War History online proudly presents this Guest Piece from Jeremy P. Ämick, who is a military historian and writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
The famed “Beetle Bailey®” comic strip has for years painted the Army life in a colorful hue and brought its creator, Mort Walker, many prestigious accolades and awards. Recently, however, he received a profound recognition that resonates deeply with the cartoonist since it comes from the state where he found inspiration for many of the people and places used in his comic strip.
“Under the authority vested in the Governor of Missouri … I hereby present in the name of the State of Missouri a CONSPICUOUS SERVICE MEDAL to MORT WALKER, WWII veteran of the U.S. Army, for outstanding conspicuous service to the State of Missouri and Nation,” reads the citation accompanying the award, signed by Gov. Eric Greitens.
While attending the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1943, Walker received his draft notice and was soon inducted into the U.S. Army. Following his basic training in Florida, he was sent to a radio school at Camp Crowder near Neosho, Missouri.
“There was flooding on (Camp) Crowder and we had to get up and get out of the barracks to sandbag the area and build a wall to keep out the water,” recalled Walker during an interview late last year. “That’s where I came up with ‘Camp Swampy,’ because what better name for a camp full of water.”
Although the sprawling Missouri military camp would provide the soldier with the idea for the fictional camp in his Beetle Bailey strip, he went on to attend an Army school at Washington University in St. Louis, where he met a sergeant that became “Sergeant Snorkel.” During the latter part of World War II, Walker served in Italy and encountered soldiers that later found their way into his comic strip.
“So many of my friends and people I met in the service made their way into the (Beetle Bailey) strip in one way or another,” Walker said. “All of the characters were modeled after real people and I think that helps add to their humor.”
The Missouri Conspicuous Service medal is authorized by Section 41.570 of the Missouri Revised Statutes and may be awarded to individuals “who have done and performed distinguished and conspicuous service or services either civil or military which reflect honorably and creditably on the state of Missouri,” the statute reads.
Recognizing the contributions that Walker, a former Missouri resident, has made to the citizens of the state through both his military service and the inspiration provided by his Beetle Bailey comic strip, members of the Silver Star Families of America (SSFOA) nominated the cartoonist for the prestigious recognition.
Nominations for the medal are processed through the Office of the Adjutant General of the Missouri National Guard and, following approval, are signed by the secretary of state and governor.
Once the award was issued and received, representatives from the SSFOA traveled to Stamford, Connecticut, recently to make a formal presentation of the medal in Walker’s home office and studio.
“Throughout the years, Walker has spoken positively about his military service in the State of Missouri and has, through his nationally syndicated Beetle Bailey cartoon, painted his ‘Army life’ originating in Missouri in both a positive and humorous light that continues to resonate with veterans of all generations,” an SSFOA representative read from the proclamation during the presentation.
The World War II veteran admits that although he has received dozens of awards and accolades for his work on the Beetle Bailey strip throughout the decades, the Missouri Conspicuous Service Medal holds a very special meaning for him.
“I’ve gotten so many awards over the years that its hard to keep track of them, but I guess that means people approve of me,” he chuckled. “But this award truly is special because Missouri is my home state and the place that helped make me what I am today.”