Doonesbury character BD is based on Brian Dowling, the quarterback of the Yale football team when creator Garry Trudeau attended the university. Since his introduction in the first Doonesbury strip, BD wore some type of helmet: a football helmet as a player and coach, a military helmet as an army officer in various conflicts from Vietnam to the Iraq wars, and a police helmet as a California Highway Patrolman.
In an unprecedented comic strip storyline from 2004, BD loses his leg during combat in the second Iraq War. At the same time, he loses his helmet and is shown bare-headed for the first time in 34 years. Readers responded with shock to both the loss of his leg and to the symbolic loss of his helmet.
Trudeau explained what it meant to his readers, “Many found it moving to see his graying, matted, sweaty hair revealed for the first time. It conveyed a kind of vulnerability. It sent the message that for him, life would never be quite the same. That he had to struggle to move into the life of a wounded warrior and find out what that new normal looked like.” Through BD’s story, Trudeau drew attention to wounded service men and women and the challenges they face as they seek to recover and heal. In 2006, Trudeau was awarded the US Army’s Commander’s Award for Public Service for the series.