Monday, November 12, 2007
Veteran's Day - Hollywood's Military Service
Back when this poster pointed at people during the early days of World War II, Uncle Sam was talking about YOU. Not the 18-year old down the street, but YOU, no matter if you were not in your late teens or twenties, no matter if you had a family and a life of your own and plans for the future. Defending the country and defeating tyranny wasn’t supposed to be somebody else’s business. It was up to YOU.
ARMY AIR CORPS
Colonel James Stewart was only one of a flock of Hollywood actors who willingly put aside lucrative careers for a chance at dying. That’s what going to war always amounts to, and the new ex-civilians of his generation did not take that opportunity for death lightly. It was a trade-off. Something for something. A better world, maybe. Colonel Stewart of the Army Air Corps (who in later years retired as Brigadier General, the highest-ranking actor in military history), was awarded, among other decorations, the Distinguished Flying Cross, twice.
Gene Autry was also in the Army Air Corps, flying C-47 cargo planes over in the China-Burma-India theater of war.
Major Clark Gable flew B-17s over Europe as a gunnery officer, also in the Army Air Corps.
Lt. Commander Robert Montgomery was awarded, among his other decorations, a Bronze Star for his service as a PT boat commander in the Navy. He participated in the D-Day invasion.
Jason Robards, Jr. was awarded the Navy Cross, who served as a Radioman on the USS Northampton in the South Pacific.
Henry Fonda served on a Destroyer in that theater of war, and Ernest Borgnine served in the South Pacific as a Gunner’s Mate.
Eddie Albert, U.S. Navy, was awarded a Bronze Star for his service in the South Pacific.
Lt. j.g. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. of the Naval Reserve took part in the invasion of Sicily.
Sgt. Harold Russell, U.S. Army instructor for the Parachute Corps, lost both his hands in a training accident only a couple years before we saw him in “The Best Years of Our Lives.”
Charles Durning, U.S. Army, was awarded the Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and took part in the invasion of France.
Lew Ayres, who was a Contentious Objector, volunteered for the U.S. Army Medical Corps and served as a medic and chaplain’s aide in the South Pacific under fire, earning three battle stars.
Sgt. George C. Scott served in Europe with the Marines. Brian Keith and Lee Marvin served with the Marines in the South Pacific.
Tyrone Power was a U.S. Marine pilot in the South Pacific.
WOMEN’S AUXILLIARY SERVICES
Lt. Nancy Kulp served as a WAVE, specializing in electronics. Beatrice Arthur volunteered for the Marines.
This obviously is only a partial list. We might also remember that other actors, such as Humphrey Bogart and John Boles, served in World War I. What is especially noteworthy, however, about some of these actors during World War II is that they were already established in successful careers and some, due to age and families, were exempt from the draft or could have pulled strings to release them from any obligation to serve. Some did. These people listed above didn’t. Some suffered wounds. Happily, they all came home. But they all knew there was a chance they wouldn’t.