Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Steve Ditko's Military Service

Steve Ditko, one of the most revered artists in comic book history, was an intensely private man, rarely granting interviews and vigorously protecting any details of his personal life.  A few books about Ditko have attempted to present a picture of his life but tend to be sparse when it comes to details.

One aspect of the artist’s background is the fact that he served in the U.S. Army in the years following World War II.  Blake Bell, in his book Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko (Fantagraphic Books, 2008), uses information derived from Ancestry.com, to inform us that Ditko enlisted on October 26, 1945 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  “He entered as a Private in the ‘Field Artillery’ branch of the ‘Regular Army,’” says Bell.  That information can be viewed here:

Bell goes on to say that Ditko served as “part of the constabulary forces stationed in Germany,” but doesn’t reveal where he got that information.  And he doesn’t say how long Ditko’s service lasted or when exactly he was discharged.  David Currie’s biography Ditko Shrugged (Hermes Press, 2020) repeats some of this same information and vaguely adds that Ditko’s discharge came “in the late 1940s.”

But now a document (which apparently wasn’t available when Bell wrote his book), discovered on Ancestry.com by yours truly, gives us some additional information.  In 1950 – May 6 to be exact – Ditko applied to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for World War II veterans’ compensation benefits.  The document confirms the October 26, 1945 date for the start of Ditko’s service, as reported by Bell.  It also tells us that his service ended on August 12, 1948 at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, which is new information.

In October 1945, Ditko was just 18 years old and fresh out of high school.  At the time, he lived at 1337 Tennessee Avenue in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in a house that, according to real estate records, was built in 1918.  And according to census records, Steve had lived there since at least the age of 13.  I’ve been unable to find a photo of the Ditko home, but here’s one taken from the backyard of a neighboring house that gives a good view of the neighborhood.

The benefits application document neither confirms nor disproves the idea that Ditko served overseas.  We do know that during the eligibility period for benefits, which seems to have ended March 2, 1946, Ditko’s service was entirely stateside.  The application was disallowed due to the applicant having “less than 60 days active service during eligibility period.”  This may sound puzzling, because October 26, 1945 (the start of Ditko’s service) to March 2, 1946 (the end of the eligibility period) was 127 days.  But a look at the legislation authorizing the compensation (World War II Veterans’ Compensation Act of Jun. 11, 1947, P.L. 565, No. 248 Cl. 51) provides clarity.  According to the act, the serviceman had to have begun his service before the official end of the war on September 2, 1945 and served at least 60 days.  He would receive $10 for every month of active service within the United States and $15 for every month of active service outside of the United States until March 2, 1946, up to a maximum of $500.  Because Ditko’s service began after the war ended, he was ineligible for benefits.

Here's the full text of the Veterans’ Compensation Act:


One final bit of data is that Ditko’s Army serial number was 13212777.

Ditko may have been denied compensation by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, but he did receive benefits under the GI Bill and used them to attend the Cartoonists and Illustrators School in New York City, studying under Jerry Robinson of Batman fame.  From there he launched into his long and illustrious career.


  1. Wow, this is amazing detective work, Jim! The man was such a cipher it's shocking you were able to unearth this much.

    1. Thanks, Joe. Little bits of info are beginning to filter out since Ditko's death. His nephew says the family is planning a book or something, which should be enlightening.