This being the last Remembrance Day of the 20th century, it seems a fitting tribute, within the context of this site, to focus on the strip that Fred drew that reflected one of the most widely acclaimed war features ever seen in comics history:
Sgt. Rock and Easy Company.
The various story concepts originating from the backdrop of war, Sgt. Rock and others, were brought to four-colour life by immense writing and artistic talents, many of whom served themselves, and brought their experiences back with them to shape their work. While some of the features they created and worked on may have had a decidedly fantastic quality to them - The Haunted Tank being one notable example - they were nonetheless grounded in the stark reality of combat and conflict. For those of my generation, who really were too young to understand much of what was happening in Vietnam, these comics helped us understand, even if only in a limited fashion, what those who had served had endured.
Personally, if you are a veteran - combatant or otherwise - I want to say thank you for your sacrifice. Without your collective efforts on behalf of a larger society, the world would be all the poorer.
I hope that you enjoy some measure of peace, on this day of remembrance of your travails.
Writer-editor Robert Kanigher created Sgt. Rock as the first recurring feature in DC's line of war comics, beginning in Our Army At War in 1959. Kanigher designed Rock to be largely a composite of several other lead characters he had used to that point in various previous stories. Originally named "Sgt. Rocky", with the nickname "The Rock of Easy Company", Kanigher revised his lead's name within a few issues and positioned him as the platoon leader at the same time that reknowned artist Joe Kubert came onboard to take on art responsibilities.
Kanigher gave Rock an origin in 1963, within the pages of Showcase, saying that Rock had enlisted as a private during the early days of World War II. Rock later rose to the rank of sergeant after he held Easy Company's position on a hill despite a German onslaught that killed the other men in his unit. In subsequent years, Rock would routinely turn down offers of promotion, choosing instead to remain on the battlefield with the other "Combat Happy Joes of Easy", as they were commonly referred to due to their propensity of finding their way to the thick of the battlefield.
Rock was joined in Easy Company by a wide variety of other G.I.s, including the three named in the above strip: Wildman, Four-Eyes, and Ice Cream Soldier. According to Maurice Horn in his 'World Encyclopedia of Comics', the Sgt. Rock feature was also notable for introducing one of comics' first non-stereotyped black characters, Jackie Johnson.
Why these nicknames in particular? They came from the characterizations that Kanigher and Kubert created for the Joes of Easy. As stated in DC's Who's Who series, "Private Phil Mason hated the heat, but turned out to be a perfect "Ice Cream Soldier" when it came to combat in freezing weather. A soft-spoken history teacher became a "Wildman" when pushed too far..."Four-Eyes" was Easy's bespectacled sharpshooter..." and so on. The list is long; Kanigher and Kubert knew that sacrifices are made during war, and the ever-changing line-up in Easy Company reflected that awful reality.
The Rock stories dealt with their subject matter deftly and with compassion, highlighting their battles in the European theatre and the personal strains that infantry members endure in wartime. These aren't always easy stories to read, as a result of this, but still, they should be read.