Some Celebrity Soldiers of World War II
|Captains Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart|
If you are looking for a specific celebrity, do Control-F (pc) and type in their last name.
Below are some celebrities who served in the military during World War II. Naturally, a huge number of celebrities participated in the war effort, and so this list is not by any means meant to be all-inclusive or exhaustive or anything like that. Nobody is left out intentionally, the only rule was that, to be on this page, the person had to be a celebrity whose fame extended beyond the duration of the war - before or after. I hope to make this fairly comprehensive over time, but it will never be complete because there are simply too many veterans who became (or had been) celebrities.
Celebrity warriors generally fall into three camps:
- Celebrities who were famous before they served in World War II (and almost invariably remained famous thereafter, though there were exceptions such as Max Schmeling). The top figures in this category are Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart and Mickey Rooney;
- Celebrities who only became famous many years later, being unknown or largely unknown at their time of enlistment. Some names in this huge field include Dick Van Dyke, Carl Reiner and George Scott; and
- Celebrities who initially became famous to some extent due to their war service during the war, and greatly extended it after the war in some new direction. Audie Murphy exemplifies this group.
Celebrities who were huge stars before the war and enlisted after Pearl Harbor include among their ranks Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, Cesar Romero, Henry Fonda and Mickey Rooney. Those who served and only became famous much later include Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Ernest Borgnine (one of the very few who served before the war in the 1930s, too) and pretty much 99% of the rest of the names that follow. Follow on below for a peek at some of the unexpected names on this list.
|This is probably how you remember Mr. Banner.|
Please note: there are a few German celebrities included who served in the Wehrmacht. They were not convicted of any crimes and, in fact, in at least one case, saved innocent lives of people who would have been murdered. They were or became celebrities and they were in uniform, so they are included for purposes of seeing how that played out at the time and in later years. They also happen to be household names in the U.S, or were at one time.
I also want to pay respect to celebrities who perished during the conflict during their service. These include Glenn Miller and Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.
There really isn't any order to this page, and it is not alphabetical. If you served in the war, you were as good or bad as anyone else that served. There were no movie stars at 20,000 feet over Hamburg. I prefer to believe that every star, no matter how big, would have agreed wholeheartedly with that sentiment and asked for no preferential placement. For practical purposes, though, I did put a star or two in a particular spot to aid the flow of the article. Otherwise, it is pretty much random.
As always, if you want to see someone mentioned that I (so far) have overlooked, or you see any factual errors, drop me a note in the comments and I will get on it.
All right, let's start off with someone unexpected.
|Bea Arthur, accepting her Emmy for "The Golden Girls".|
Bea Arthur (née Bernice Frankel) (1922-2009) SSgt. USMC 1943-45 WW II. Enlisted and assigned as typist at Marine HQ in Washington D.C., then served at air stations in VA and NC. Did you know there were female Marines in World War II? How about in World War I? Yes, to both question - and Bea was one of them, at least in WWII.
Arthur was one of the first members of the Women's Reserve before World War II. She worked for the military as both a typist and a truck driver. On her volunteer application, Bea listed her active hobbies as hunting with a ".22 caliber rifle and a bow and arrow."
Arthur achieved fame as the character Maude Findlay on the 1970s sitcoms "All in the Family" and "Maude," and as Dorothy Zbornak on the 1980s sitcom "The Golden Girls," winning Emmy Awards for both roles. She was a successful stage actress both before and after her television success. Being in the Marines no doubt helped to shape her abrasive professional personality that kept her busy for decades as a top character actress with an edge of sardonic humor.
Richard Bernard Skelton, known as Red Skelton, was a huge radio comedy star when the war broke out. As a married man, he had a deferment, but his wife left him (while sticking around to manage his career) in 1943. Drafted in early 1944, Red was inducted as a private on 7 June 1944, the day after D-Day.
Initially just an ordinary private, Red was transferred into the entertainment corps and entertained troops both stateside and in Italy. He undertook a huge workload and developed voice problems, which sent him to a VA hospital in Virginia. Once the war ended, Red was honorably discharged in September 1945 and resumed his NBC radio show on 4 December 1945. His radio show turned into a top-rated television show which continued until 1971, and he also did occasional appearances in films. While his service was just a blip in his long entertainment career, it had one enduring legacy: the termination of his radio show upon his induction led to his bandmaster, Ozzie Nelson, and his wife Harriet getting their own show.
|A wartime Dr. Seuss cartoon.|
|The Cat in the Hat & Dr. Seuss at the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden - Springfield, MA; statues designed by Theodor Geisel's step-daughter, sculptor Lark Grey Dimond-Cates; photo by Erika_F|
Theodor Seuss Geisel (March 2, 1904 – September 24, 1991) was a well-known children's book author whose pen name is universal - Dr. Seuss. He joined the Army as a Captain in 1943 after having supported the war effort informally, and was commander of the Animation Department of the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Forces. He wrote films that included "Your Job in Germany," a 1945 propaganda film about peace in Europe after World War II, "Our Job in Japan," and the "Private Snafu" series of adult army training films. While in the Army, Dr. Seuss was awarded the Legion of Merit. Only after the war, in the 1950s, did Dr. Seuss craft the series of children's books such as "The Cat in the Hat" and "Green Eggs with Ham" that are synonymous with his pen name and have sold over 600 million copies.
|Charles M. Schulz|
Charles M. Schulz (1922-2000) was drafted into the United States Army at the age of 20 in 1943. He served as a staff sergeant with the 20th Armored Division in Europe, as a squad leader on a .50 caliber machine gun team. His unit saw combat only at the very end of the war. Schulz did not like to play up his service and said later that he only had one opportunity to fire his machine gun - but forgot to load it. Fortunately, the German soldier he could have fired at willingly surrendered. Years later, Schulz proudly spoke of his wartime service. Schulz was good friends with Bill Mauldin, another celebrity cartoonist with deep roots in the war. Schulz, of course, later became famous for his "Peanuts" strips, among other classic works.
Mel Brooks is well known as the director and writer of classic comedies stretching back to the 1960s. Among his better-known productions are "Young Frankenstein," "Blazing Saddles" and "The Producers."
A fact that is a little less known is that Mel served as a corporal in World War II, including combat during the Battle of the Bulge. He remarked of his service, "I was a Combat Engineer. Isn’t that ridiculous? The two things I hate most in the world are combat and engineering."
|Dick Van Dyke in London, 1967|
|Dick Van Dyke with Mary Tyler Moore ca. 1961.|
In doing research for this page, I found that most of the results I already knew. A few, though, absolutely shocked me, and this is one of them. This is something I should have known, but didn't.
Part of my confusion lies in the fact that this man seemed to break through as a beginning actor in the early 1960s and appeared unconnected with his own generation. He also played, quite convincingly, a stranded serviceman in "Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N." in 1966. Overall, he always seemed much younger than he was (and still does, in fact). All that is deceiving, because this legend had been working on his "overnight success" for the entire decade of the 1950s. It was all local fame prior to the 1960s, however.
Okay, it is Dick Van Dyke. Dick enlisted to be a pilot in the Army Air Corps during World War II, but initially did not make the cut. Van Dyke did not meet the weight requirement, being considered underweight. He tried three times to enlist, before barely making the cut. He then served as a radio announcer during the war, and he never left the United States nor flew a plane.
Dick was stationed at Camp Crowder in Missouri, and this became part of his acting career. In the first season of "The Dick Van Dyke Show," he several times alludes to that camp. During the show, as emcee of the entertainment for the troops at Crowder, he meets a singer/dancer played by Mary Tyler Moore, who, in the sitcom, he will later marry.
Camp Crowder had an awful reputation amongst the troops for its uncomfortable living arrangements. Apparently, it was hot, dirty, and bug-infested. Besides Van Dyke, the camp counted among its inhabitants the humorist Jean Shepherd and the cartoonist Mort Walker ("Beetle Bailey"). Apparently, service there brought out the humor in people.
As of this writing in 2014, Dick Van Dyke remains very much a working actor, though he has numerous times declared that he was "retired." Apparently for Vets like Dick, being retired means continuing to work. Dick is among the last of the World War II Vets still going strong in his occupation, 70 years after his service.
Glenn Miller, writer and performer of classic jazz compositions such as "In the Mood," "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and "Moonlight Serenade," was at the peak of his fame when the war started. In 1942, he was age 38, with his own band and hit records. He was well beyond draft age and could have sat out the war entertaining civilians and troops stateside. Instead, he volunteed for service in 1942, joining the Army after the Navy turned him down. He quickly became a Major.
On December 15, Miller was flying to Paris in a light plane that disappeared. Modern research suggests that his plane was hit by bombs dropped by Allied bombers returning from an abortive raid on Siegen, Germany. A crew member on one of the bombers stated that he saw a small plane hit by the bombs and sent into the sea, but there is no proof that it was Miller's plane. There are other theories, including a controversial one that states that Miller actually made it to Paris but died of a heart attack there while in flagrante delicto with a local girl. According to this version, his actual cause of death was covered up because of the embarrassing circumstances and a cover story of a lost flight crafted out of whole clothe. Whatever happened, Miller died in the service of his country. Perhaps his plane will be found some day - assuming there is a plane to be found.
Bob Dole-Army-1942-48-WW2-10th Mountain Division-Bronze Star, 2 Purple Hearts. He later became a Kansas Senator, Senate Majority Leader, and 1996 Republican candidate for US President. Bob is a long-time resident of the Watergate Hotel in Washingon, D.C. As of 2016, Senator Dole, who lost partial use of one arm from enemy fire, is still very much with us and serving as an elder statesman.
Eddie Albert was an amiable, avuncular actor who never seemed to have a harsh word for anyone. However, he was far from being a milquetoast. Below, an article is reprinted which goes into some detail about what Eddie Albert actually did during World War II.
Actor first earned fame for heroism in combat
By Charles A. Jones - Special to the Times
Posted : November 26, 2007
Best known for his role as lawyer-turned-farmer Oliver Wendell Douglas on the 1960s TV show “Green Acres,” Eddie Albert also had a strong following in the 2nd Marine Division after he helped save the lives of dozens of leathernecks during the Battle of Tarawa.
Albert, whose real name was Edward Albert Heimberger, established himself as an actor in pre-war Hollywood with his first movie, 1938’s “Brother Rat.”
But after the bombing of Pearl Harbor launched the U.S. into World War II, he joined the Navy in 1942 and was commissioned as a Naval Reserve lieutenant junior grade.
He sailed to Tarawa as a salvage officer on the troop ship Sheridan, one of many ships that arrived on Nov. 20, 1943. Tarawa was a strategically vital Pacific island that was key to helping U.S. bombers attack Japanese forces in the Marianas.
Albert guided the assistant control boat he commanded to the designated drop zone on the beach, where it unloaded Marines and supplies.
However, a blunder by military planners predicting the tides stranded many landing craft hundreds of yards off-shore on reefs and exposed Marines to Japanese fire.
As Marine casualties mounted in the lagoon, Albert assumed the initiative, plucking the injured and dead out of the water and from under enemy fire in his salvage boat. He transferred the leathernecks to landing craft, which then transported them to ships further offshore for medical treatment.
When his boat was damaged, Albert sent it and the wounded Marines aboard to the Sheridan, taking command of a landing craft and rescuing more men.
Assuming command of a third craft, he led four other boats to the beach and loaded them with wounded Marines, taking them to various ships, including destroyers providing fire support.
Albert took 46 wounded Marines to the Schroeder on his final trip; records show 42 of them survived.
His last task at the end of the battle was to recover bodies from the surf.
After Tarawa, Albert made training films and did war bond tours. He left the Navy after the war as a lieutenant.
Albert resumed acting and was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor for 1953’s “Roman Holiday” and 1972’s “The Heartbreak Kid.”
Forty-four years after the battle, due largely to efforts of Schroeder crew members, Albert received a Bronze Star with combat “V” for his actions at Tarawa. He died at age 99 in 2005.
|Bob Hope and sidekick Jerry Colonna during World War II|
|Bob Hope's service papers|
Purists will argue that Bob Hope never enlisted during World War II. Well, they would be correct. However, in fact, Bob was every bit as much a veteran of World War II as any GI who ever invaded an enemy beach or airman who shot down a FW-109.
How can this be?
On Dec 23, 1942, Bob Hope agreed to entertain U.S. airmen in Alaska. This was during a time when Japanese soldiers still occupied some Alaskan territory. It was the first of the traditional Christmas shows that Bob later performed for the troops into the 1990s. The trip to Alaska, then a U.S. territory, required a special permit. So, he entered a combat area and did his duty there.
In 1997, Bob Hope was designated an honorary veteran for his humanitarian services to the United States Armed Forces by Congress. He is the only individual in history to have earned this honor. He certainly is the only man born in England to win that honor from the United States.
So, Bob belongs here. I have no patience with people obsessed with technicalities. He went into a war zone in the service of his (adopted) country, he was almost 40 at the time of Pearl Harbor yet exerted himself to help the cause, he didn't have to do squat and yet did a great deal, and veterans invariably loved him. That's good enough for me.
|Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery filming Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941). Lombard gave her life for the war effort, perishing in a plane crash during a war bond tour early in 1942. Montgomery signed up about the same time.|
Oscar winning actor Robert Montgomery (1904-1981) joined the U.S. Navy and served as Naval Attache on British destroyers hunting U-boats. He became a PT boat commander, and participated in the D-Day invasion on board a Destroyer.
Montgomery served five years of active war duty, was awarded a Bronze Star, the Good Conduct Medal, the American Defense Service Ribbon, the European Theater Ribbon with 2 Battle Stars, one Overseas Service Bar, and promoted to the rank of Lt. Commander.
You likely don't know who Robert Montgomery was because chances are his star rose, burned very bright, and then set before you were born. He actually was quite famous in his day, starring in, for instance, the original "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" with Carole Lombard for director Alfred Hitchcock. Big time actor, biiiiiiiiig star both before and after World War II.
I know, still not ringing any bells. I understand. Let's try again.
Well, he had a very successful anthology show named after him that ran for almost the entire decade of the 1950s. Montgomery was a huuuuge television presence throughout the decade. Huuuuuuge.
No, huh. Still not ringing any bells. I know, that show has never been in repeats for some reason so it might as well never have existed.
Ok, one last shot: he was the father of Sabrina in "Bewitched." Yes, Elizabeth Montgomery was his daughter.
See? There you go! He was a great hero!
Jack Warden, along with Ernest Borgnine, is one of the few celebrities who was in the military both before and during the war. Not only was he in it - he saw more of it than just about anyone else. Warden was another Vet who didn't say much about his experiences later while pursuing his later acting career, but Jack Warden earned his battle stripes.
Warden served in the U.S. Navy from 1938-1941, then joined the Merchant Marine as water tender in the engine room. He then learned that he heartily disliked convoy duty because of Axis aircraft attacks and his dangerous location 3 decks below the main deck which made survival highly unlikely in the event of a quick sinking (some ships went down literally in seconds) -- this, as he says, ended his "romance with the life of a sailor." Warden left the Merchant Marine in 1942, joined the Army and became a platoon sergeant and parachute jumpmaster in the 101st Airborne - the outfit that held Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. The 101st were (and are) the ultimate badasses. That's just an amazing career progression in the military for anyone, much less a celebrity.
Oh, and Jack Warden later became a top character actor on television and films. He was Juror 7 in "12 Angry Men" (1957), but after that mostly played gruff-but-understanding types in a slew of television series. My personal favorite Jack Warden appearance was as a lovelorn convict in the original "The Twilight Zone," where he somewhat played against type, and he cornered the market on gruff-but-understanding police lieutenants in "N.Y.P.D." (1967-1969). Jack had an interesting career progression in Hollywood, too - he started out in films, became a huge television actor starring in about as many different series as anyone in the business, and then spent the final decade of his career almost entirely in films again. If you like cult films, pick up a copy of "Used Cars" (1980), with Jack as feuding twin used car salesmen, a role he was born to play. Jack Warden passed away in 2006.
Julia Child was an American spy during WWII for the Office of Strategic Services (precursor to CIA). She became a top secret researcher for the director of the OSS, the legendary William "Wild Bill" Donovan. And, later, she worked to reduce the threat of U-boats, the deadly Kriegsmarine submarines.
Yes, cooking show hostess Julia Child. Yeeesss, Julia Child. Big war hero.
|Ronald Reagan, May 2, 1942|
Ronald Reagan, the future United States President in the 1980s, already was a leading man in Hollywood at the time of Pearl Harbor. Original caption of the second photo above, written on the back, reads: "5/2/1942-San Francisco, CA- Picture shows Lt. Ronald Reagan, New Morale Officer at Fort Mason in San Francisco, CA at Hamilton Field."
Many people know a lot about Ronald Reagan due to his political success. Even people who know more than others, though, may not appreciate that Reagan actually joined the military well before not only Pearl Harbor, but even before Hitler invaded Poland. Despite being a huge film star already, Reagan enlisted in the Army Enlisted Reserve and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Officers Reserve Corp of the Cavalry on 25 May 1937.
After war broke out, Reagan was called up on 18 April 1942. Due to poor eyesight, his service options were limited. The Army sent him first to Fort Mason, California, where he served as a liaison officer. Later, he transferred to the Army Air Force (USAAF), again serving in public relations. Ultimately, he wound up in the First Motion Picture Unit in Culver City, California. He later participated in war bond sales, and his unit produced some 400 USAAF training films. Reagan did what the Army wanted him to do, and he did it well. He mustered out on 9 December 1945 with the rank of Captain.
Mr. Reagan returned to his film career after the war, did some television work, served as President of the Screen Actors Guild, then graduated to politics in the 1960s.
|David Niven in 1944 "somewhere in Europe."|
David Niven the man is seen by many American as the archetypal posh English pouffe attended to by servants and drinking champagne in the back of his jalopy. While all of that may be true... well, actually it's not true at all. But he's one of my favorite actors, and it's great that he also was a bona fide war hero.
James David Graham Niven in point of fact did come from a distinguished family, full of heroic types killed with glory in the Zulu War and bearing hyphenated names and distinguished medals and all that. Niven, however, was a bit of a black sheep and got thrown out, as they say but in his case for real, of some of the best schools in England. Winding up at Sandhurst, he graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1930. He served for a few years, got bored, resigned (that's a delicate way of putting it, he actually escaped from house arrest and fled to America), tried selling whiskey in New York City, tried to break into acting in Hollywood, went to Mexico and worked menial jobs to earn his way back into the States with a resident alien visa, and then finally got accepted by Central Casting as, well, the archetypal Englishman who might be attended to by servants and drink champagne in the back of his jalopy.
Success followed - how could it not for someone who so firmly fulfilled the image? - and by 1939 David Niven was the toast of the town, friends with Errol Flynn and renting Rosalind Russell's house. However, after 3 September 1939 he quickly returned to England - the Foreign Office wanted successful actors like him to stay there and work in patriotic films, but David had shown that he didn't take kindly to instructions of that nature - and re-assumed his old rank of Lieutenant on 25 February 1940. Apparently, the little matter of insulting the General (that's why he had been under house arrest) was forgiven now that there was a war on. Niven wound up in the Commandos because, once again, he got bored with ordinary soldiering, and worked in the Film Unit - which was a nice cover for what he was really doing. You know that film "Argo"? Stuff like that, for real.
Niven went ashore a few days after D-Day as a member of the "Phantom Signals Unit." It was a sort of military intelligence outfit, but Niven - like many of his day, see Christopher Lee elsewhere in this article - refused to talk about it afterward, so we don't really know what he did. Suffice to say there was some skullduggery involved, the whole false-moustache bit at which he, a top actor, excelled. Niven ended the war as a Lieutenant-Colonel, receiving the Legion of Merit at the hands of General Dwight D. Eisenhower for whatever it was that he did - and it must have been something indeed to get that kind of honor.
Niven returned to Hollywood after the war and became one of the top leading men of his day, once again playing bon vivant types who never earned an honest day's pay in their lives. He won the 1958 Academy Award for Best Actor playing, what else, a Major in "Separate Tables." He also gave a fantastic turn in "The Guns of Navarone" that should have received more awards as a soldier who's seen one too many dead men for his liking, but stands tall when it's time to be counted.
One of the most under-appreciated (for his military service) heroes of the war, Niven continued for the remainder of his career to draw roles which inevitably saw him elegantly attired in tuxedos and sipping champagne playing Sir such-and-such. Perhaps his greatest honor was the fact that Ian Fleming, a former spy type himself, chose Niven as the only Bond actor ("Casino Royale" 1967) to mention by name in any of his novels.
Jack Palance (1919-2006), US Army Air Corps, 455th bomb group. Required facial reconstruction from terrible injuries received in 1943 when, as a student pilot, he had to bail out of a burning B-24 Liberator bomber during a training flight over Arizona. Previously he was a boxer. He went on to play both boxers and soldiers during a phenomenal 55-year career in Hollywood. He experienced a late-career resurgence with films such as "Batman" (1989) and "City Slickers" (1991), for which he won an Oscar. His was perhaps the most successful facial reconstruction in history.
Gene Autry (1907-1998) was in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. Before the war, Autry already was a well-established radio, film and rodeo star. He also earned his own private pilot's certificate, which came in handy during the war.
He enlisted in 1942 and earned his Service Pilot rating in June 1944. Starting out as a Technical Sgt, he became a flight officer and flew the C-109 transport for Air Transport Command. Autry ferried fuel, ammunition, and arms to China in the China-India-Burma theater of war flying over the Himalayan air route, "The Hump." Autry also volunteered his talents as an entertainer for numerous Air Force shows. He had his own radio show entitled "Sergeant Gene Autry." When the war ended, he was reassigned to Special Services where he toured with a USO troupe in the South Pacific until 1946.
After the war, Autry continued his radio show and film career and also had his own television show beginning in 1950. In the early 1960s he bought the Los Angeles/California Angels major league baseball team, and eventually his "number" - 26, for 26th man on the 25-man roster - was retired due to his passion for the franchise (he also briefly had considered a baseball career as a young man). Autry retired from show business in 1964 after having made almost 100 films, and thereafter focused on numerous very successful business interests such as the Angels and the CBS affiliate in Phoenix, Arizona.
Gene Autry passed away in 1998. He is buried at the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, where his epitaph reads, "America's Favorite Cowboy ... American Hero, Philanthropist, Patriot and Veteran, Movie Star, Singer, Composer, Baseball Fan and Owner, 33rd Degree Mason, Media Entrepreneur, Loving Husband, Gentleman." Gene Autry is remembered every Christmas season due to broadcasts of his classic rendition of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," which continues to this day to be a top-played carol every year, and "Here Comes Santa Claus," which he wrote.
John Leslie "Jackie" Coogan (October 26, 1914 – March 1, 1984), enlisted in the United States Army in March, 1941, well before Pearl Harbor. He is somewhat of an oddity, because he was a fairly famous child actor ("The Kid,") whose career was fairly steady from 1917 onward, but he entered the service (the US Army) before the war anyway. He then had a wildly odd career in the service, engaging in cloak-and-dagger stuff, then afterwards he returned to Hollywood - which he had apparently willfully given up in 1941 - and became a huge television star in numerous productions. His acting resume from the 1960s and 1970s reads like a list of classic shows.
So, he was a huge star as a kid, then basically a nobody in the military, then a huge star again later. Perhaps he just needed a change of scenery midway through his career. He sure got one! Once his wanderlust was cured, Coogan went back to work.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Coogan requested a transfer to United States Army Air Forces as a glider pilot because of prior civilian flying experience. He wound up in the 1st Air Commando Group, which sent him to India in 1943. Coogan volunteered for hazardous duty in March 1944 and flew British troops ("Chindits"), landing them at night in a small jungle clearing 100 miles behind Japanese lines. Yes, Uncle Fester was actually an American hero!
Rod Steiger (1925-2002) USN 1941-45 WW II. Steiger dropped out of high school at 16 and enlisted in the Navy. He served on a destroyer in the Pacific Theater. After discharge, he worked at the VA and joined a theater group. Studied acting at several New York schools on the GI Bill, knew all the legendary figures of the '50s. He is best remembered for roles in “On The Waterfront” (’54), “The Pawnbroker” (’64), and “In The Heat of the Night” (’67), which won him an Oscar. Big Civil Rights crusader. Some considered him the greatest living actor shortly before his passing.
Bobby Troup served in the US Marines during World War 2. He was the Captain in command of the Montford Point Marines. He later became an actor famous for roles in shows such as "Emergency!" as well as being a renowned jazz musician.
Richard Burton entered the Royal Air Force as a navigator at the age of 18 in 1944. He went to Canada for further training, but the war ended before he could gain any combat experience. A frustrated Burton had to endure a further 2 years waiting to be demobilized. He got involved in acting during periods of leave from the RAF and went on to marry Elizabeth Taylor - twice.
Joe DiMaggio served in the Air Force during World War II from 1943-45. He played for the Yankees the seven seasons before and the six seasons after his service time. He set various baseball records, including a 56-game hitting streak that still stands and quite likely will never be broken. His presence transcended baseball, and he became a symbol for the era.
Soupy Sales grew up in North Carolina and served in the Navy during World War 2. He enlisted during the last years of the war and was assigned to the USS Randall (APA-224) in the South Pacific during the latter part of World War II. He was a natural ham and sometimes entertained his shipmates by telling jokes and playing crazy characters over the ship's public address system. One of the characters he created was "White Fang", a large dog that played outrageous practical jokes on the seamen. The sounds for "White Fang" came from a recording of "The Hound of the Baskervilles."
Soupy used "White Fang" and other old characters he developed in the Navy when he had his own show during the 1950s and 1960s, "Lunch With Soupy Sales" and "The New Soupy Sales Show." The show brought him fame and controversy. His most notorious stunt was one in which he told the little children listening to his show to grab all the green paper with faces on them in their parents' wallets and send them to him at his studio - and many did! That kind of thing pretty much makes a comic's work immortal. Soupy passed away in 2009.
Ed Koch entered the Army in World War 2 after being drafted in 1943. Koch was an infantryman with the 104th Infantry Division, landing in Cherbourg, France, in September 1944. Koch earned a European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two campaign stars, a World War II Victory Medal, and the Combat Infantryman Badge for service in the European Theater of Operations. After V-E Day, because he could speak German, Koch was sent to Bavaria to help remove tainted public officials from their jobs and find reliable people to take their place. He was honorably discharged with the rank of Sergeant in 1946. Thereafter, he studied law, entered politics, and became a member of the House of Representatives from New York City and longtime Mayor of the City of New York.
Charles Durning was in the first wave on D-Day with the 1st Div. He was the only member of his unit to survive. He took out several German machine guns and was wounded about a week later when he stepped on a mine..
Later, he rejoined his unit in December 1944, just in time for the Battle of the Bulge. He reportedly was bayoneted 8 times in hand-to-hand combat. At The Bulge he survived The Malmedy Massacre, one of only two men left alive in the snow surrounded by machine-gunned friends. He was wounded and repatriated, where he was in military hospitals until discharge in January 1946. He received the Silver Star.
He refused to discuss his service for which he was awarded the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts. "Too many bad memories," he told an interviewer. "I don't want you to see me crying." A true American hero. He later became known for classic roles in films like "The Sting" and "The Front Page" until his untimely passing on Christmas Eve 2012.
Russell Johnson, best known as "The Professor" on Gilligan's Island, served in the US Army Air Force during WWII. He flew 44 combat missions as a bombardier in B-25 bombers. In March 1945, his and two other B-25s were shot down in the Philippines. He broke both his ankles and the radioman next to him was killed. He really was stranded on a Pacific isle.
Johnson earned a Purple Heart, among other honors. He was honorably discharged and later served in the Army Reserve. He used his GI Bill to fund his acting lessons. He is best remembered as the Professor on '60's television show Gilligan's Island, a comedic turn which he later related was quite different from his usual role as a quiet cowboy. Russell Johnson passed away in early 2014.
|Robert Stack, here with Lana Turner|
Robert Stack (January 13, 1919 – May 14, 2003) was an established Hollywood star when Pearl Harbor was bombed. His breakthrough role was in the war-themed "To Be or Not To Be" (1942) with Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, released just a month or two after the attack. He disappeared from Hollywood during the war to serve, but resumed his career there afterwards as if nothing had happened.
During World War II, Stack served as a gunnery instructor in the United States Navy. Because of his expertise as an Olympic champion skeet shooter, Stack was assigned to teach anti-aircraft gunnery in the United States Navy. He thus was one of the rare top actors, including Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable, who performed a useful function in the service that was unrelated to performing.
Stack was multilingual and stayed active in Hollywood as an actor and television host until his passing. He is perhaps best known for starring as Eliot Ness in "The Untouchables" and as the long-time host of "Unsolved Mysteries."
Above, 17 year old Tony Curtis. Navy Reserves 1942-45 WW II. Curtis enlisted in the United States Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Curtis joined the Pacific submarine force, serving aboard a submarine tender, the USS Proteus. He stayed there until the end of the war. On September 2, 1945, Curtis had the privilege of witnessing the official Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay on board the USS Missouri from his own ship's signal bridge about a mile away.
One of the many oddities of Hollywood is that Curtis chose the submarine service in part because of a Cary Grant film, "Destination Tokyo" (Tyrone Power in "Crash Dive" (1943) also influenced his choice of services). Grant and Curtis later starred together in the World War II submarine comedy "Operation Petticoat." Tony Curtis, of course, became one of the true legends of Hollywood, starring in some of the greatest films of all time such as "Spartacus," "The Boston Strangler," "The Great Race" and many others. Tony Curtis passed away in 2010.
Lawrence Samuel Storch aka Larry Storch served in the US Navy during World War II. He was on the submarine tender USS Proteus with Tony Curtis. The ship was anchored near the USS Missouri on 2 September 1945 when the Japanese Empire formally surrendered to the Allied powers to end World War II.
Larry's friendship with Curtis proved instrumental in his career. Larry did some stage work and impressions after the war, but was looking for more. He made his film debut - unbilled - in Tony's film The Prince Who Was a Thief (1951) after Curtis put in a good word for him. That jump-started Larry's film career, but it stalled out in the early '60s. Tony stepped in again and gave Larry some choice film parts, which eventually led to the role for which Larry is best-remembered by many fans: Corporal Agarn in comedy classic "F-Troop." After that, Larry became a true celebrity recognizable to fans around the world.
Larry Storch is still with us as of this writing. He is said to attend some fan conventions and play his saxophone in the local park when he isn't off receiving tributes such as the 2013 Barrymore Award for Lifetime Achievement in Film and TV from the Fort Lee Film Commission.
Tyrone Power was an established movie star when war broke out despite still being only in his late 20s. In fact, Tyrone was the second-best box office star of 1939, behind only Mickey Rooney. Power enlisted in the US Marines in August 1942 and served for the rest of the conflict.
An accomplished pilot before the war, Power became a transport pilot and flew missions in war zones including Kwajalein, the Marshall Islands in February 1945, the Battles of Iwo Jima (Feb-Mar 1945) and Okinawa (Apr-Jun 1945). Power mustered out in January 1946, but stayed in the reserves, reaching the rank of Captain in 1951. Power resumed his acting career and was one of the top film stars of the 1950s. Tyrone Power was the Real Deal during his military service, performing a useful service right at the front lines at a very high level of competence.
John Glenn, who was the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962 and the oldest person to fly in space at age 77 in 1998, left college to enlist in the US Army Air Corps after Pearl Harbor. After some training, he wound up in the U.S. Marine Corps and saw action in the South Pacific.
He also served two separate tours in Korea and downed some MiGs. He was Ted Williams' wingman for a while. From there, he went to Test Pilot School, which eventually led to NASA, which led to Outer Space, which led to the US Senate, which led to John Glenn becoming a legend.
Kirk Douglas attended Midshipman School at Notre Dame University and was subsequently commissioned as an ensign in the US Navy in 1942. He served as a communications officer on anti-submarine operations in the Pacific, but was wounded in an attack by a Japanese destroyer. Douglas was medically discharged with the rank of Lieutenant in 1944. Douglas, of course, went on to a huge career in Hollywood, and he portrayed a Naval officer in the PTO in "In Harm's Way" with John Wayne. He also lived to be 100 - no small achievement.
|Don Rickles with his father before shipping out for service in WWII. March 1943. You can see the bubbly personality even at that young age.|
Don Rickles (1926- ) was a Seaman 1st Class USN 1941-46 WW II. He enlisted in the Navy after high school graduation. Served on the USS Cyrene, a torpedo boat tender, in the Pacific. He later became a stand-up comic and actor in more than two dozen films, most notably "Kelly's Heroes." He is best remembered as an “insult” comic, frequent guest on the Johnny Carson Show, and in title role of TV’s “C.P.O. Sharkey” 1976-78. Don is still with us and remains active in Hollywood.
|Burgess Meredith on June 10, 1943 (AP Photo).|
Oliver Burgess Meredith, more popularly known by his shortened stage name Burgess Meredith, was 34 when war broke out. He served as a public relations officer with the air transport command of the U.S. Army, at the U.S. Army headquarters in London. He was an accomplished stage and screen actor before the war broke out, being well known for playing George in the film adaptation of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" ("Which way did they go, George?"). He reached the rank of Captain before mustering out in 1944 so that he could work on the patriotic flick "The Story of G.I. Joe," in which he starred as the popular war correspondent Ernie Pyle. Burgess Meredith went on to gain two Academy Award nominations in the '70s for "The Day of the Locust" and "Rocky." The former film was close to reality for Burgess, as it portrayed alienated film stars in Hollywood just before Pearl Harbor. Burgess passed away on 9 September 1997.
Jeff Chandler (December 15, 1918 – June 17, 1961) was interested in acting before the war and spent some time in summer stock. With uncanny foresight, Chandler enlisted in the Cavalry on 18 November 1941, just a few weeks before Pearl Harbour and and around the time when the Japanese attack fleet was planning to set sail. Chandler served in World War II for four years, mostly in the Aleutians, finishing with the rank of lieutenant. Chandler was a solidly built leading man and gave his height as six foot four inches and his weight as 210 pounds. After the war, he immediately began getting film roles, and was one of Hollywood's leading stars throughout the Fifties, with hits such as "Broken Arrow." His last film role was "Merrill's Marauders," which opened after his tragic passing at age 41 from a botched back operation.
James Arness (1923-2011) USA 1943-45 WW II. Arness, who stood 6'7" or 6'8" (references vary), said he wanted to be a fighter pilot. However, the height limit for aviators was 6’2”, so that was not going to work. Instead, he was drafted in ’43, served as a rifleman in the 3rd Infantry Division, and was severely wounded at Anzio, Italy in early 1944. After several surgeries he was discharged but had a lifelong limp.
The Anzio incident encapsulates the lot of many average soldiers, so is worth briefly retelling. Arness was the first American soldier to jump off his boat at the Anzio beachhead. He was ordered to do so by his commanding officer because Arness was the tallest man in his company, and the water’s depth needed to be tested as a safety precaution. Naturally, if it had been too deep, Arness could have drowned given his full pack, or been picked off by a sniper as the first one off and being so visible due to his size. People did what they were told then, however hazardous, and they were chosen simply because they were the right person for whatever reason. That is how it went during the war: you might be lucky to be tall, and you might wind up getting shot or drowned because of it.
Earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Best remembered for his role as Matt Dillon in the TV series “Gunsmoke” during its 20-year run. He also is the brother of another celebrity on this list, Peter Graves.
Lee Marvin. Great actor, Academy Award winner, scout sniper, war hero.
Marvin enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at the beginning of World War II and served throughout as a Private First Class. During the battle for Saipan in June 1944, he was part of the assault on Mount Tapochau, which resulted in the death of most of his unit ("I" Company, 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division). Marvin himself was wounded in the buttocks from Japanese machine gun fire, which severed his sciatic nerve. He received a medical discharge.
Marvin participated in seven island campaigns in all.
Lee Marvin later starred as a World War II serviceman in numerous films, including "The Caine Mutiny" and "The Dirty Dozen." The "Caine Mutiny" role is particularly interesting for Marvin fans because he plays a sailor who is called to testify about the numerous island campaigns in which he had participated - basically, reciting Marvin's own real-life experience in a candid moment of cinéma vérité. When asked once his secret for success as an actor by Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show, Marvin simply cocked his fingers and went "Rat-a-tat-tat."
Marvin died of a heart attack in 1987 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His headstone reads: “Lee Marvin, PFC US Marine Corps, World War II.”
|Lee Van Cleef|
Lee Van Cleef served in the US Navy during World War II. He was on a submarine chaser in the Caribbean Sea. Later, he served in the Black China Sea on a minesweeper. After the war, the rose to prominence as an actor in the 1960s and is remembered for his roles in the Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns with Clint Eastwood.
|Laurence Olivier narrating "The World at War" in the 1970s.|
Laurence Olivier, born in 1907, was too young for World War I. By World War II, he was at the far end of normal service range and was perhaps the most renowned actor in England - which, given the country's rich theatrical tradition, is a bit more significant in terms of prestige than being merely a bankable actor in the States. He also had migrated to Hollywood to make films and gotten married to Vivien Leigh, but his heart (and hers, as they were both British) remained home in Britain.
Wishing to contribute despite being in the States, which was not yet at war, Olivier called Duff Cooper, the Minister of Information under Winston Churchill, hoping to get a position in Cooper's department. Cooper politely advised Olivier to continue what he was doing, and make patriotic films. Olivier did that, including "That Hamilton Woman" and "Henry V" among other works that had a tinge of wartime propaganda. In hindsight, it seems just the right decision, maintaining public confidence that the country was still functioning normally despite the hardships of the war.
While in Hollywood, Olivier trained as a pilot. He eventually came back to England in the middle of the war and joined the Fleet Air Arm, stationed at RAF Worthy Down and rooming with fellow pilot and thespian Ralph Richardson. Neither was worth a tinker's damn to the war effort as a pilot (or so they liked to tell their buds over drinks), but they were unique A-grade celebrities who could rouse great enthusiasm amongst the public. Thus, the pair was used by the military to give speeches and making additional propaganda films such as "The Demi-Paradise." Olivier served for two years as a pilot, resigning his commission in 1943 as a Lieutenant-Commander. Olivier went on to become the most respected actor in the world, with all of the accoutrements. Both Ralph Richardson, who served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander, and Olivier eventually were knighted.
Jonathan Winters, USMC WW II. Born 1925. At age 17, he quit high school and joined the Marines, serving two and a half years in the Pacific Theater. Winters was a gunner on the aircraft carrier Bon Homme Richard.
In terms of his subsequent acting career, Winters was a late bloomer, like some of the others on here (e.g., Dick Van Dyke). Winters did not really get his film/television career rolling until the 1960s despite having occasional appearances starting around 1950.
Winters' breakthrough film was the 1963 Stanley Kramer comedy "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" - which was kind of an ironic title, because Winters literally had just been released from an insane asylum (he later claimed for being bipolar, and he had admitted himself to "the funny farm" as he called it voluntarily) days prior to filming. It is easy to speculate that his mental difficulties during that period may have been delayed PTSD from his war duties. Whatever the origin, Winters overcame his issues and went on to become a comedy legend.
|Pvt. Mickey Rooney attends a Hollywood movie premiere with his mother, Nell Pankey, in 1944. The actor is back in Hollywood after completing 3 months of basic training at Fort Riley, KS. (AP Photo)|
|Mickey Rooney receiving the Silver Service Medal at The National WWII Museum in 2009.|
Mickey Rooney (born Joseph Yule, Jr.) served in the U.S. Army during WWII. In 1944, Rooney entered military service as a Private. He served more than twenty-one months, until shortly after the end of World War II. Both during and after the war he helped entertain the troops in America and Europe, and spent part of the time as a radio personality on the American Forces Network.
Rooney was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for entertaining troops in combat zones. He also received the Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and World War II Victory Medal for his military service.
Rooney was a top box-office champ at the time of his induction, the long-time star of the popular "Andy Hardy" movies. Working with Shirley Temple and Judy Garland was nothing special to him, but after the war, things changed. Rooney, who had been famous for his boyish roles and playing teenagers, had grown up. Like many former child stars (though he was a special case), Rooney endured a long career slump. He worked through it, however, and managed to find work every year. When he took on some television work, it became classic, such as an appearance as a down-on-his-luck jockey in "The Twilight Zone." Mickey Rooney remained a force in Hollywood until his unfortunate passing in April 2014. Among his better Hollywood stories is that during the 1940s he apparently came up with Marilyn Monroe's stage name, though that is highly doubted by some.
|Harry Dean Stanton|
This one comes as a real surprise. He does not seem old enough to be a World War II Vet - but sure enough, he is.
Harry Dean Stanton (born July 14, 1926) is a US Navy veteran of World War II. He served as a cook aboard an LST (Landing Ship, Tank) during the Battle of Okinawa.
Harry was acting by the early 1950s on television, and was in the classic 1970 Clint Eastwood World War II film "Kelly's Heroes." However, he did not really start getting noticed until his 1973 part as Homer Van Meter in "Dillinger" with Warren Oates. This guy worked his way up to everything he has now, grinding it out in total obscurity. Still going strong as of 2014.
Hattie McDaniel, Oscar winner for "Gone WIth the Wind" the year before the war, was a member of the AWVS during WWII.
Bob Keeshan enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve late in the war and never left the states during the conflict. He became famous when he spent 30 years playing Captain Kangaroo on television. There is a story that Lee Marvin claimed to have served with him, but it is just an urban legend.
Don Adams USMC 1941-45. Adams joined United States Marine Corps at age 16 by lying about his age. Participated in the Battle of Guadalcanal and was wounded by small-arms fire. Contracted malaria and blackwater fever (there were more casualties on Guadacanal from diseases like those than from actual combat) and spent a year in a Navy hospital in New Zealand. After recovery, Adams served in the US as a Marine drill instructor. Adams went on to comic stardom during the 1960s as Maxwell Smart in "Get Smart." Don Adams, American Hero.
Arthur William Matthew “Art” Carney (November 4, 1918 – November 9, 2003) was an American actor in film, stage, television and radio. Carney was drafted as an infantryman during World War II. During the Battle of Normandy, he was wounded in the leg by shrapnel and walked with a limp for the rest of his life.
After the war, he achieved fame as Ed Norton on the Jackie Gleason television show "The Honeymooners." He won an Academy Award in 1973 for "Harry and Tonto."
|Henry Fonda in uniform|
|"Lieutenant Henry Fonda, former Hollywood movie star, relaxes in a South Pacific area, July 10, 1944 where he is now on active duty on the staff of Vice Adm. J.H. Hoover, U.S. Navy commander of the forward area, Central Pacific."|
|Lt. jg Henry Fonda (1905 - 1982) during his military service on board the USS Bearss, summer 1945.|
Henry Fonda (1905-1982) Lt. jg U.S. Navy 1943-45 WW II. Fonda was already a movie star when he enlisted, but he asked for no favors from the War Department, saying, "I don't want to be in a fake war in a studio." Fonda joined the navy as an ordinary seaman. Fonda later served as a Quartermaster 3rd Class on the destroyer USS Satterlee as well as other ships. He was later commissioned as a Lieutenant jg in Air Combat Intelligence in the Pacific and was awarded the Bronze Star. He also served on an Admiral's staff.
|Navy Lieutenant Henry Fonda with his precocious daughter, Lady Jayne Seymour Fonda (1943)|
After the war, Henry was in 106 films and won an Oscar for "On Golden Pond." One of Fonda's signature roles in the 1950s was as Lt. jg U.S. Navy Douglas A. 'Doug' Roberts during World War II in the 1955 film "Mister Roberts." It was suspiciously similar to his real-life war experience. He was starring in motion pictures within a few years of the war's end and starred in his final film with his equally talented daughter, Jane Fonda.
Col. Ed McMahon, USMC (Ret.) (1923-2009) had as his goal before the war to join the United States Marine Corps as a fighter pilot. Since at that time both the Army and Navy required two years of college for their pilots program, he enrolled at Boston College and studied there during the 1940–41 terms. After Pearl Harbor was attacked, the college requirement was dropped, so McMahon dropped out and applied for Marine flight training. His primary flight training was in Dallas, followed by fighter training in Pensacola, where he also earned his carrier landing qualifications. He was a Marine Corps flight instructor there for two years before being ordered to the Pacific fleet in 1945. However, his orders were canceled after Japan surrendered, and he mustered out but stayed in the reserves.
As an officer in the reserves, McMahon was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. This time, he flew the OE-1 (the original Marine designation for the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog), an unarmed single-engine spotter plane. He functioned as an artillery spotter for the Marine batteries on the ground and as a forward controller for the Navy and Marine fighter bombers. He flew a total of 85 combat missions, earning six Air Medals, including some in a F-9 Panther. After the Korean war, he again stayed with the Marines as a reserve officer, finally retiring in 1966 as a colonel. In 1982, Col. McMahon received a state commission as a brigadier general in the California Air National Guard, an honorific awarded to recognize his support for the National Guard and Reserves.
Ed McMahon, of course, went on to become best known as Johnny Carson's sidekick on "The Tonight Show" and a participant for many years in the Labor Day MD Telethons.
Pat Hingle, US Navy (Served 1941-1945). Pat Hingle was born Martin Patterson Hingle in Miami on July 19, 1924. He had completed one semester at the University of Texas when World War II broke out. He enlisted and joined the Navy, serving as on a destroyer, the USS Marshall, in the Pacific. After the war, he was recalled during the Korean war and served on another destroyer.
After his service, he joined the Actor's Studio in New York, got some Broadway parts, and ultimately became one of the top character actors in Hollywood. Many will remember Hingle from his appearances in such Clint Eastwood (a good friend) films as "Hang 'em High," "The Gauntlet," and "Sudden Impact."
Red Buttons (1919 - 2006) was a successful Broadway actor when he was drafted into the United States Army Air Forces in 1943. He appeared in the Army Air Forces' Broadway show Winged Victory, along with several future stars, including Mario Lanza, John Forsythe, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb. A year later, Buttons appeared in Darryl F. Zanuck's movie version of Winged Victory, directed by George Cukor. Buttons also entertained troops in the European Theater in the same unit as Mickey Rooney. Buttons went on to a storied acting career after the war, and my favorite performance was his role as the retiring suitor in "The Poseidon Adventure."
I bet that you have no idea who the pert lass is in the above picture. Well, let's get to that in a moment.
Her first acting gig was on radio in 1930, playing an adopted child. She was a television star when World War II broke out. Yes, before the war. Unfortunately for her, there were only a few thousand television sets in the world at that time, so her exposure on an experimental Los Angeles TV station in 1939 did not translate into the big bucks. But if you're talking "pioneer"... you're looking at one.
After kicking around for a while doing whatever modelling and stage acting gigs she could find, the lady enlisted in the American Women's Voluntary Services (AWVS) right after Pearl Harbor and stayed in for 4 years. She drove a PX truck. In 1945, she married Dick Barker, a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot, but divorced quickly.
After that, she did a lot of radio, which still was a bigger gig than television. Then, she returned to television as more people bought sets and programming hours grew. It wasn't until 1962 that she got her first film role, but film work really was never her style and Television remained her bread and butter.
The '60s turned into the '70s, and she became a character actress on shows such as "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." She gained a reputation for being "sickeningly sweet," which turned into some fabulous sitcom bits - and got her the Mary Tyler Moore gig, which fully and knowingly exploited that reputation and made her a household name.
So, it was the mid-70s and she was a World War II Vet, one of the first people ever to appear on television - and she was just now hitting her stride. From that point on, more character parts beckoned. It turned out that television was the right place for her all along. Eventually, she became the second Golden Girl to appear on this page and remains active in the business today - yes, one of the very first people ever to appear on television before World War II is still working as I type this in 2016. In fact, she has multiple TV appearances this year and shows no signs of slowing down, 86 years after getting her start in show biz.
|Do you recognize her now?|
Well, you no doubt know by now that we are talking about the one and only, the truly fabulous, the eternal Betty White.
Christopher Lee was too young to enlist upon the outbreak of war in September 1939. Instead, he volunteered to serve in the Winter War with the Finns. The politics became murky later, but at that time the Finns were still the good guys in the conflict.
In 1941, Lee enlisted in the RAF Volunteer Reserve. His eyesight prevented him from flying. Undeterred, Lee served as an officer in the RAF’s Intelligence Branch in Africa, which involved selecting targets and planning missions. At one point, he was strafed by a German fighter and wounded in the buttocks. However, it seems Lee may have got much closer to the action with his apparent involvement in secret units such as the Special Operations Executive (SOE), and the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), which was the forerunner to the legendary SAS. The LRDG was later immortalized on television in the series "The Desert Rats," though Lee had nothing to do with that.
Lee gets little public recognition of his war efforts because he never talked about them. He explained it thus:
I’ve been entrusted with many secrets during World War II, and if I spoke, people died. I was in the intelligence service, special ops, and I’m not going to tell much more. I’ve signed the Official Secrets Act, which binds me for life. And what I mean by this is that I’m able to keep a secret, and if I’m asked to say nothing, I say nothing. Never.Lee, of course, went on to become a legendary actor, first in the Hammer horror films and later in such epic series as James Bond ("The Man with the Golden Gun"), Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. He was knighted, became Sir Christopher, and passed away, working hard to the end, in 2015.
Robert Ryan-Marines-WW2-served with the OSS in Yugoslavia. This guy was a real war hero. He reached what many consider his peak playing the adversarial General in 'The Dirty Dozen.'
Alex Haley, best known as the author of "Roots" and other best sellers, enlisted in the US Coast Guard in 1939 as a Mess Attendant Third Class (the only ratings in the Navy and Coast Guard open to minorities at that time). When US entered the war in December 1941 he was serving on the cutter Pamlico which sailed the waters of coastal North Carolina. In May 1943 he was transferred to the cargo vessel USS Murzim and saw service in the Pacific; Haley began writing about combat conditions on board, which were published in the US.
Towards the end of the war, Haley was assigned to edit an official Coast Guard periodical. He eventually became the editor of the Coast Guard publication ‘Helmsman‘ in New York City, advancing to the rank of Chief Petty Officer before his retirement from the Coast Guard in 1959. He then began to publish novels.
Writer T/4 Rod Serling, US Army (Served 1943-1946). Rod Serling served as a U.S. Army paratrooper and demolition specialist with the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 11th Airborne Division in the Pacific Theater in World War II from January 1943 to January 1945 (Discharged stateside in 1946). Serling was seriously wounded in the wrist and knee during combat and was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
After the war, Rod became a top television writer, presenter and producer. Among many other projects, he created the legendary "Twilight Zone" and "Night Gallery" series of the 1950s-1970s. He later joined a college faculty in upstate New York and passed away in June 1975.
Hugh Hefner enlisted in the US Army in 1944 as an infantry clerk. He did not serve overseas, but was posted to Camp Adair in Oregon and Camp Pickett in Virginia, where he contributed cartoons for Army newspapers. After his discharge in 1946, he went to college on the GI Bill. He later became interested in magazines and reportedly put the first "Playboy" together in his kitchen.
Benny Hill served five years during the war, but he never considered himself any kind of a hero. He was a Driver/Mechanic in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, and served in Normandy and Dunkirk from September 1944. Hill hated the Army, claiming (probably correctly in his case) that there was always someone above you to shout at you. He was eventually transferred to Germany and began entertaining, ending up in the production ‘Stars in Battledress’. He later summed up his military service with, “I was five years in the army and never got a stripe.”
Regardless of his feelings about it (no doubt shared by millions of non-celebrities), Hill was every bit a veteran. He later appeared in movies and as the star of the successful "The Benny Hill Show."
Rock Hudson enlisted in the US Navy in 1943 after graduating from high school, and served in the Philippines as an aircraft mechanic. He was discharged in 1946, and later went on to play heroic military figures such as the submarine Captain in "Ice Station Zebra."
|Lieutenant Gene Kelly and wife Betsy Blair. October, 1945|
The first shot above is a portrait of Lieutenant (JG) Gene Kelly (1912 - 1996) of the United States Naval Air Service, August 1945. The photo was probably taken in Washington, DC. Below that is Gene with his wife, Betsy Blair.
Kelly enlisted in the U.S. Naval Air Service at the end of 1944 and was commissioned as lieutenant junior grade after going through San Diego boot camp. He enlisted after helping to sell war bonds and entertain wounded troops. He did receive some deferments because the Board figured he was more valuable acting than shooting bullets.
This enlistment was particularly laudable because it happened shortly after MGM loaned him out to Columbia to work with Rita Hayworth in "Cover Girl" (1944), which turned out to be his breakthrough role.
Kelly was stationed in the Photographic Section, Washington D.C.. He helped to write and direct many documentaries, which encouraged his interest in the production side of film-making. Some of his wartime films included "Combat Fatigue Irritability," "Submarine Warfare. Now It Can Be Told," and "Treasury Salute no. 314. What’s the matter with Steve."
|Bill Blass, left, with fellow grunt Bob Tompkins. Credit via Bob Tompkins|
Another name I did not expect on this list is William Ralph "Bill" Blass (June 22, 1922 – June 12, 2002), better known simply as Bill Blass. He enlisted in the US Army in 1942, not long after Pearl Harbor. The Army assigned Blass to the 603rd Camouflage Battalion, and he was in the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops. This unit employed "creative types" in designing items intended to mislead the enemy. They used recordings, inflatable tanks, and other false materials to create an illusion, such as with the completely phony "First US Army Group" (FUSAG) in Dover prior to D-Day. Blass served along with many other creative celebrities, including artist Ellsworth Kelly, the photographer Art Kane, and the watercolorist Arthur Singer. The unit became the subject of “The Ghost Army,” an hourlong documentary by Rick Beyer shown on PBS some years ago.
Bill Blass, of course, came back to New York in 1945 and began his legendary fashion career. By the 1970s, he was one of the top names in the industry. He also branched out into areas such as automotive design for the Ford Motor Company before retiring to his home in Connecticut shortly before his death.
Nancy Kulp was in graduate school for English and French in Miami when she got the urge to join the military. In 1944, Kulp left the University of Miami and volunteered for service in the US Naval Reserve. She was a member of the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service and commissioned as a Lieutenant Jg. Kulp received several decorations, including the American Campaign Medal, before mustering out in 1946.
Kulp became interested in acting when her husband was working at a Hollywood studio. Director George Cukor thought she had the right look and urged her to act, so Kulp began seeking parts and had quick success. She eventually got the plum role of Mr. Drysdale's assistant Miss Jane Hathaway on television series "The Beverly Hillbillies."
George Reeves served in the Army during World War II. He was in the US Army Air Forces (USAAF) First Motion Picture Unit during 1943, where he made training films. Reeves already was a big star before the war, having appeared in "Gone With the Wind." Reeves resumed his film career after the war with mixed success, appearing in classic World War II film "From Here To Eternity." Reeves is best known as the title star of television series "The Adventures of Superman," and for the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death by gunshot at his home in 1958.
|George C. Scott|
George Campbell Scott (October 18, 1927 – September 22, 1999) was an American stage and film actor, director and producer. Scott joined the US Marines, serving from 1945-49 during World War II and afterwards. Scott was only 17 and enlisted as early as he could, but missed combat when the war ended before he could be shipped to a combat zone, to his everlasting regret. Of course, but for the atomic bombs, he could have seen quite a bit of action.
Scott, of course, went on to win the Oscar for Best Actor for playing World War II hero General George S. Patton Jr. in 1970 classic "Patton."
Donald Pleasance (1919-1995), born in Nottinghamshire, England. He initially was a conscientious objector, but later changed his stance. Upon entering the military, he was commissioned into the Royal Air Force, serving with No. 166 Squadron, RAF Bomber Command. His Avro Lancaster was shot down on 31 August 1944, during a raid on Agenville, France. Pleasance was taken prisoner and placed in a German prisoner-of-war camp, where he produced and acted in plays. Reportedly, he was tortured by the Germans at some point. Pleasance later played the blind intelligence officer Flight Lt. Colin Blythe in "The Great Escape" and became one of the biggest stars in Hollywood during the 1970s.
|Walter Matthau, showing his rank of Staff Sergeant.|
|Walter Matthau in 1952, publicity photo for Broadway play "Fancy Meeting You Again."|
Walter Matthau (October 1, 1920 – July 1, 2000) served in the U.S. Army Air Forces with the Eighth Air Force in England as a B-24 Liberator radioman-gunner. He attained the rank of Staff Sergeant. While Matthau served in the same 453rd Bombardment Group as James Stewart, there is no record of their ever having met or flown together - though that is as likely as not. Certainly Matthau must have seen Stewart during his service..
There are few photographs of Matthau from the World War II era available. It was not something that he later talked about or publicized. Many veterans were like that. That doesn't mean his service was any less important than that of the others on here, and it may have been very intense for all we know.
Walter always was a bit cagey about his real past on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and during the war. For instance, he allowed a rumor to stand for many years that his real birth name was "Walter Matuschanskayasky," under which he was credited for his bit part as a drunk in "Earthquake." This was accepted as fact for many years, while the reality was that his original last name was Matthow, which does not sound nearly as exotic or colorful. No doubt, Matthau (or Mathow) got quite a kick out of putting that one over as a kind of inside joke about how easy it was to con people about your past, how little people actually knew about stars like him, and how quickly people would swallow some unlikely edifice of a name for someone with a vaguely ethnic look. In this sense, he was a bit like James Doohan (see below). Matthau did not consider himself some big star who put on airs; instead, he liked to come across as just any old Matuschanskayasky you might meet on the street.
Matthau's life changed drastically because of his World War II service. While mildly interested in theater before the war, he became much more interested while stationed in England. He began acting for real afterwards, quickly moved on to Broadway, and eventually became one of the biggest stars in Hollywood in such films as "The Odd Couple" and "The Fortune Cookie," his breakthrough role in 1966.
|Jack Hawkins in "The Cruel Sea" (1953).|
Born 14 September 1910, Jack Hawkins already was an established leading man on both the London stage and in films when war broke out. He worked extensively with (Sir) John Gielgud doing Shakespeare and popular works throughout the 1930s. After the outbreak of war, Hawkins joined the Royal Welch Fusiliers, eventually becoming a colonel in the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA, later superseded by the Combined Services Entertainment (CSE)). Hawkins served in India and Southeast Asia, getting time off to make "The Next of Kin" (1942).
Hawkins was one of those lucky souls who resumed his career after the war as if he never had been away, appearing onstage in "The Apple Cart" two weeks after mustering out in July 1946. Actually, it is a bit blithe to say that he resumed his career exactly as it had been, because he no longer commanded high wages and had to work his way back up again. That Hawkins did, though, signing with Alexander Korda to pay the rent, but eventually hitting major paydirt in the early 1950s with films such as "Malayan Emergency" (1952) and "The Cruel Sea" (1953).
Hawkins acquired a reputation as a "stiff upper lip" chap, and his memorable role of General Allenby in Richard Attenborough's classic "Lawrence of Arabia" sealed that reputation. Hawkins showed his versatility by playing Quintus Arrius in "Ben-Hur" around the same time, and with those two roles he stole his scenes in two of the greatest films ever made. Hawkins passed away in 1973.
Richard Todd (born 11 June 1919) was of perfect age to fight when World War II broke out, though he already had some stage experience (co-founding the Dundee Repertory Theatre in 1939). He enlisted in the British Army and received a commission in 1941. He was in the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, then the Parachute Regiment. As a captain, Todd was in Operation Tonga, the glider landings that opened the D-Day invasion. The capture of Pegasus Bridge right behind the invasion beaches was their main target, and Todd and his men carried out their mission perfectly.
After mustering out, Todd resumed acting in his repertory theater. Somebody spotted him, and that got him a screen test and ultimately a contract with Associated British Picture Corporation. Major roles for Alfred Hitchcock (Stage Fright (1950)) and King Vidor (Lightning Strikes Twice (1951)) followed, but his real breakthrough came in "A Man Called Peter" (1955). That year he also played Wing Commander Guy Gibson in classic British war film "The Dam Busters" (1955), which is the film that pretty much everyone (including me) remembers him for. In 1962, Todd played Major Howard in "The Longest Day" - Howard being Todd's real-life commanding officer during the D-Day battle and with whom Todd actually stood on Pegasus Bridge that day. Todd almost snagged the role of James Bond in "Dr. No," but scheduling issues handed the role to Sean Connery. Richard Todd became an OBE in 1993 and passed away in 2009.
|George H.W. Bush|
|George Bush rescued by the USS Finback in the Solomon Islands - you can see the island where he would have been killed in the background|
George H.W. Bush, US Navy pilot, WWII. George Bush flew combat missions in several major World War II engagements, including the Battle of the Phillipine Sea. As is well known, George Bush later became a Congressman, CIA Director, Vice President, and President of the United States.
Shot down on a mission over the Bonin Islands (Chichijima), Bush was rescued by a submarine after making it back out to sea (with difficulty) while others in his flight bailed out over land. He only learned well after the war, during his time as the 41st President of the United States, that every other pilot in his flight had been executed by the Japanese when they were captured on the island. He survived his own bail-out (his two fellow crew members did not) by luckily being picked up by a passing submarine (the Finback). By sheer chance, the rescue was filmed and photographed by someone on the submarine.
Lt. Bush flew 58 combat missions in total, including numerous ones after his bail-out. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and the Presidential Unit Citation awarded to his carrier, the San Jacinto. He was honorably discharged in September 1945.
It became somewhat fashionable for certain opponents of President Bush's to call into question or deride his military feats. Lt. Bush was alone, on a small dinghy, in the middle of the ocean. No food, no water, "not a single luxury." He easily could have died there from exposure or dehydration - many others did. The others in his flight weren't so lucky; they did die, by beheading on the nearby island. Future President Bush got lucky when he was rescued by a passing submarine, and he knew it. Many, many other men in similar situations died horrible deaths from exposure, dehydration and starvation - all three at once is not a pretty sight. A small dinghy in the huge ocean is extremely hard to see, especially from the height of a submarine conning tower, even if you know where to look.
There was nothing phony about this incident. Compare this to the similar bail-out not long afterwards of ace Pappy Boyington - Boyington also got picked up by a passing sub, but in his case a Japanese one, and spent the next two years suffering in a POW camp. And that can make all the difference.
|John F. Kennedy on the PT 109 in 1943, Solomon Islands|
John F. Kennedy became the 35th President of the United States of America. His exploits were detailed in an autobiography and a well-received movie. Everybody no doubt knows all about his exploits (his ship was cut in half at night by a Japanese destroyer, and despite his own injuries he swam for help). The pain from his war injuries followed him throughout the remainder of his life and, in an odd, sad and creepy way, may have inadvertently contributed directly to his assassination in Dallas twenty years later. A true American hero.
A word here, too, for his older brother, Joseph Patrick Kennedy. Joseph passed away during a secret mission over France, 1944.
John W. "Johnny" Carson (1925-2005). Ensign, U.S. Navy 1943-45 WW II. He enlisted as a Seaman Apprentice and later received a commission. He served as OIC of decoding messages on the USS Pennsylvania in the Pacific. After the war, he did some bit acting before becoming host of "The Tonight Show" for thirty years.
Cesar Romero, American Actor (February 15, 1907 – January 1, 1994). Cesar is one of the least appreciated of World War II veterans. He was a leading man in the 1930s, starring as The Cisco Kid and as an assortment of foreign counts and Latin lovers. One could say that during that time he was more successful than many legendary peers such as John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. Just like Stewart, though, Cesar gave it all up to face bullets and an uncertain future.
In October 1942, Cesar voluntarily enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard and served in the Pacific Theater. He reported aboard the Coast Guard-manned assault transport USS Cavalier in November, 1943. He saw action during the invasions of Tinian and Saipan. He resumed his career after the war as if he had never left, and decades later became famous as the Joker on the "Batman" tv series and, again decades later, appeared on popular series such as Falcon Crest. Cesar Romero is at the same time one of the most successful and least remembered actors who served in the war.
|Telly Savalas in "The Twilight Zone."|
Corporal Telly Savalas was in the US Army. He served from 1941-1943. Telly was a member of Company C, 12th Medical Training Battalion, 4th Medical Training Regiment at Camp Pickett, Virginia. Although Telly received a Purple Heart for his service in World War II, little is known about his time with the armed forces.
Telly (full name Aristotelis Savalas) went on to become a top action star in the 1960s in films such as "The Dirty Dozen." He created the iconic television character of "Kojak" in the '70s.
|J.D. Salinger working on something related to Holden Caulfield during World War II, probably in Europe.|
Jerome David "J.D." Salinger (January 1, 1919) was an unsuccessful writer from New York City when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. Having attended the Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania, he was a good catch for the military, and Salinger was duly drafted early in 1942. He wound up serving in the 12th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division. This took JD on a tour of scenic French and German spots such as Utah Beach, the Ardennes, and the Hürtgen Forest, the experiences marred somewhat by the fact that people were shooting at him at all of those places.
Salinger had submitted numerous articles for publication, all rejected for one reason or another, before the war. However, as all writers know, if you write, you have to write and keep writing - there is no substitute. Learning from good writers also helps. So, J.D. sought out war correspondent Ernest Hemingway in Paris, who commented, "Jesus, he has a helluva talent." The two began corresponding, which continued after the war as well.
The Hemingway magic rubbed off on Salinger... eventually... and after the war one of his old writing professors at Columbia, Whit Burnett, tried to get some short stories Salinger had written published. One of these was a story, "Slight Rebellion off Madison," which JD had written before the war. It centered on an eccentric/raw character named Holden Caulfield. However, the publisher once again rejected JD's submission.
Eventually, after huge effort and endless rewrites, JD got a story published in the New Yorker several years after the war, "A Perfect Day for Bananafish." This got him rolling, and in 1951 he had expanded his story about Holden Caulfield into a novel, "The Catcher in the Rye," which Little, Brown and Company published. It was moderately successful at first, fell out of sight... and then, years later, slowly became a cult classic. Today, it is quite possibly the most well-remembered book of the 1950s and one of the classics of all of American literature. It also has sold millions upon millions upon millions of copies despite having controversial themes.
JD thus became part of a distinguished group of young American writers who served in the war and later wrote the "Great American Novel." Perhaps the other great example of this is Herman Wouk, with "The Caine Mutiny." Personally, I compare Salinger more to another Herman who also became a titan of literature for a spectacular one-off novel: Herman Melville, whose "Moby Dick" was published in 1851, exactly 100 years before "Catcher in the Rye." "Moby Dick" also was not particularly successful at first, and only later became revered as a classic. If you match "Moby Dick" with "A Catcher in the Rye," and throw in a Hemingway tale such as "A Farewell to Arms," you pretty much have the best that American literature has to offer.
No longer needing to work, JD eventually became a notorious and almost mythical recluse (satirized in shows like "Seinfeld,"). He passed away of natural causes at his home in New Hampshire in 2010.
|Eli Wallach playing Hitler during World War II - "Is This the Army?"|
Eli Wallach was drafted into the Army in January 1941 - well before Pearl Harbour. He served as staff sergeant in a military hospital in Hawaii and later sent to Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Abilene, Texas to train as a medical administrative officer. Commissioned a second lieutenant, he was ordered to Casablanca. Later, when he was serving in France, a senior officer noticed his acting career and asked him to create a show for the patients. He and his unit wrote a play called Is This the Army?, which was inspired by Irving Berlin's "This Is the Army." In the comedic play, Wallach and the other actors mocked Axis dictators, with Wallach portraying Adolf Hitler. After the war, Wallach was a founding member of the Actors Studio with Lee Strasberg and Marlon Brando among others, where he met future wife Anne Jackson, became friends with Marilyn Monroe, and went on to a brilliant acting career. Eli Wallach passed away in June 2014.
George Harris Kennedy, Jr. (born February 18, 1925) put aside show business during World War II and served under General Patton. He was in the United States Army for a total of 16 years. He saw combat and worked in the Armed Forces radio. He also was involved with the opening of the first Army Information Office.
Kennedy later won an Oscar for "Cool Hand Luke" and starred in several box office blockbusters such as "Airport" and its many sequels and the "Naked Gun" films. Perhaps the best film showing him in the military was "The Dirty Dozen" (1967) with fellow Vet Lee Marvin. Mr. Kennedy passed away early in 2016.
Howard McNear was in the US Army Air Corps during WWII. He enlisted as a Private on 11/17/1942. He later went into light comedy and starred as the iconic affable barber on 'The Andy Griffith Show.' He suffered a stroke that forced him off the series, then passed away shortly thereafter due to another stroke.
Frank Sutton (1923-1974) tried to join the Marines, but flunked the physical, so he wound up in the Army. He wound up participating in 14 assault landings in the Pacific Theater including Leyte, Luzon, Bataan, and Corregidor. Sutton saw combat and earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Somewhat ironically, Sutton ultimately became famous for his role as Marine Gunnery Sgt. & Drill Instructor Vince Carter in the TV series “Gomer Pyle, USMC.” Sutton, despite failing the physical, was no wallflower and later earned a Black Belt in judo.
When the U.S. entered World War II, Howard Cosell joined the United States Army Transportation Corps. He eventually was promoted to the rank of major. Eventually, of course, he became the most famous tv sports announcer of all time.
I ran into Howard Cosell in the mid-1980s. He was a fairly short, unassuming man in a grey trenchcoat. The whole "This... is... Howard... Cosell" thing was his schtick, and he did it well. But he was a friendly sort, ready with a smile. He was a major in the Army during the war, that ain't beanbag.
Brian Keith (1921-1997), SGT, U.S. Marine Corps WW II. He served (1942–1945) as an air gunner (he was a Radio-Gunner in the rear cockpit of a two-man Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bomber in a U.S. Marine squadron), and received an Air Medal. He went on to fame in television and motion pictures after the war.
|Jack Klugman in "12 Angry Men."|
Jack Klugman (April 27, 1922 – December 24, 2012). Klugman was born in Philadelphia, PA. He was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. He served with the US Army during WW II, where and in what outfit is unknown. Klugman went back to school after hte war, probably on the GI Bill, and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 1948. After being told by his drama teacher that he was better suited to be a truck driver, Klugman became a renowned stage, film and television actor. He is best known for his role in "12 Angry Men," and as Oscar Madison in the television series "The Odd Couple," a pool hustler in "The Twilight Zone," and the titular character in "Quincy."
Forrest Tucker was in the Army during World War II from 1942 to 1945. He served as a Second Lieutenant. A bit actor before the war, he ascended to stardom immediately thereafter. Many remember his touching role in "Never Say Goodbye," a 1946 film with Errol Flynn in which Tucker, in a role close to reality, played a returning serviceman fulfilling the dreams of a young penpal. He went on to become a famous character actor notable for turns in "F-Troop" and "Chisum," among many, many other memorable roles.
Yes, Bob Newhart served in the ETO in World War II. After mustering out, he became an accountant, which supported him throughout the 1950s. Somewhat appropriately, his first role was as a soldier in "Hell is for Heroes" (1962). He remains as of this writing one of the World War II Vets still working steadily at his trade in Hollywood. Reportedly, he was introduced to his (future) wife Ginny (still married over fifty years later) by the wife of fellow WWII Vet Don Rickles.
Harvey Korman (1927-2008) served in World War II in the US Navy Reserve. I could not find much information about this period of his life. Born Harvey Herschel Korman on February 15, 1927, he was the son of a salesman of Russian-Jewish descent, Cyril Korman and his wife Ellen. After graduating from high school, he served in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a Seaman 1st Class during World War II, apparently based in Chicago. Afterwards, he attended the Goodman School of Drama at the Chicago Art Institute. For the next 10 years, Korman supported himself with a variety of jobs while keeping his acting dream alive in summer stock.
Like fellow Vet Dick Van Dyke (who later appeared on some programs with Korman), Korman first came to the public eye only many years after the war in the early 1960s. He first became famous as a supporting star on The Danny Kaye show. Then, he became a household name when he starred on the Carol Burnett Show (1967-1978) and in several Carl Reiner (also a Vet) films, most notably "Blazing Saddles." Korman won four Emmys and one Golden Globe.
Glenn Ford (1916-2006) SGT USMC (1942-44) WW II / CAPT USNR (1958-70s). Ford volunteered for the United States Marine Corps Reserve on December 13, 1942 and was first assigned to San Diego. Later, he was assigned to the Marine Corps Schools Detachment (Photographic Section) in Quantico, Virginia. After only a few months, Ford returned to San Diego in February 1944 and was assigned to the radio section of the Public Relations Office, Headquarters Company, Base Headquarters Battalion. He received a medical discharge on 7 December 1944 due to abdominal issues.
Ford re-upped with the military in 1958, and ultimately went to Vietnam in 1967 for combat scenes in a Marine training film. He earned a Navy Commendation Medal and finally retired in 1970.
Memorable Ford roles included many western characters, and Richard Dadier in “Blackboard Jungle,” as well as Superman's earth "father" in "Superman" (1978).
Senator George S. McGovern, 2nd Lieutenant and a B-24 Liberator pilot. Candidate for US President, 1972. Longtime Senator.
|Peter Graves and elder brother James Arness|
Peter Graves (real name Peter Duesler Aurness) graduated from Southwest High School in 1944, and spent two years in the United States Army Air Forces near the end of World War II. He went on to star in over 70 Hollywood productions during his career, including the lead in the popular television series "Mission: Impossible." One of his lesser-known, but more vivid, roles was as one of the POWs (one with a secret) in the classic World War II drama "Stalag 17." James Arness is best known for playing Marshal Dillon in "Gunsmoke" during its record 20-year run on network television.
|Medal of Honor winner Gregory "Pappy" Boyington|
Gregory "Pappy" Boyington was a leading U.S. air ace of the Pacific Theater. He did not have as many victories as Richard Bong's 40, but he was close enough (26). Pappy led the famous "Black Sheep" squadron to notoriety throughout the theater, disregarding propriety.
He became famous after the war by writing his detailed autobiography, "Baa Baa Black Sheep," which offered amazing insights into post-war re-integration into society, alcoholism and post-traumatic stress issues. Long after the war, Pappy became a consultant on the 1970s television series about his war exploits, first titled "Baa Baa Black Sheep" after the book, then simply "Black Sheep Squadron."
Pappy was known to be unassuming and a regular guy. After the war, he gave inspirational after-dinner speeches until he had some sort of mental breakdown. For a common man to become world famous because of his wartime exploits, with all the millions and millions of men in uniform, was something special.
A Native American, Major Boyington was in the Marine Corps before war broke out, and was such a good pilot that he became a flight instructor at Pensacola. He resigned his commission to serve with the Flying Tigers in China before Pearl Harbor - Pappy wanted to fight. After that ended, he was parking cars in California during the war before he was re-admitted to the Marine Air Corps and became a fighter pilot again. Shot down and taken prisoner on one of his last days in service after two tours, he served out the war in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Japan, nearly starving to death. He was promoted to Colonel while imprisoned. This guy was an inspiration.
Kurt Kasznar is not really a household name, but if you are of a certain age, you still instantly would recognize him on the screen. I'll get to that below.
Kasznar was born in Vienna in 1913, at the very end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was recruited into acting by director Max Reinhardt and became a top actor in post-war Austria. Still with Reinhardt, Kasznar emigrated to the United States in 1936 with Reinhardt's acting troupe and continued his acting career.
Right after Pearl Harbor, Kasznar was drafted and assigned to a photographic unit of the US Army. He photographed several landings in the Pacific and the surrender ceremony on 2 September 1945 on the USS Missouri. He attained the rank of Corporal.
After the war, Kasznar continued his acting career in numerous Broadway plays. Kasznar received a Tony Award nomination for the role of Max Detweiler in the original Broadway production of "The Sound of Music" and never missed a day for over 1,000 performances. He branched out into films such as "Lilli," but really was your archetypal Broadway character actor.
Okay, so Kasznar became one of the true greats on Broadway, but his film work was a little light and he wasn't in any real film classics that you can point to and say, "Wow." So, why do I consider him a top celebrity worthy to be in the company of Presidents, Audie Murphy and Clark Gable, and also give him this much attention? Anybody who is a fan of old science fiction series will understand: Kurt Kasznar played Alexander Fitzhugh on Irwin Allen's "Land of the Giants."
Dayle Robertson (1923-2013) entered World War II service as a private in the Horse Cavalry at Fort Riley, Kansas in September, 1942. He was then stationed at Fort Knox and later at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. After being commissioned through Officer Candidate School, he served as a tank commander in the 777th Tank Battalion in the North African campaign. After D-Day, he was in the 97th Infantry Division in Europe. Robertson rose to 1st Lieutenant with the 332nd Combat Engineers, attached to Patton's Third Army. Robertson earned two Purple Hearts and was awarded the Bronze and Silver Star medals.
The war re-directed Robertson's life. A boxer before the war, while stationed at San Luis Obispo he went to a photographer in Hollywood with some buds to have a picture taken for his mother. The photographer apparently liked the photo and posted it in his shop window to publicize his craft - of such are legends born. Hollywood agents noticed it and contacted Robertson. After the war, his war wounds prevented resumption of a boxing career, so he standardized his given name and gave acting a whirl. Will Rogers, Jr., gave Dale advice: "Don't ever take a dramatic lesson. They will try to put your voice in a dinner jacket, and people like their hominy and grits in everyday clothes."
Robertson delivered the hominy and grits, big time. Starting out in bit parts, he developed a reputation as a reliable actor in Westerns. Most of the films were standard white-and-black-hat oaters, but he began getting national recognition by starring in television series in the late '50s such as NBC's "Tales of Wells Fargo." He formed his own production company in the '60s, United Screen Arts, to release his films. Robertson did outstanding and memorable work as G-man Melvin Purvis in "Melvin Purvis: G-Man" (1974) and its sequel. He had high-profile television appearances in '80s series such as "Dallas," "Dynasty" and "Murder She Wrote."
Dale Robertson is in the Hall of Great Western Performers and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. He claimed Cherokee ancestry and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Gerald Ford eventually become the 38th President of the United States. He never received his full due as a war hero. We remember.
|Clark Gable in his actual Captain uniform of the U.S. Army Air Force circa 1943|
|Clark Gable shaves off his trademark moustache for the Army, August 1942|
|Clark Gable with an 8th Air Force B-17 in England, in 1943|
Clark Gable (1901-1960) Major US Army Air Corps 1942-44 WW II. Although beyond draft age, Clark Gable enlisted as a private. Assigned to OCS he excelled and received a commission. He flew five combat mission as an observer/gunner in a B-17, earning a Distinguished Flying Cross and an Air Medal. On his fourth mission, a 20mm shell cut the heel from his boot. His discharge was signed by Captain Ronald Reagan.
Gable starred in 67 movie films. He had been the biggest star in Hollywood when he enlisted, playing Rhett Butler in "Gone With the Wind." It is believed that he enlisted because his wife, Carole Lombard, died in a plane crash after appearing at a war bond rally, and he was heartbroken. Perhaps it was pure patriotism, just like Rhett Butler enlisting during his war. Whatever the reason, Hitler learned that the famous movie star Clark Gable (Hitler was a Hollywood movie fan, regularly screening films) was flying missions and put a bounty on his head. It never was collected.
One of the little-known facts about Gable is that he was a true pioneer for civil rights. Decades before it became fashionable, Gable stood up for Hattie McDaniel's right to be treated the same as other cast members during promotion for "Gone With The Wind." He was not one to talk about such things, but he acted when it counted.
Gable remained a top Hollywood star after the war until his death, which occurred shortly after filming "The Misfits." He never really got over the death of his wife, a tragic event for which he apparently felt he bore a share of the blame. His later films were good, but not quite the classics of the pre-war years. Clark Gable was probably the top star at the time who served, a statement Mickey Rooney alone might have authority to challenge. It is sad that after all he went through and all that he achieved, Clark Gable perished at the young age of 59 from a heart attack.
Audie Murphy, June 1924 - May 1971, was the most decorated American soldier of World War 2. During twenty-seven months in action in the European Theatre he received the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military's highest award for valor, along with 32 additional U.S. and foreign awards (medals, ribbons, citations, badges) including five awards from France and one from Belgium.
After the war, Murphy became a celebrated movie star for over two decades. His best performance may have been in the Graham Greene Vietnam thriller "The Quiet American." Sadly, he died in a plane crash at the peak of his fame.
Claude Akins served with the U.S. Army Signal Corps in World War II in Burma and the Philippines. After that, he went to Northwestern on a GI loan and studied theater. Then, he turned to acting in B-movies and television guest starring roles. By the mid-1950s he was well-enough known to appear on "I Love Lucy" when that show was at its peak of popularity. Akins hit the jackpot in the '70s when he played Sheriff Lobo on a couple of series and created an indelible character.
|Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.|
Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was the son of US President Teddy Roosevelt. Despite a heart condition and arthritis that forced him to use a cane, Brig. General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. led the assault on Utah Beach, landing with the first wave of troops. He died in France less than a month later of a heart attack.
John Ford (né John Feeney: February 1, 1894 – August 31, 1973) Born in Cape Elizabeth, ME. Served during WW II in US Navy as head of OSS photo unit despite being well beyond draft age. Wounded by shrapnel during battle at Midway. Landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day. Returned to active duty during Korean War. Discharged Rear Admiral, Navy Reserve. Film director best known for John Wayne westerns. Won four Academy Awards.
What could I, or anyone, add to that kind of off-the-charts record of accomplishment.
John Wayne visited Australia during World War II to entertain the troops in forward areas. The photograph above was taken at the Albion Park Raceway, Breakfast Creek, Brisbane, on 27 December 1943. While too old to be called to serve and also subject to other exemptions, John Wayne did his part to help the war effort, and that deserves to be recognized.
Many like to use Wayne's lack of actual enlistment against him. However, if he had joined, he would have wound up doing exactly what he did do - entertain the troops. And there were a number of very valid reasons why he didn't actually enter the service.
To get a little more specific, Wayne was exempted from service due to his age (34 at the time of Pearl Harbor) and family status, classified as 3-A (family deferment). Wayne did not attempt to prevent his reclassification as 1-A (draft eligible), but Republic Studios, who held his contract, did everything it could to keep him on their lot and out of the military. There was huge money at stake. Herbert J. Yates, President of Republic, told Wayne that he would sue if Wayne acted like a fool and gratified his own ego by trying to enlist. Republic Pictures even intervened in the Selective Service process, requesting Wayne's further deferment. Sometimes, you just can't realize your dream.
Wayne wanted to serve. He couldn't. Some people have held his failure to serve against him. He couldn't win, and his enemies have used his predicament against him ever since.
Yes, Wayne could have said "to blazes" and simply done it. Clark Gable, for instance, didn't let his age get in his way etc., and Gable was perhaps the only bigger star in Hollywood. Wayne would have ruined a lot of lives of people employed at Republic if he had enlisted, causing them to be laid off. It also would have ruined himself career-wise - that would have been an easy way to get on an informal blacklist, consigning himself to years of litigation. He was trapped and did what he was forced to do, and had to accept the fact that some later would say he was a shirker. Heroism can come in strange forms.
Wayne toured forward U.S. bases and hospitals in the South Pacific for three months in 1943 and 1944, when the above picture was taken. He did his part to entertain the troops. Mickey Rooney was awarded the Bronze Star for doing what John Wayne did, though Rooney admittedly did it longer and actually entered the service. Regardless of technicalities, what John Wayne did earned his way onto this page.
Charles Bronson (né Charles Buchinsky) (1921-2003) U.S. Army Air Force 1943-45 WW II. He enlisted and served as an aircraft gunner in the 760th Flexible Gunnery Training Squadron, and in 1945 as a Superfortress crewman (aerial gunner) with the 39th Bombardment Group based on Guam. He was assigned to a B-29 bomber. He flew on 25 missions and received a Purple Heart for wounds received during his service.
So, long before his shoot-em-up roles, Bronson was shooting people down - for real.
After the war, Bronson became a top Hollywood actor who starred in numerous World War II films such as "The Dirty Dozen." He achieved his greatest fame as mild-mannered vigilante Paul Kersey in "Death Wish."
Kurt Vonnegut, an influential 20th-century American writer, was a private with the 423rd Infantry Reg., 106th Infantry Div.
Vonnegut was captured during the Battle of the Bulge on Dec. 19, 1944. Held as a POW in Dresden, he witnessed the fire bombing of the city in Feb. 1945, which destroyed most of it. He was one of a group of American POWs to survive the attack in an underground slaughterhouse meat locker used as a detention facility.This became the inspiration for his famous novel "Slaughterhouse-Five" and a film adaptation of that novel of the same name starring Michael Sacks as Billy Pilgrim. The film featured a scene wherein a Professor, played by John Dehner, tries to argue that the Dresden bombing served a military purpose, when most historians disagree.
No, Olivia Newton-John did not serve in World War II, having been born thereafter. However, her father was a common British soldier who just so happened to take Rudolph Hess into custody following the latter's abortive peace mission flight in May 1941. The family later moved to Australia, where Olivia showed up.
During World War II (1939–45), Chuck Connors enlisted in the Army at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and spent most of the war as a tank-warfare instructor at Fort Campbell, Kentucky and later at West Point. While Connors never made much of his service in later years, he became associated with weapons by starring in popular shows such as "The Rifleman." Connors also appeared in "Soylent Green" with the fellow below, John Carter.
|Charlton Heston in the Aleutians during the war.|
Charlton Heston enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces in 1944 at age 20 under his given name, John Carter. Heston spent two years as a radio operator and aerial gunner aboard a B-25 Mitchell stationed in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands with the Eleventh Air Force. He reached the rank of Staff Sergeant.
Heston, who had barely begun an acting career before the war, resumed his budding career after mustering out. Years later, he was chosen as a narrator for highly classified Military and Department of Energy instructional films, particularly relating to nuclear weapons. Heston also held the nation’s highest security clearance for six years, Q Clearance. He became the leader of the National Rifle Association (NRA) toward the end of his life and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
|Burt Lancaster in "From Here to Eternity."|
Burt Lancaster worked a series of indifferent jobs before the war, including being part of an acrobat act, a travelling salesman, and a singing waiter. He injured his shoulder in 1939, but that did not prevent him from later serving his country.
Lancaster joined the United States Army in 1942 and performed with the Army's Twenty-First Special Services Division. The group followed the troops on the ground and provided USO entertainment to keep up morale. He served with General Mark Clark's Fifth Army in Italy from 1943–45.
After the war, Lancaster decided to give acting a try. He obtained quick success in "The Killers" (1946) and then "From Here to Eternity" (1953). Lancaster earned numerous acting awards and is widely considered one of the great movie stars of the 20th Century.
Don Knotts was a decorated serviceman in the Pacific Theater during World War II. A marksman, Knotts went on to fame in Hollywood, starring, among many other things, as a serviceman in "The Incredible Mr. Limpet" (1964). He of course if most famous for playing Police Lt. Barney Fife on "The Andy Griffith Show" in the 1960s.
There are some who point out that Knotts did not consider himself anything like his fidgety characters, and that he in fact considered himself a potential matinee idol adored by women. Regardless of the merits of this kind of thinking, it never really worked out that way for him. However, in one respect, Don has had the last laugh; his eternal resting place is just down the block from Marilyn Monroe, who herself worked in aircraft plants in suburban Los Angeles during the war.
Tony Randall served from 1942-1946 with the US Army Signal Corps during WWII. Before the war, he studied with Sanford Meisner and did some radio work. He refused an entertainment assignment with the Special Services. Interested in acting before the war, Randall later became a familiar face in Doris Day romantic comedies and in "The Odd Couple" in the 1970s.
Paul Newman served in the United States Navy in World War II in the Pacific theater. Unable to be a pilot, because he was colour blind, he was sent instead to boot camp and then received further training as a radioman and gunner. He qualified as a rear-seat radioman and gunner in torpedo bombers, in 1944. He later flew from aircraft carriers as a turret gunner in an Avenger torpedo bomber. As a radioman-gunner, he served aboard the USS Bunker Hill during the Battle of Okinawa, 1945.
Newman, of course, became one of the top leading men in Hollywood during the 1960s and thereafter.
William Holden served as a 2nd lieutenant in the Air Force during World War II. He later rose to fame playing a similar character as a prisoner of war in "Stalag 17," for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor.
Ernest Borgnine (born Ermes Effron Borgnino) served more than anyone else on this list with the possible exception of Jimmy Stewart. At age 18, after graduating from high school in New Haven, Connecticut, and undecided about his future career, he joined the United States Navy, where he served a six-year hitch. Well, so far so good, right? But shortly after he mustered out - the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
So, Ernie marched himself back down the recruiting center and signed up - again!
He stayed for a total of ten years until leaving in 1945. He is one of the very, very few celebrities who was in the service well before the war broke out, and stayed for the duration.
Borgnine later went on to a brilliant acting career, of course, winning an Oscar in 1955 for "Marty" and remaining a top star until his death in 2012.
Norman Lear was in the Army Air Forces from 1942-45, serving as a radio operator/gunner on B-17 Flying Fortress bombers. He flew 52 combat missions - which is a lot of missions, twice what he had to fly. He was awarded the Air Medal with 4 oak leaf clusters. He went on to produce shows such as "All in the Family" and became a noted liberal activist.
Gene Rayburn, long-time host of "Match Game" and "Hollywood Squares," joined the United States Army Air Corps not long after the outbreak of World War II. He began training at Goodfellow Field in San Angelo, Texas and graduated in 1942, He flew combat missions in the Pacific Theatre with the “Bomber Barons” of the 394th Bomb Squadron, 5th Bombardment Wing of the Thirteenth Air Force. 8/2/43 he was piloting a B-17E Flying Fortress named the “Yankee Doodle”, mechanical failure caused it to crash on take-off. He flew 89 missions & was awarded the Flying Cross and the Air Medal before 1945.
Hardy Krüger was born in Wedding, Berlin in 1928. From 1941, he went to an Adolf Hitler School at the Ordensburg Sonthofen. However, Krüger preferred acting. At age 15, Hardy made his film début in a German picture, "The Young Eagles," but his acting career was interrupted when he was conscripted into the German Wehrmacht in 1944 at age 16. In March 1945, Krüger was drafted into the 38th SS Division Nibelungen, a late-war assemblage of men from the schools and shattered units, where he was drawn into heavy fighting before being captured by American forces.
Hardy did what he was forced to do - he was just a kid! He went on to become a popular English-language actor, often portraying German soldiers.
Corporal Burl Ives, US Army, served from 1942-1945. He was drafted in 1942. A musician before the war, Ives served first in the Army and then in the Army Air Corps, in both services performing in shows at military installations. He was discharged in September 1945.
After the war, Burl Ives did it all. He was a songwriter, a dramatic actor, a comedic actor, an author, a musician, a folk singer, and the voice of lovable characters in children's films and TV shows. Ives is well known for "A Big Country," for which he won the Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor, and voicing/singing the snowman in the animated classic "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
Kurt Waldheim served in Operation Barbarossa, the Invasion of the Soviet Union, as a squad leader. He was wounded in December 1941 and thereafter it gets a bit murky. He apparently took part in anti-partisan activities in Yugoslavia, during which captured partisans were usually routinely murdered, but he denied involvement in atrocities. He married in 1944 and received a law degree in 1945, so he must have been doing several things at once.
It is quite possible that Waldheim had nothing to do with murders, but he later admitted that he was aware of them. Waldheim is a controversial figure, but there is no question that he is a celebrity, and that he served in the war.
Waldheim had an extremely successful career as a politician after the war, especially in light of his war service. He crowned his career by becoming President of Austria in 1986. Waldheim has a unique place in history: as Secretary-General of the United Nations in the late 1970s, he recorded a message for inclusion on the Voyager spacecraft which awaits reception by someone - or something - on its journey through deep space.
Max Schmeling was the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion in 1930-32. He knocked out Joe Louis in 1936, but lost to him in 1938. On the outs with the regime for disgracing the fatherland, Schmeling tried to rehabilitate himself. He was trained as a paratrooper and participated in the invasion of Crete in May 1941. Many paratroopers were slaughtered by the defending British, but Schmeling survived. He only remained on duty for two days, though, due to intestinal problems. After the war, it was discovered that he had saved two Jews by hiding them in his Berlin apartment. After the war, Schmeling faded into obscurity.
Steve Allen enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II and was trained as an infantryman. He served his time at Camp Roberts, California. After the war, in the 1950s and beyond, Steve Allen became a prolific chat show and game show host, the first host of The Tonight Show, and an ubiquitous presence on television until his passing in 2000.
Singer Vera Lynn also was famous before the war, winning a 1939 poll among servicemen of their favorite musical performer. She is most famous for her rendition of "We'll Meet Again," first recorded in late 1939 and used by Stanley Kubrick to ironic effect at the end of "Dr. Strangelove." Vera remains very much with us to this day as of this writing and even had a No. 1 hit in 2009 with a collection of her old songs.
Technically not a veteran, Vera Lynn was known as "the Forces' Sweetheart," served with the entertainment group ENSA in war zones, and was awarded the Burma Star in 1985 for her heroic services during the war. As with Bob Hope and John Wayne that's close enough to a real service record for government work, so here she is. I doubt a single serviceman would begrudge Vera Lynn being acknowledged as a legitimate Vet.
Patrick Macnee (6 February 1922 – 25 June 2015) was born in London into a wealthy and eccentric family. He trained at Eton and later served in the Royal Navy, in which he received the Atlantic Star. He enlisted in the navy as an Ordinary Seaman in 1942 and was commissioned a Sub-Lieutenant in 1943, becoming a navigator on Motor Torpedo Boats in the English Channel and North Sea. It was hazardous work, as small boat actions could feature absolutely vicious and deadly combat. His boat was lost with all hands on a mission he missed due to illness.
After the war, Macnee began acting full-time, a profession which he had pursued with middling success both before and during the war. He spent the 1950s doing bit parts, one of which was a small part on the tenth episode of "The Twilight Zone" (playing, naturally enough, a British seaman). Macnee gradually built a resume, but almost retired from acting out of frustration with his lack of success before becoming internationally famous as John Steed in the classic British television series "The Avengers." He later appeared in the James Bond film "A View to a Kill," among many other productions.
Macnee lived a long life, gaining acclaim as an actor on both sides of the Atlantic. He always seemed to have a knowing take on life, never taking it too seriously and willing to "break the mold" when given the chance (which sometimes got him into trouble, such as when he was expelled from Eton for various illicit activities). Late in his career, Macnee even starred in a couple of music videos, one for The Pretenders and the other for hot '90s band Oasis. Patrick Macnee passed away on 25 June 2015. He was honored at that year's Emmy broadcast.
During World War II, William Windom served as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army with B Company 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, and fought in Operation Market Garden (the invasion of Holland) and the Battle of the Bulge. He was involved in some of the fiercest battles of the war.
After his return from Europe, Windom became an actor and is most remembered for roles in the classic series "My Life and Welcome To It" and as Commodore Decker in the original "Star Trek." Somewhat ironically, given his military background, Windom became a specialist at playing weepy men and became known as "Willie the Weeper" in casting offices.
Emmett Evan Heflin, Jr., better known by his stage name Van Heflin (December 13, 1910 - July 23, 1971), served during WWII as a combat photographer with the U.S. 9th Air Force, First Motion Picture Unit, which produced training and morale-boosting short films. He was already an established film actor when World War II broke out, winning an Academy Award for "Johnny Eager" (1942). He went on to star in such classics as "Shane" and "Airport." He and DeForest Kelley, below, had dinner one night where they discussed their mutual interest in character roles, an evening DeForest remembered fondly decades later, long after Van Heflin had passed away.
|A 1947 newspaper article about DeForest Kelley|
|A newspaper article from June 4, 1967 about DeForest Kelley as Dr. McCoy on Star Trek.|
Above is a newspaper article from 1947 detailing DeForest Kelley's military career and transition into feature film. DeForest, of course, played "Bones" McCoy on "Star Trek," and he had a long, successful career in Hollywood. This newspaper article couldn't have hurt him in getting started. According to the article, DeForest started off in the Army film corps in Hollywood, but switched to the regular Navy when that didn't work out. He somehow was "discovered" by a film director only then - after he had left the film corps and become an ordinary grunt.
Now, if some guys aren't born lucky... or, as Bones would put it, "Some guys have all the luck...."
Continuing with my Star Trek theme here: James Doohan, who played Scotty on "Star Trek," served in the Canadian military during WWII. It is difficult to uncover exactly what happened to him during the war, because Doohan was a notorious story-teller who liked to entertain himself by telling different people different versions of his own past. Various stories that others say he related included flying planes as an observer over Normandy beach the day of the invasion and other slightly different versions of that, most with a flying theme. Why flying? Who knows. William Shatner even put down one of the (apparently) manufactured stories in one of his memoirs.
However the real story appears to be this (at least it is the most likely): at the beginning of the Second World War, Doohan joined the Royal Canadian Artillery (Canada entered the war in 1939). He was commissioned a lieutenant in the 13th Field Artillery Regiment of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. It did not involve any flying.
Doohan duly went to England in 1940 for training, among the very first Canadians to make the trip. His first combat was the invasion of Normandy at Juno Beach on D-Day, not unusual for Canadians (apparently, Doohan missed out on the "fun" that was the BEF in France and the 1942 Dieppe raid). Coming ashore on D-Day, that's pretty impressive all by itself - no need to embroider that. However, most WWII vets did not like to make themselves look like "all that." They did what they were told, did it as well as they could, and that was that. No heroism involved, just doing a job.
What followed was actually a bit more harrowing than normal. Shooting two snipers on D-Day, Doohan led his men to higher ground through a field of anti-tank mines, where they took defensive positions for the night. Crossing between Allied command posts at 11:30 p.m. in the dark, Doohan was hit by six rounds fired from a Bren gun by a nervous Canadian sentry: four in his leg, one in the chest, and one through his right middle finger. The bullet to his chest was stopped by a silver cigarette case that he always carried that had been given to him by his brother. His right middle finger had to be amputated, something he would artfully conceal throughout his career as an actor. You did know that Scotty was missing a finger - right? Didn't think so.
Doohan was a real-life war hero. He knew it, and didn't care to publicize it or make a big deal about it, so he told stories whenever it came up (Walter Matthau liked to do stuff like that, too). Doohan no doubt made up variations to have some fun with the gullible. He added to the mystique by often affecting a completely phony (but extremely realistic) Scottish accent - he actually spoke in regular flat Canadian tones. It was enough that Doohan knew what he had gone through, he wasn't looking to impress people. His adventure on Normandy Beach undoubtedly was an extremely personal memory he didn't like to talk about casually, as was the case with so many World War II veterans. James Doohan was the real deal.
|Gene Roddenberry with wife Majel.|
Gene Roddenberry (August 19, 1921 – October 24, 1991) volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Corps in the fall of 1941. He graduated as a Second Lieutenant pilot and was sent to the South Pacific where he flew B-17 bombers at Guadalcanal. He flew missions against enemy strongholds at Bougainville and participated in the Munda invasion. In all, he took part in 89 bombing missions and sorties. That is a lot of missions; the standard on the Western Front was 25, and then you went home. Like Gene Rayburn, above, he also was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal. You don't get those by accident.
Gene Roddenberry came back from the war to fly for Pan Am. During that time, he was in a crash-landing and dragged wounded passengers to safety. He resigned in 1948 and joined the LAPD, becoming technical advisor on an early television show. He began writing for the show ("Mr. District Attorney"), and then for other shows. His writing career took off, and he resigned from the police in 1956. Roddenberry's career grew over time, and in 1964 he came up with the idea for "Star Trek." The legendary television series occupied much of the remainder of Roddenberry's life with spin-offs, theatrical films and numerous ancillary projects. He married one of the stars of the show, Majel Leigh Hudec, later known as Majel Barrett.
Incidentally, for those interested, Leonard Nimoy of "Star Trek" fame also served in the military. However, he was too young for World War II, and served in the Army Reserves as a Sergeant from 1953-1955.
|Jimmy Stewart circa 1942, apparently going through a pre-flight checklist. Those are the eyes of a real pilot doing his job.|
|Jimmy Stewart receiving one of his decorations|
|Jimmy Stewart - the real deal|
|Jimmy Stewart at Old Buckenham Airbase, 453rd Bomb Group. Perhaps he is counting planes coming back from a mission.|
|Major James Stewart talks over the final details of a mission with flyers about to take off. England, April 19, 1944.|
Who better to end this article than this guy?
Jimmy Stewart had become a huge Hollywood star before World War II, earning his only Academy Award in a competitive category (Best Actor, 1941) for "The Philadelphia Story" before Pearl Harbor. An early interest in flying caused Stewart to get his pilot's license in 1935. It came in handy when war broke out.
Jimmy Stewart enlisted as a private, but then applied for a commission in the air force. He wasn’t like most privates… For one, he was in his 30s. For another, he had won an Oscar for The Philadelphia Story. Putting his Hollywood career on hold to join the United States Army Air Forces, Stewart ultimately reached the rank of colonel, flew 20 combat missions, and came back on the Queen Elizabeth wearing the Distinguished Flying Cross.
While the military wanted to confine him to public service appearances, Jimmy had other plans. Officially, he was credited with the standard 20 bomb missions, but he flew on many, many more without any credit. He was leading missions by late 1943, when Germany still had powerful air defenses and was shooting down US bombers left and right.
Stewart rose through the ranks by serving in real positions, not phony "actor" slots. He served as Operations officer to the 703rd Squadron, 445th Bomb Group and then as Group Operations Officer to the 453rd Bomb Group. Stewart eventually rose to the rank of Major in command of the 2nd Bomb Wing, and full Colonel on March 29, 1945.
Stewart won numerous decorations and promotions because of his war service. Stewart continued to play a role in the United States Air Force Reserve after the war, reaching the rank of Brigadier General on July 23, 1959. He even flew on a B-52 mission over Vietnam during the 1960s, which he did not want publicized as some kind of stunt because it was done solely to fulfill part of his service requirements. Stewart retired from the Air Force on May 31, 1968.
Eventually, Jimmy was promoted to major general on the retired list by President Ronald Reagan, something which was quite deserved if misunderstood by many at the time.
Jimmy Stewart was a real soldier. He was the real deal, an actual soldier who achieved success on the merits. An American hero, and a genuinely nice guy. America at its best.
|Pilot and actor Jimmy Stewart chatting on the phone in his father’s store after returning from the war, 1945|
|Jimmy fooling around in his father's hardware store after the war.|