The Secret Lives of Used Books (Back Home, by Bill Mauldin)

Back Home, by Bill Mauldin (New York: William Sloane Associates, 1947).

Soldier-cum-cartoonist-cum-author Bill Mauldin’s Back Home (1947) did for Stateside demobilization and postwar readjustment what his previous Up Front (1945) had done for the American ground war in Europe. Mauldin — tribune of the common foot soldier, or dogface, embodied in his characters Willie and Joe — took a more wide-ranging political tone in Back Home, and the work therefore lacks the intimate point of view and sentimental cohesion of Up Front.

My copy of Back Home was first owned by Frederick J. Ferrin, Army serial number 17157052. Ferrin enlisted at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, on December 3, 1942, at the age of eighteen. He hailed from Mantorville, Minnesota, a town of less than five hundred people (at the time), down near the southeast corner of the state.

A copy of his Selective Service registration card (see below) contains a marginal note, put down in fountain pen, to the effect that Ferrin was discharged from the Army on March 7, 1946. Whether he thought to have a stamp made of his name and serial number, or whether this was a little commemorative item marketed to demobbed soldiers the way Jostens markets commemorative tchotchkes to high school graduates, I don’t know, but I suspect the latter.

Part of the readjustment involved young soldiers with mustering-out pay learning to resist the constant appeals to their pocketbooks and their sentiment.

Frederick J. Ferrin’s Selective Service registration card, courtesy of



A former senior editor at The Atlantic, now living in California.

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