By now you have heard the news that Mort Walker, the cartoonist who drew Beetle Bailey for over six decades, passed away this weekend at the age of 94. At the time of his death, over 200 million people read his cartoons every day in some 1,800 newspapers around the world.
Of all the people who have attempted to draw military-themed cartoons over the years, only two – Mort Walker and Bill Mauldin – have become synonymous with the term military cartoonist; the only difference being that while Mauldin drew Willie and Joe for about six years, Mort drew Beetle for 68. We all grew up with him. Mort Walker’s cartoons became part of the fabric not only of Army life; but of American life as well.
His long and successful career has been the inspiration of every artist and cartoonist who ever tried to draw for military audiences. He is a legend. He is held in awe. People speak in reverent tones when his name comes up in conversation.
He was honored in 2000 with a parade to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his beloved cartoon strip, and was awarded the Decoration for Distinguished Civilian Service that same year. A decade later, the U.S. Postal Service saluted Beetle Bailey with a commemorative stamp. He was honored by his peers with the Reuben Award, the profession’s highest honor, and was voted into the Cartoonists Hall of Fame in 2006.
His support of the troops never wavered. Even after he could no longer make the long trips to military hospitals, he still contributed artwork, signing each piece individually. One of my favorite stories involves a visit to Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC), for which Mort contributed artwork. A Marine patient there was so badly burned that visiting cartoonists were not allowed to draw for him in person. Instead, they left behind one cartoon – an autographed drawing by Mort Walker.
A few weeks later, the Marine died during surgery and the staff at BAMC called. They said, “We were cleaning out his area and the last thing we took off his wall was a Beetle Bailey cartoon signed by Mort Walker that meant a lot to him.” They wanted Mort to know.
To me, that sums up what Mort Walker meant to people in uniform.
Thank you, Mort Walker, for your service to the nation. We will miss you.