I have more books stashed at home than I will live to read, so I always get a sinking feeling when someone lends me one I don’t have. Inside I’m thinking, hoo boy, another book to read that I’d rather not.
That’s how I reacted this year when my friend Dick Musselman of the Lehigh Valley Veterans History Project handed me Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front, a 2008 biography of the famed GI cartoonist by Todd DePastino. The author had signed it for Dick, with a nice message about Dick’s efforts at keeping veterans’ stories alive.
Dick told me DePastino is also passionate about preserving vets’ stories – he cofounded the Veterans Breakfast Club http://veteransbreakfastclub.com/ in Pittsburgh, where he lives – and that he was sending DePastino a copy of my book, War Stories: In Their Own Words, published last fall by The Morning Call. https://secure.mcallcommunity.com/store/pages/war-stories.php
Well, that softened me. So when I finished reading Susan Orlean’s Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, I decided to pick up Bill Mauldin, and if I didn’t care for it, I’d just skip through it and look at all the cartoons. It wasn’t a book I would’ve reached out to pick up, because I wasn’t really interested in knowing all about Mauldin.
I read every word.
DePastino tells the story of Mauldin’s life deftly and with great insight. He drives home the travails of the lowly foot soldiers in the mud and how Mauldin identified with them and reflected their highs and lows. In one section I particularly enjoyed, he runs through the tension between Mauldin and Audie Murphy as they were filming The Red Badge of Courage. It’s a wonderful tribute to the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner.
I emailed DePastino last week and told him how much I liked his book. He sent me a gracious message the next day, asking how the writing was going on my book about my cousin who was killed in Vietnam. www.davidvenditta.com It turns out DePastino teaches a college course on the Vietnam War. He recommended The Father of All Things by Tom Bissell as a guide. (Oh geez, another book to read.)
That reminds me. I have to return Bill Mauldin to Dick Musselman – and thank him.