Sgt. Rock is DC’s most iconic war hero, and his debut in Our Army at War during the period 1955 – 1959: Dawn of the Silver Age, came while the character was still in the process of forming. There is an excellent text piece in Sgt. Rock Annual 4 that details the slow creation of the character, the various stories along the way that contributed to how he would look, and how the stories would feel. Easy Company itself had already started appearing in various DC war books, though not with any recurring characters.
Robert Kanigher and Bob Haney script the character’s debut story, with art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito in Our Army at War 81. The first tale is pretty basic and straightforward. Not everything is quite as it would be. Sgt Rock, for example, is called Sgt Rocky, and Easy Company is also referred to as E Company, and even East Company. There may have been two writers, but an editor really ought to have spotted that.
Rock has his basic attribute of unflinching solidity in the face of war, though. He fights off Nazi soldiers, a tank, and takes down the Iron Captain in hand to hand combat, all to the admiration of his men. This Iron Captain is, apparently, not the more famous foe that would become Rock's arch-nemesis.
Sgt Rock appears, but is not the main character, in the story in Our Army at War 82. Instead it deals with two soldiers in Easy Company who are dragging behind at the end of the line. Rock barks at them to keep up, but they find all their weaponry so heavy, they simply cannot keep up. Three times they fall behind, and each time they wind up encountering Nazis coming up from the rear, and each time they take them out. The third encounter is with a tank, making it the most impressive.
The Sgt Rock story gets the cover of Our Army at War 83, but the titular hero is not shown. This is the first Sgt Rock story with art by Joe Kubert, and Robert Kanigher finds the style that will define the character. Rock is admired by all the men serving under him, but a newbie, nicknamed the Wall, thinks that he is the tougher soldier, and is reluctant to take second place to Rock. Even when Rock takes down a tank by himself, the Wall still insists that he could do just as well, if not better.
The story culminates with the two men becoming gunners on an Allied plane. The Wall winds up burning out, and is unable to take down the Nazi planes. But Sgt Rock never tires, and the Wall has to concede that Rock is the tougher soldier. Many Sgt. Rock stories would deal with new recruits, and how they learn to appreciate Rock, and gain a better understanding of their own abilities and/or limitations.
Our Army at War 87 contains a very powerful and effective Sgt. Rock story. The brief tale begins with Rock ordering four of his men to hold a hill overnight. Then the next morning, Rock and the rest of the troops follow a trail of death. A Nazi tank had attacked the hill during the night.
Each of the four men held his position, and each were killed. At the top of the hill, they find the last of the men, and also the tank itself, with the Nazi crew dead. Simple, but all the better for it, with excellent art by Kubert.
Kanigher and Kubert delve into Sgt. Rock's backstory in Our Army at War 90. The story is told as an extended flashback, to Rock's early days with Easy Company, when he was still a private. He is sent on a mission with four superior officers, a private first class, a corporal and a sergeant.
As the story progresses, each of his superiors gets killed, in ascending order of rank. Rock manages to take out the airplane pilot, the grenade thrower and the tank, which are responsible for the deaths. Apparently, if you kill the person who kills your superior, this advances you in rank instantly. At least that's what happens during the course of the tale.
So by the end, Rock is the only member of the mission still alive, and therefore has become a sergeant. I know very little about the military, but I have my doubts that this is how it works.
Sgt. Rock continues in the next period, 1960 – 1964: the Silver Age.
Sgt. Rock: Our Army at War 81 – 90 (April 59 – Jan 60)