Honor, Duty, Country. These famous words spoken by General Douglas MacArthur are mantra to which all the men and women in the armed forces live by. When the call of duty arises, they are the first to put country before self and risk the ultimate sacrifice to protect the values of their fellow man. In honor of Memorial Day, we here at Classic Movie Hub would like pay tribute to a few of the brave men and woman of the Classic Hollywood Era who put their careers on hiatus to serve the greater good.
Eddie Albert: Before his film career even began, Albert was an ‘actor’. While touring Mexico under the guise of high wire artist, he would secretly take photos of German U-boats in Mexican harbors for U.S army intelligence. He would later be awarded the Bronze Star for his actions in World War II during the Tarawa Invasion where he rescued forty-seven stranded Marines while under heavy enemy fire. The battle would cause him to lose most of his hearing.
Humphrey Bogart: Much like his characters that have trouble with authority, Bogart was expelled from Prep School at the age of eighteen. With his school days behind him, he enlisted in the Navy in 1918 and is recorded to have become a model sailor during his time of service. Much of his time at sea was spent ferrying troops back from Europe after the Armistice.
Marlene Dietrich: Already an international superstar prior to World War II, Dietrich’s involvement is a narrative taken from the storybooks. Becoming an American Citizen in 1939, she renounced her home country of Germany following the rise of fascism. She would become a fearless supporter of the Allied Forces, participating in war bond drives, making anti-Nazi broadcasts in German, and often performing as close to the front lines as allowed. For her efforts she was awarded the Medal of Freedom for “meeting a grueling schedule of performances under battle conditions… despite risk to her life”
Henry Fonda: Sick of merely playing a hero on the big screen, Fonda interrupted his prominent film career to enlist in the Navy during World War II. He would rise to the rank of Quartermaster 3rd Class while serving on the destroyer class USS Satterlee. He would later serve as Lieutenant Junior Grade in Air Combat Intelligence in the Central Pacific.
Clark Gable: Like a hero he would portray on the silver screen, Gable enlisted in the U.S Army Air Corps after his wife, Carole Lombard’s tragic death in 1942 (see below). Because he was technically above recruitment age, he spent much of the war effort in the U.K making recruitment films on special assignment. He was eventually able to fly a few combat missions over Europe as a gunner.
James Garner: Before going to Hollywood, Garner enlisted in the National Guard where he served for 7 months. He then would go on to serve in the U.S. Army for 14 months in the 5th Regimental Combat Team of the 24th Division during the Korean War. On his second day of combat, Garner was wounded in the hand and face with enemy shrapnel while on patrol. For this wound, as well as for an injury received later from an unfortunate case of friendly fire, Garner received the coveted Purple Heart – twice.
Carole Lombard: Known throughout the free world as the “Queen of Comedy,” Lombard would travel coast to coast across the nation selling war bonds to support the World War II effort. Having already raised over 2.5 million dollars, Lombard agreed to headline a War Bond Rally in her home state of Indiana with Jack Benny. Tragically, while returning home from the rally, the plane she was on crashed over Nevada, killing everyone on board. She was only thirty-three.
Jeanette MacDonald: Like many starlets of the World War II era, MacDonald would use her star power for USO concerts and War Bond Rallies. Unlike many starlets however, the proceeds from her concerts went to the American Women’s Voluntary service, an institution she helped found. Through her tireless dedication to helping the troops, she made the largest single donation by a Hollywood Star to the Army Emergency Relief Fund.
Audie Murphy: At five foot, five inches and a slim one-hundred and ten pounds, Murphy was initially rejected by the Marines, Army, and Navy only to go on and become the most decorated solider of World War II. He served in the Army, rising in ranks from Private to Major after fighting in Italy, Sicily, and France. After the war, Murphy’s fame as a solider would carry him to Hollywood where he went on to star in films such as his own autobiographical story To Hell and Back.
Paul Newman: Before Newman embarked on his film career, he enlisted in the U. S. Navy, serving during World War II. Unfortunately for Newman however, his color blindness would prevent him from securing the pilot’s license he wanted. He would instead serve as a turret gunner on an Avenger torpedo bomber and as a radioman-gunner during the Battle of Okinawa aboard the USS Bunker Hill.
David Niven: Although originally commissioned in the Royal Army in 1930 after attending Sandhurst Military Academy, Niven went on to serve two years in Malta with the Highland Light Infantry. After the outbreak of World War II, he would put his film career on hold to re-join the Army, being commissioned as a lieutenant in the Rifle Brigade. Niven would see action during the Normandy Invasion, arriving several days after D-Day. He served in the “Phantoms Signals Unit” which located and reported enemy positions. Niven ended the war as a lieutenant-colonel.
Harold Russell: Russell was just an average citizen who believed in country when he enlisted in the army after the attack on Pearl Harbor. While an Army instructor, training with the US 13th Airborne Division stateside in 1944, a defective fuse detonated and he lost both hands in the explosion. He was given two hooks to serve as replacements. Director William Wyler heard his story and cast Russell in the film The Best Years of Our Lives, the story of three veterans returning home after World War II. Russell went on to become the only actor ever to receive two Oscars for the same role: the first being a Supporting Actor Oscar and the second being a Honorary Oscar “For bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans.”
James Stewart: At risk of sounding trite, Stewart went into the Army a boy and came out a man. You can see this transition by watching his films. Joining the Army before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Stewart was one of the first A-list Hollywood stars to enlist. Already an avid pilot, he would be trained as a bomber pilot for the Army Air Forces and go on to serve in over 25 bombing missions over enemy territory. After the war, Stewart remained in service, eventually reaching the rank of Brigadier General in the Air Force reserves. On May 31, 1968, after 27 years of service, he retired from the Air Force. He was promoted to Major General by President Ronald Reagan.
These are obviously only a handful of the very brave men and women that served their countries. Please join us in honoring them — and all Veterans — on this very special day of remembrance.
for Classic Movie Hub
For more information about Classic Movie Stars that served: Classic Movie Hub Military Facts