The Benevolent & Protective Brotherhood of Them What Has Been Shot At


“Ya don’t git combat pay ’cause ya don’t fight.”

My dad and I went to a military vehicle and gear ‘swapmeet’ one weekend and I came across a book that I just fell in love with.  I really like politically-oriented cartoons and art and this book struck many beautiful chords with me.  It’s called Up Front and its written and illustrated by WWII’s famous rank ‘n’ file cartoon genius, Bill Mauldin.  It was written in 1944 while Mauldin was in Italy and France.  It’s essentially a long political and social diatribe to accompany 161 of his cartoon drawings, all of which give voice to the sardonic vignettes of ‘dogface’ infantry soldiers.   

Some of the words and phrases he uses in Up Front are from the era of the Greatest Generation and have since dropped out of usage.  Some of these word uses, however, are still used in British English.  For example, in the title of this post, The Benevolent & Protective Brotherhood of Them What Has Been Shot At, “what” functions as “that” or “whom” does in our current vernacular but you will find speakers in Britain that use “what” in the same way as Mauldin did.  This Brotherhood, by the way, was what Mauldin imagines is the unspoken understanding and mutual respect amongst those who were ‘in the shit,’ to use a more comtemporary phrase.

Mauldin also uses a lot of military jargon that is often a bit esoteric.  Here’s a sample:

“The infantry in combat doesn’t worry much about rank.  One company I know of had two sets of noncoms for a while.  One set led squads and patrols when the outfit was committed.  After the company was pulled back to a rest area, this first set lined up to be busted, and an entirely different set – those who had more of an eye for regulations and discipline – took over while the others went out and got tight.”

For those that didn’t catch it (as I didn’t at first) ‘noncom’ is non-commissioned officer such as a corporal or sergeant (or possibly also ‘non-combatant’? (a double entendre?)); committed is on patrol, engaged in battle, or ‘in the shit’; busted means demoted in rank; got tight means got drunk, etc.  In the book, Mauldin also uses the term souse for drunkard and being sick on the floor for puking.

If Jerry, the Germans, are shooting at them, a buck sergeant, a newly-promoted SGT, and a buck private, an ambitious PVT, might leave their shelter half and run and take cover behind a revetment of sandbags.  If they got hit, they’d be carried in a litter, a stretcher (possibly from the term for a carrier of royalty). 

Officers were derided as the old man, brass hats, martinets (if they are sticklers for rules and discipline), and Rear echelon gold bricksGold bricks are people who dress themselves up as better than they are (ie: phonies or frauds) and goldbrickers are shirkers or do-nothings.  Both of these are from the idea that if you paint a brick of worthless metal in gold paint and then try to sell it as gold, it is a fake and you are a lying, do-nothing bum.

Other fun words include: the Anzio Express, a huge German gun that pounded the Allied forces at this Italian beachhead; round robin, a petition-style letter; pop corn man,  a German bomber dropping butterfly bombs at night; and exploding ack ack, anti-aircraft guns a-firing.

Below is another of my favorite vignettes from Up Front:

I made a drawing of Joe and Willie slouched in a ruined doorway and looking wearily at an admonishing rear echelon corporal.

Says Willie, “He’s right, Joe.  When we ain’t fightin’ we should ack like sojers.”

The day after the cartoon was printed a pleasant old colonel came into the Stars and Stripes office.  He was quite evidently a new arrival, for he didn’t know I was seditious.  He hadn’t bothered to study the drawing, which had taken a crack at the rigid regulations with regard to soldierly conduct behind the lines.

All the colonel knew was that when you weren’t fighting you were supposed to have a military bearing.  So he had a brilliant and highly original idea which he thought certain to win him a promotion or the Legion of Merit.  He wanted, so help me, to take the original drawing and have thousands of huge poster copies printed.  He planned to plaster them on every wall and telephone pole in Italy, as an admonition to GIs to “ack like sojers.”

I was in a hell of a spot.  He really looked like a nice guy, and I didn’t want him slaughtered like a lamb, when he would probably start drawing retirement pay in a couple of years.  But surely I couldn’t say, “Sir, that’s a treacherous cartoon, made to cause riots and rebellion among soldiers, and it would be a mistake to make posters of it and aid and abet my cause.”

Instead, I gave him the drawing and, with brigadier’s stars in his eyes, he headed for the door.

“The general will love this,” he said.

I’m sure the general did.



Here’s the NY Times article on Bill Mauldin’s death in 2003:

Here’s an interesting article on military jargon using English, French, and German examples:



  1. jen said,

    July 13, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    When Hailey was just beginning to speak in long sentences she used the word what in the place of that. She would ask me to get her a hat what has stripes on it. I miss it.

  2. thedialect said,

    July 14, 2010 at 7:44 pm


    Thanks for the comment. You should start using that construction and tell Hailey to use it again. I think its really fun. Terry says it that way and it makes me smile everytime he does.

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