|Willis Gillis in Convoy World War II 1943 Norman Rockwell|
The life of Willie Gillis, as related by Rockwell, ran counter to the nation's dominant military narrative. It shifted attention from glamorous military men - from marines and sailors and pilots seated in open cockpits with their long, white scarves fluttering behind them in the sky - to the lowly, unsung infantryman. Just two weeks after Willie Gillis made his debut, a young cartoonist named Bill Mauldin introduced a soldier named Willie into a strip that had previously featured only Joe, perhaps following Rockwell's lead. In the next few years, Mauldin's Willie and Joe moved to the military newspaper Stars and Stripes and its two disheveled "dogface" protagonists became household names. The journalist Ernie Pyle noted, "War makes strange giant creatures out of us little routine men who inhabit the earth." Little routine men - they were the heroes not only of war but of all of American life. That was Rockwell's view certainly and it would acquire the force of a national credo in 1942, when Vice President Henry Wallace paid homage to the "Century of the Common Man."
-Deborah Solomon, as excerpted from American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell