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.

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.

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.


RG said...

Jacqueline...this vet thanks you
I know this entry is a bit old but here's one more for your list
Jackie Coogan
"In the early 1940s, Coogan joined the medics before the United States officially entered the second world war. He later became part of the Army Air Corps, as he had already obtained a pilot's license as a teenager. Coogan worked as a glider instructor and served in Burma as a volunteer member of the First Air Commando Force. He was the first glider pilot to land Allied troops behind enemy lines in Burma. One glider he was aboard crashed. Everyone was killed by the Japanese except Coogan, who was at the bottom of a pile of bodies. He served with the military for five years before being honorably discharged in 1944. Coogan received several war citations for his service, including the Air Medal."

see also
James E. Wise, Paul W. Wilderson. Stars in Khaki: Movie Actors in the Army and Air Services. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000. xi + 244 pp., ISBN 978-1-55750-958-1.
Reviewed by Charles C. Kolb

"wounded included: James Arness, Pat Brady, Charles Durning, James Garner, Audie Murphy, and Jack Palance." RG - forgot Lee Marvin

"An appendix is devoted to the actress and comedienne, Martha Raye (1916-1994) a member of the Bob Hope troupe who for more than 30 years entertained GIs in North Africa, Europe, Korea, and Vietnam. RG-" honorary member of the Special Forces"


"western" website with pics

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks for adding to the list, RG. I had no idea about Jackie Coogan's experiences. What an ordeal! Thanks for the great source citations. All these folks deserve to be remembered.

RG said...


Here is a bit more on Eddie Albert (1906-2005). His actions,I think you will agree, deserve special mention. If memory serves, on a History (or what once was) Channel documentary a very moving tribute was paid to him by many Marines he saved at "Bloody Tarawa" most combat vets he downplayed his actions but they were extraordinary:

"Prior to World War II, and before his film career, Albert toured Mexico as a clown and high-wire artist with the Escalante Brothers Circus, but secretly worked for U.S. Army intelligence, photographing German U-boats in Mexican harbors.[3] On September 9, 1942, Albert enlisted in the United States Navy and was discharged in 1943 to accept an appointment as a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve. A genuine war hero, he was awarded the Bronze Star with Combat "V" for his actions during the invasion of Tarawa in November, 1943, when, as the pilot of a U.S. Coast Guard landing craft, he rescued 47 Marines who were stranded offshore (and supervised the rescue of 30 others), while under heavy enemy machine-gun fire.[4] - wikipedia

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Great stuff. I was also unaware of Eddie Albert's heroism.

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