Intermission Story (13) – Will Eisner & his Sgt. Half-Mast

During World War II, the Army had a problem: Many troops weren’t reading the preventative maintenance manuals — long, boring instructions on keeping guns, tanks and other equipment clean and battle-ready.

Army officials turned to newly drafted Pvt. Will Eisner, who arrived at Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1942 as something of a celebrity because of his success as the comic artist who created “The Spirit,” a popular strip that ran in dozens of newspapers, including The Baltimore Sun.

Eisner transformed the manuals into comics, in which Sgt. Half-Mast and Connie Rodd would remind the hapless Joe Dope of the dangers of improperly oiling artillery, recklessly driving tanks and otherwise acting foolishly with equipment.

The comics, which were printed and distributed to all troops, remain the most widely circulated of all time, said Benjamin Herzberg, a former assistant to Eisner.   “He had a monthly distribution of hundreds of thousands,” Herzberg said.

Under Eisner, the maintenance manuals were made into a monthly comic magazine that became known as The Preventative Maintenance Monthly, or PS Magazine, which is still published today. The Army dictates the subject matter by interviewing troops stationed around the world about their most frequent equipment hiccups and what tips they need.

In the early years, the comics were heavy with sexual innuendo to hold the troops’ attention. A 32-page booklet on M-16 maintenance distributed to every soldier in Vietnam was entitled “Treat Your Rifle Like a Lady.” Connie Rodd, a buxom blonde pin-up girl, was regularly depicted in various states of undress.

Many soldiers at the time barely had a high school education; some couldn’t read at a fifth-grade level, said 1st Sgt. Richard Bernard, a panel member.

“So what’s the best way for you to reach somebody who can’t read the technical manual itself or understand some of the words, but to make a comic strip that grabs their attention?” Bernard said.

The magazine’s supervisory editor, Jonathan Pierce, said the comics have become more politically correct, but no less necessary.

“It’s an interesting confluence of time right now, because with all the deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, so many of the maintenance soldiers were taken out of their maintenance responsibilities and put into infantry support roles so they could expand the number of combat patrols, and then maintenance was left to contractors,” Pierce said. “So now we have soldiers coming back to their maintenance duties that they haven’t done for the past 10 years. We’re in the same position we were in at the beginning of the Korean War.”

“Now we’re back with a group of soldiers who don’t know maintenance, and we’re having to reintroduce not only the idea of maintenance but the idea of the magazine itself,” he said.

The February 2017 edition of the magazine, its 771st issue, was the last in print. The Army has developed a PS Magazine app, which displays the cartoons on soldiers’ smartphones.

Command Sgt. Maj. Toese Tia Jr.,  said he remembered having to read the magazines when he was going through mechanics training.  “As a mechanic coming up, I am a product of Mr. Will Eisner’s PS Magazine,” he said. “It has a legacy that will go well beyond my time.”

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Information is from Military.com

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Farewell Salutes – 

Aaron Butler – Monticello, UT; US Army, Afghanistan, SSgt., KIA

Willie Combs – Detroit, MI; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 11th Airborne Division

Bruce Forsyth – Edmonton, ENG; RAF, (TV personality)

James Harmon – W.Palm Beach, FL; US Navy, Vietnam

Abigail Milam – Lexington, KY; US Army, Hawaii, 2/25th Aviation, SSgt., KIA

George Murray – Oceano, CA; USMC, WWII, PTO, Pfc, KIA (Tarawa)

Ronald St.Mary – Massena, NY; US Navy, Korea, USS Albany

William Turner – Nashville, TN; US Army, WWII, ETO, SSgt., B-26 “Hell’s Fury” engineer, KIA (Amsterdam)

George Uhazie – Uniontown, PA; US Army, WWII, 1st Sgt.

Brian Woeber – Decatur, AL; US Army, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, pilot, KIA

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on August 21, 2017, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 113 Comments.

  1. The power off illustration and impactful storytelling. Through this means, young men received instructions on how to effectively fight for their country. A visual artist conveyed the information in a way that soldiers of the day could best digest it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love Will Eisner’s work and loved seeing this post on your blog! Bravo!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great military humor. and also an interesting story

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post GP and this was an ingenious strategy. Having taught adults in a community setting, I can attest to the fact that people are much more willing to read things that they can relate to—- and if they can get a laugh out of the deal then I’d call it a success!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Comic propaganda I like it 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post, GP! I especially like the slide show of the various magazine covers.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on Citizen Tom and commented:
    “Pacific Paratrooper” provides an opportunity to venture back into the past to experience eye-witness stories of World War II in the Pacific, Farewell Salutes, an occasional homeland episode and military humor. As I see it, the blog provides us an opportunity to understand the relevance of history to today. This post is an example.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on Anna Cottage and commented:
    One of the best blogs, always remembering all those that gave their Lives for the Countries.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Always a pleasure and privilege to read your blog, what touches me most of all is the fact you mention those that died, that served their Country. Reblogging you, more should see all you do. Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

    • and I keep thinking there should be more that I should be doing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My goodness you are doing so much, who would remember those brave Men, and Women who have given their lives for their Countries if it was not for you. I always feel so sorry for all those Men who fought in the Korean War, the forgotten War it is said. You bring news you bring funny stories, your blog is such a tremendous tribute to all who have fought for Peace. You give so much.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Hilarious! Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  11. I could write an entire book on all the miscommunications and the meetings that execs simply don’t show up for — during just one week. But I don’t think they’d have a sense of humor about it. o_O
    Hugs 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. PS Magazine no longer available in print — what a sacrilege! There ought to be a law against discontinuing things that we old geezers are used to! Next thing you know, horseless carriages will be replacing the horse and buggy in the name of progress. All I can say is the government better not try to take away my trusty musket, or they will have to find a way to win the next war without my services!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. What a fun, fabulous post, GP. If only executives would put half that much thought into how they communicate now… Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Hi GP,
    Another interesting post!

    No one else has commented on this: it took 10 years of outsourcing for our troops to “forget” how to do maintenance. This means we now have over half a generation of NCO’s without this critical knowledge / experience. Heaven help us if we ever have to fight a non-trivial enemy with fairly similar forces in a conflict which goes more than a few weeks. (Obviously, this means the Russians or the Chinese.)

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Reblogged this on KCJones and commented:
    This is a fantastic article!!! Seen before and LOVE to see again.

    Like

  16. What a great idea! I bet the rhymes were easier to remember too.

    Like

  17. Yes GP. It’s always good to talk to people where they are at. You get ’em on side and you get ’em informed.

    Like

  18. Fascinating and entertaining, GP. My dad was once featured in a WWII comic strip he showed me when I was about 10 – pretty good likeness of him, btw – but he never mentioned that comics were “a thing.”

    I have no idea what happened to it after my father died, but I’d love to have it framed and on my wall today. I can’t even recall the name of the strip, but I do recall that his plane was a major player and that there was a pinup painted on its side.
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Such a great way to spice up an otherwise boring, sleep inducing information.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. GP, every time I visit this blog, I know I am in for a rare treat – and this was one of your best.

    Liked by 1 person

    • An easy-going, humorous post breaks up the monotony of war and death while reading history or it becomes too much like school where you merely learn the names of generals, dates and statistics. Glad you liked it.

      Like

  21. Excellent post, GP. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Maybe that’s the root of my father’s obsession with keeping tools clean. I could count on being woken-up and made to go back to the garage to clear and put away anything I left our – no cartoons necessary.

    Love these stories.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Informative and enjoyable. Eventually you have to find the right triggers for the audience you are trying to influence. That marketing managers in corporations get paid millions to do.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Never heard of this. What a great idea. Lots of soldiers enter right out of high school without the life experiences that would help them manage their equipment. Love this approach.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Very clever response to the RTFM problem. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  26. GP, this post touched me in a personal way. I was a friend of Will Eisner’s son in high school, and his parents bought our house when we sold it in 1975. My father, an architect, had great respect for Eisner’s work and was happy to turn over the house (which my father designed) to someone like Will. Thank you for this post. Although I am not in regular touch with his son, I will see if I can share it with him through Facebook.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. I well remember these comics from my time as a maintenance officer in the 1980s. Great way to get the troops interest. Thanks for the memory.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. This was new to me, too, who would have thought guys would look forward to their next copy of something called “Preventative Maintenance Monthly”. Some good down-to-earth thinking by the army.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. A great idea, well executed

    Liked by 1 person

  30. That’s pretty cool 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Fascinating. I’ve always been an Eisner fan but knew nothing about any of this. Good piece.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. What a great idea it was and still is! Today readers of the Tintin comics struggle with similar politically uncorrected story lines though 😉 One has always to keep in mind the time and circumstances these comics were created in. Thanks for sharing GP Cox!

    Liked by 1 person

  33. I have seen some of the posters before, but never realised about the comic-style manuals. A very enjoyable post, GP.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

  34. In the last Comic,I catch the nice Cartoon!
    It’s Banzai Baloon corps,バンザイ we Japanese love Words^_^

    Liked by 1 person

  35. I don’t think that Bruce Forsyth was in the RAF during WWII, he was born in 1928. His brother John was in the RAF, and was killed in a training exercise in 1943.
    In 1948 he would have, in all probability, registered to do his National Service for 2 years , but there doesn’t seem to be any record of him serving in any of the armed services.

    Like

  36. Yup! Comics or cartoons always the best medium of education 👍😉

    Liked by 3 people

  37. Pierre Lagacé

    I have learned something new GP.

    Liked by 4 people

  38. Thank you for sharing this story with your readers.

    Like

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