Charles Schulz served in the U.S. Army during World War II, an experience he spoke of with pride. His admiration for the military and those who served was apparent throughout his work, be it in the seventeen strips where Snoopy pays tribute to (and quaffs some root beers with) Bill Mauldin or in any of the 1990s strips honoring D-Day.
Before he felt comfortable citing the war and wartime, however, Schulz gave a glimpse into one very specific, haunting incident that occurred in May 1945, as he and the other members of his task force traversed Bavaria. Several of the men in the group gathered some pieces for their personal collection and they moved on. Sergeant Schulz playfully aimed a recently acquired pistol at an army medic across the street, the red cross on his helmet making him a tempting play-target. Schulz then fired a shot, having not checked to see if the firearm had any live rounds in the chamber.
The shot grazed one of the medics cheeks, but did not cause any serious harm. (Army soldiers unwittingly shooting themselves or their comrades with fancy new “enemy” weaponry was not uncommon at all during the war.) Schulz did speak of the incident in one recorded interview and could not help but reflect how the world would have changed but for mere inches. The hard-working, dedicated Sergeant who dreamed of making the comics page his life’s work may have lost it all with one ill-advised squeeze of the trigger.
Knowing of this incident makes the strip at number 6 a complete breath-thief. It may seem so silly and random to suddenly have Charlie Brown scream out the report of a child’s fake pistol, then apologize for it, but to Charles Schulz there was nothing silly or random about what happened that day in May. It’s a man who forgets no slight, no shame, who is still learning to live with regrets even as he makes manifest his destiny.