World War II

Early in 1941 a deeply troubled Ted showed one of his unpublished politically charged cartoons to Virginia Schoales, a New York friend who was working on the “popular front” tabloid newspaper PM. “Zinny” introduced Ted to Ralph Ingersoll, PM’s editor, who instantly made Geisel the paper’s editorial cartoonist, printing his first cartoon on January 30, 1941. Ted would not write another children’s book for seven years.

At the end of 1942, Ted joined the Army as a captain attached to Frank Capra’s celebrated wartime documentary filmmaking unit, writing and directing scripts focusing on GI morals and morale. He was 38 years old. In connection with this work, he shipped out to Europe in the fall of 1944. On December 16th, at General Omar Bradley’s headquarters in Luxembourg, he ran into PM’s former editor, Ralph Ingersoll, who was now a lieutenant colonel in Army Intelligence. Ingersoll wanted to show Ted “some fighting” in a “quiet sector” and sent him off with a military police escort across the border to Bastogne. That night 250,000 German troops attacked American-held positions in the Belgian countryside, surrounding the pivotal crossroads town of Bastogne. It was the beginning of the month-long Battle of the Bulge. 

Nobody came along and put up a sign saying, This is the Battle of the Bulge. How was I supposed to know? I thought the fact that we didn’t seem to be able to find any friendly troops in any direction was just one of the normal occurrences of combat.

Later Ted recalled: “The thing that probably saved my life was that I got there in the early morning and the Germans didn’t arrive until that night. I found Bastogne pretty boring and got on the other side of the line and got cut off. With the aid of another MP, who was also lost, we learned we were ten miles behind German lines. We were trapped three days before being rescued by the British.” He elaborated in a 1960 New Yorker interview: “Nobody came along and put up a sign saying, This is the Battle of the Bulge. How was I supposed to know? I thought the fact that we didn’t seem to be able to find any friendly troops in any direction was just one of the normal occurrences of combat.” 

In the aftermath of the battle, a horrified Ingersoll searched for Ted, checking casualty lists in the process. Five years later they met at a party in New York. Ingersoll hugged Ted, saying, “God, am I glad to see you! I thought I’d killed you.”

All information excerpted from: Secrets of the Deep, the Lost, Forgotten, and Hidden Works of Theodor Seuss Geisel and The Cat Behind the Hat