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WASHINGTON, May 25, 2000 For a full minute or so, the two fatigue-clad soldiers in brown boots stood at attention, ramrod straight, among the Pentagon brass.
But as soon as the cameras stopped flashing, the Army's most incorrigible troop, Pvt. Beetle Bailey, gleefully slumped back to his normal slack-shouldered stance.
Sgt. 1st Class Orville Snorkel, of course, maintained proper military decorum as befitting a senior NCO.
Beetle and Sarge will celebrate their 50th year of service this September. The Army recognized that service and their creator, Mort Walker, at the Pentagon May 24.
Just as he has for years in his comic strip, the 76-year-old cartoonist poked fun at the military throughout the award ceremony. "Boy, how times have changed," Walker told reporters and guests at the ceremony. "I was persona non grata around here for many, many years."
He recalled that the Pentagon once used his work as an example of "how not to do things."
"I think finally the brass has learned how to laugh at themselves a little bit," Walker said. "They're not kicking me out of 'The Stars and Stripes' anymore like they did a couple of times."
After receiving framed commemorative coins from the defense secretary, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of the Army and the Army Chief of Staff, Walker quipped, "I won't spend it all in one place."
Beetle Bailey, the comic strip, is seen by 200 million people every day in 1,800 newspapers around the world. It is based on friends and acquaintances Walker met during his Army days. Drafted into the Army in 1943, the cartoonist advanced from private to first lieutenant and served in a number of branches.
"I was drafted into the air corps," Walker said, "although I'd never been on an airplane before. They sent me to the signal corps, although I had no mechanical ability at allÉ. They sent me to the engineers although I'd never even taken any math in high school. They sent me to the infantry where I became the first scout of A Co., 97th Division. I was nearsighted."
After "scraping through" OCS, Walker said he went to an ordnance depot in Italy. There, the infantry officer was assigned as an intelligence and investigating officer.
"I'd never had any police experience; I was only a little over 20 years old. They said, 'He can also be fire chief and he can be in charge of the German prisoner of war camp. I ended up with 10,000 Germans. I couldn't speak German," he said.
Concluding his repertoire, Walker remarked, "I just hope that guy who made those assignments doesn't work for you anymore." On a more serious note, he added, "Little did I know that I was gathering research that would come in so valuable for me over the years. I've learned how to draw jeeps real well."
Army Secretary Louis Caldera praised Walker for his wit, charisma and mastery of his craft in creating Beetle, Snorkel and his dog, Otto, Brig. Gen. Amos Halftrack and the rest. "He has brought to us the lighter side of life in the military, poking gentle fun at the people, the regulations, the chow, the order and discipline of the military," he said. "Or in Beetle's case, the disorder and indiscipline.
As seen through Walker's eyes, Caldera said, soldiers are "human, warm, sometimes lonely, sometimes funny, and sometimes in awe of God's creation. The troops at Camp Swampy may not be the rock-hard fighting force we see in today's Army," he said, "but they're a lovable and unforgettable bunch who serve as a daily reminder of all the men and women who serve our nation in uniform."
Caldera recalled an all-time favorite where Beetle complains to Sarge about the chow, and Sarge admonishes Beetle to be more like the chaplain, who always finds something nice to say about others. "And in the background, the chaplain is telling the cook, 'Congratulations on the ketchup,'" he said.
Walker received the Secretary of the Army's Decoration for Distinguished Civilian Service, the Army's highest civilian honor, for boosting service members' morale for nearly 50 years. Caldera also recognized the cartoonist for his contributions to the National World War II Memorial Campaign. Walker recently helped publicize a Noncommissioned Officers Association World War II Memorial Honor Walk from Mobile, Ala., to Washington.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Theodore Stroup honored Walker on behalf of the Association of the U.S. Army. Retired Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Dave Sommers honored the cartoonist on behalf of the Noncommissioned Officers Association. Retired Army Col. Bob Patrick saluted Walker's efforts supporting the National World War II Memorial Campaign.
Later, the Army honored Walker at a Twilight Tattoo that featured the 3rd U.S. Infantry's Old Guard and the U.S. Army Band, Pershing's Own. The Army's Chief of Public Affairs, Maj. Gen. John G. Meyer Jr., and the Military District of Washington hosted the tribute. Last year, the Army honored Walter Cronkite.