New Evidence Reveals “G.I. Joe” Nickname Was Unpopular With U.S. Troops During WWII

A newspaper article, newly discovered by The Joe Report’s field reporter, James Long and written by Bill Mauldin, reveals the famous WWII editorial cartoonist held a strong dislike for the over-use of the term, “G.I. Joe.” (Photo: James Long)

During WWII, regular misapplication of the nickname, “G.I. Joe,” would prove to be a recurring point of contention for many in the military. Over 60 years later, new information has been discovered revealing how the name, now hugely popular with fans and collectors of the famous action figure toy, was previously one of regular frustration and controversy.

Originally, the abbreviation “G.I.” stood for “General Issue,” a shorthand term referring to basic equipment and enlisted personnel in the U.S. Army. During the war, the extended moniker “G.I. Joe” became common parlance when referring to any and all servicemen in the military. Used by reporters in their stories as a sort of “catch-all” nickname, “G.I. Joe” was unfortunately, often inappropriately applied, aggravating many troops and even the famed editorial cartoonist, Bill Mauldin.

At the time, Mauldin was serving in the 45th Infantry Division. With an art education from the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, he had been assigned to its company newspaper (and to Stars and Stripes) as sort of a “roving cartoonist.” Mauldin would drive up to the front lines everyday and document the lives of the ordinary, Army infantrymen he met there. His “Willie and Joe” cartoons quickly became hugely popular with the troops, who felt they provided an honest voice for their frustrations.

However, much to Mauldin’s chagrin, his famous creations were regularly misidentified as “G.I. Joe” in various newspapers and magazines, creating a growing resentment within the cartoonist towards the use (and misuse) of the name. Soldiers too, began to feel that the press was too loose with their use of the term, and often voiced their objections in letters to the editor.

Over the years after the war however, with the rise of Hasbro’s popular toy line of the same name, previous disdain for the “G.I. Joe” name by Mauldin and other U.S. troops has been largely forgotten. But today, some 60 years later, The Joe Report’s ace field reporter, James Long, has uncovered new evidence in the form of newspaper clippings from WWII that provide clear evidence of troop resentment toward the “G.I. Joe” name. Here are Long’s comments regarding these new discoveries…

“This short article (shown above) was written by Bill Mauldin, the artist behind the ‘Up Front’ comics featuring Willie and Joe that appeared in Stars and Stripes (and other publications) during World War II. The article originally appeared in the Mediterranean edition of Stars and Stripes on January 11, 1945, and the clipping was reprinted in the 2-book set ‘Willie and Joe, the WWII Years’ (Fantagraphics Books, March, 2008).

As you can see when you read the article, it appears your average combat soldier wasn’t fond of being called a “G.I. Joe.” And it also appears that Mr. Mauldin wasn’t happy when his Joe character became associated with the “G.I. Joe” nickname.

In this letter to the editor, a T-5 misnamed Mauldin’s “Willie” as “G.I. Joe.” Such misuse (and over-use) of the term by those in the press (and in this case, an individual in the military itself), led to growing resentment by many regarding the “G.I. Joe” name during WWII. (Photo: James Long)

Also, as if in proof of his point about his characters becoming associated with the “G.I. Joe” name, a letter in the Mediterranean edition of Stars and Stripes on May 24, 1945, makes exactly that mistake by referring to one of his characters as “GI Joe.”

In the cartoon that prompted the letter writer, Mauldin’s “Willie” learns that combat stars aren’t always awarded equally…or fairly. Click all photos to enlarge. (Photo: James Long)

Making matters worse, the comic the author of the article is referring to (From the May 12, 1945 Mediterranean edition of Stars and Stripes) features Willie—not Joe!

I thought it was an interesting bit of trivia. It may be related to GIjOE (the toy) by the name only, but I thought it might make for something fun for use in The Joe Report.” —James Long

Editor’s Note: Fun indeed! Thanks so much for your help in preparing this article, James. You’ve definitely earned your (unofficial) GIjOE “Eagle Eye” Cub Reporter Badge for this one!

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2 thoughts on “New Evidence Reveals “G.I. Joe” Nickname Was Unpopular With U.S. Troops During WWII

  1. kneonknight says:

    Excellent find! My great uncle had a scrapbook full of “Willie and Joe” comics he clipped from “Stars and Stripes” during the war. Some still bore traces of mud and grime from his foxholes, and one had a dark brownish blotch that looked suspiciously like dried blood, but he would never comment on that.

    Kudos to Mr. Long for this excellent piece.

  2. That is so cool. ORIGINAL copies from the front, with mud and grime, etc. Definite family keepsakes!

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