Norman Rockwell’s Folk Hero of World War Two.


He’s one of the most recognizable GI’s of all time, and he never even saw active duty. Conceived by Norman Rockwell in 1941, as a recurring character during Rockwell’s turn as cover artist for The Saturday Evening Post, Willie Gillis Jr.’s story spanned eleven covers (with one rejected cover depicting Gillis nearing actual combat) and five years. Gillis was the everyman soldier, a fresh faced boy that gave Americans near and far hope throughout World War II. Rockwell painted Gillis’ tale from enlistment to college, showing both Gillis and his not one, but two girlfriends, as they made their way through the war.

Rockwell used Gillis to portray the more picturesque aspects of the war, providing peace of mind for the four million Americans the subscribed to the Post. Like many of Rockwell’s paintings during this period, the Gillis posters helped to bolster the war effort, and inadvertently boost the sale of war bonds. Gillis was like a blank canvas for Americans back home. They could look at him and see their own soldier, and so as the war raged on, Gillis’ tale helped to keep spirits up, ensuring that many of those GI’s did make it back home to college, just like Willie.











Norman Rockwell’s rejected Willie Gillis Jr cover.

Comments on “Norman Rockwell’s Folk Hero of World War Two.

    Casper on November 5, 2013 8:20 AM:

    I’ve always liked Rockwell’s Willie Gillis paintings. In a time of global upheaval and unbearable suffering in Europe he always managed to capture the American Dream and give a sense of hope. Of course you can argue he’s trivializing war but you can’t underestimate the positive use of propaganda in the cause of public good. The world is a different place now and the horrors of war are seen firsthand on a daily basis thanks to the internet.

    doug on November 5, 2013 11:38 AM:

    My Dad went into the army in 1942. By then, the fatigues in use were the green HBTs-he mentioned that everyone tried to get the blue denim ones, which were still also in use, so that they could look a bit more “salty” than all the other new draftees.

    Ray Hull on November 5, 2013 3:32 PM:

    While often decried as sappy, his work has an insight to character that is rarely seen. They are a wonderful period recollection of decency that is badly needed in today’s society.

    I was particularly struck by the church pew scene: My father was introduced to my mother while in the War at a Presbyterian Church where to this day, they still have those white pews.

    Who was the last couple you recall being introduced at church?

    Matt McMichael on November 9, 2013 10:38 PM:

    I’m glad the Rockwell has had a much due reevaluation in recent years. I am mostly curious as to why SEP rejected that particular cover.

    David Himel on November 17, 2013 5:03 PM:

    Loved his detail in recreating the uniforms to perfect detail…having held many of these uniforms its impressive how Rockwell captured them as almost alive….and the incredible smouldering sexuality of his female characters…..veiled in apple pie-ism…

Comments are closed.