While my left-leaning politics make it hard for me to be 100% laudatory for anything involving war, I have an immense respect for those veterans who fought to protect us, our nation, and our shared ideologies. So though we’re ostensibly a film site, I thought we should take a moment on this Veteran’s Day to pay our respects. Here, to make a tenuous tie to film, are a few famous veterans. If you’re so inclined, I would love it if you would honor the veterans in your lives in our comments section. And to any of our commenters out there who are veterans themselves, I thank you.
Charles Durning: Durning served in the U.S. Army during WW II and was awarded the Silver Star and three Purple Heart Medals. He participated in the Battle of Normandy on D-Day and was among the first troops to land at Omaha Beach. After being severely wounded in France, Durning returned to fight in the Battle of the Bulge.
Gene Hackman: Hackman ran away from home at the age of 16, lied about his age and joined the U.S. Marine Corps. He served with the Corps from 1946-1949 as a field radio operator in China, Japan and Hawaii. Hackman was also a DJ on the Armed Forces Network.
James Earl Jones: In 1953, Jones was commissioned as a second lieutenant and went through Ranger School. Jones claims to have washed out of Ranger training and instead went to Colorado and joined a training unit in the frigid, rough terrain of the Rocky Mountains. Jones eventually earned the rank of First Lieutenant. Although he served during The Korean War, he never left the States.
Tyrone Power: After enlisting, at the height of his career, as a private in the Marine Corps 1942, Power was called back to 20th Century Fox to complete the film Crash Dive. Power wanted more than anything to be a combat pilot and underwent a year of training to earn his wings. He took part in the air supply and evacuation of wounded from Iwo Jima and Okinawa. When he was released from active duty in 1946, Power held the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two bronze stars, and the World War II Victory Medal.
Clark Gable: After the tragic death of his wife Carole Lomabard in 1942, Gable joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. Although his studio, MGM, tried to convince him to stay, Gable was determined to follow his wife’s wishes and join up. MGM arranged for Gable’s friend, cinematographer Andrew McIntyre, to enlist with and accompany him through training. Though his chief assignments throughout the war involved making recruitment films, Gable flew five combat missions, including one to Germany, as an observer-gunner in B-17 Flying Fortresses between May 4 and September 23, 1943, earning the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his efforts. Hitler allegedly loved Clark Gable and offered a sizable reward to anyone who could capture and bring Gable to him unscathed.
James Stewart: in 1940, Stewart was drafted into the United States Army but was rejected for failing to meet height and weight requirements for new recruits. After training with a studio “muscle man,” Stewart enlisted in the Army in March 1941. He became the first major American movie star to wear a military uniform in WW II. While serving as a pilot, Stewart also shot a recruitment film, Winning Your Wings. Reportedly, the film resulted in 150,000 new recruits. Stewart had a long stint as a pilot, rising from the rank of private to colonel in four years. Stewart flew as command pilot in the lead B-24 on numerous missions deep into Nazi-occupied Europe. In 1944, he twice received the Distinguished Flying Cross for actions in combat and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. He also received the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters. In 1966, Brigadier General James Stewart flew as a non-duty observer in a B-52 on a bombing mission during the Vietnam War, refusing any publicity lest it be treated as a stunt. After 27 years of service, Stewart retired from the Air Force on May 31, 1968. After his retirement, he was promoted to Major General by President Ronald Reagan.
Humphrey Bogart: In 1918, Bogart enlisted in the United States Navy. He lated recalled, “At eighteen, war was great stuff. Paris! French girls! Hot damn!” A model sailor, Bogart spent most of his time in the Navy after the Armistice was signed, ferrying troops back from Europe. There are several conflicting reports as to when it happened, but Bogart was injured at some point during the war resulting in his trademark scar and lisp.
Elvis Presley: In 1958, Elvis Presley joined the US Army as a private. Already a superstar, Presley famously said, “The Army can do anything it wants with me.” Fellow soldiers corroborated Presley story of wanting to be seen as an ordinary soldier, despite his fame, and to his generosity while in the service. He donated his Army pay to charity, purchased TV sets for the base, and bought an extra set of fatigues for everyone in his outfit.
R. Lee Ermey: Ermey was a drill instructor at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California, and Parris Island, South Carolina from 1965 to 1967. In 1968, Ermey arrived in Vietnam where he served for 14 months with the Marine Wing Support Group 17. He then served two tours of duty in Okinawa, Japan, during which he rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant (E-6) and was medically discharged in 1972 for several injuries incurred during his tours.
Paul Newman: Newman served in the United States Navy in WW II in the Pacific theater. Newman was rejected from pilot training because of his color blindness. He served, instead, as a radioman and gunner in torpedo bombers. He served aboard the USS Bunker Hill during the Battle of Okinawa and was ordered to the ship with a draft of replacements shortly before the Okinawa campaign, but his life was spared because he was held back after his pilot developed an ear infection. The men who remained in his detail were killed in action.
Kurt Vonnegut: In 1944 , as a private with the 423rd Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division, Vonnegut was captured during the Battle of the Bulge. He later wrote, “The other American divisions on our flanks managed to pull out: We were obliged to stay and fight. Bayonets aren’t much good against tanks.” Vonnegut was held with other POWs in Dresden and thus witnessed the devastating fire bombing of the beautiful city in 1945. Vonnegut only survived the attacked because he and other prisoners were being held in an underground meat locker called Schlachthof Fünf (Slaughterhouse Five). Vonnegut has called the aftermath of the attack “utter destruction” and “carnage unfathomable.” Vonnegut was liberated by Red Army troops in May 1945 and was awarded a Purple Heart for what he called a “ludicrously negligible wound” later writing in Timequake that he was given the decoration after suffering a case of “frostbite”. Vonnegut’s novel “Slaughterhouse Five” remains, to this day, one of the most harrowing and unforgettable depictions of war. It is also his birthday today. So thank you, Kurt, for your service and for your art.