the situation. Moses, in his silent and dignified manner, had his own following.

Bill was a native of New Mexico and a cartoonist also. He is most noted for his creation of the “Willie & Joe” characters for the Stars and Stripes newspaper during World War II. He served in the 45th Infantry but was put on the military newspaper when his talent was discovered.

His contributions focused on the average GI Joe from basic training in the states, Sicily, through Italy into France and Germany. His satire was popular with all, except General George Patton. The general did not appreciate his humor and threatened to arrest him if he came into his sector. General Eisenhower stepped in and allowed Bill unlimited access. Ike said his humor was good for troop morale. Bill’s work won his first Pulitzer Prize in 1945.

I became a fan later when my Dad bought a book of Bill’s cartoons from his years in service. I still have it and reread it periodically. His work is timeless and brings back memories and, more importantly, an appreciation for men and women of “The Greatest Generation”.

After the war Bill won many additional awards, including a second Pulitzer, for his work at the St. Louis Post-Democrat, and Chicago’s Sun-Times. He also appeared in several movies; most notably, The Red Badge of Courage in 1951 with Audie Murphy.

Fred and Bill are both gone, Fred in 1968 and Bill in 2003. I never met Fred but had the pleasure of meeting Bill at the D-Day Memorial dedication in Bedford, VA in the 1990’s. He smiled and shook my hand when I thanked him for what he meant. His son told me that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s and remembered little. It was sad to see such a brilliant mind and talent going to waste.

These two men, relatively unknown outside of their circles, were an inspiration to me. I wanted to follow in their footsteps and become a political cartoonist. I would have made it too; but, you have to be able to draw to do that.

Instead, I compensate by writing. I had to join the “thousand words are worth one picture” club. Thanks for allowing me to honor these two fine gentlemen. If you have an opportunity to see some of their work, do so. I think you will enjoy two lost talents. God bless and have a great day.

A resident of Perquimans County, opinion columnist William Rowell can be reached at blrowell@embarqmail.com