Charles Durning and Jack Klugman, both veteran character actors of television and movies, recently passed away, on Christmas Eve. They were quite possibly the last Hollywood movie stars that also served in World War II.
Some of Durning’s time in combat is shrouded in mystery. Just like so many from his generation, he rarely spoke about his experiences during the war. He apparently served with the 1st Infantry Division (Big Red One), and was in one of the first waves into Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. He was wounded severely while in Normandy and supposedly fought during the Battle of the Bulge, apparently being taken prisoner by the Germans. Some accounts say he was a survivor of the Malmedy Massacre, in which SS troops gunned down several American POWs in December 1944, but his name is not on any lists of survivors. Most of the men murdered by the SS in Malmedy were from a field artillery battalion.
Regardless of whether Durning was a survivor of Malmedy or not, he was an American hero that also was once nominated for an Emmy for a guest role on the TV series ‘NCIS,’ in which he played a Marine Medal of Honor recipient that turned himself in for murdering his best friend during the Battle of Iwo Jima. Durning no doubt drew upon his own feelings of survivor guilt and PTSD for portraying the character.
With the passing of Durning and Klugman, and also recently of fellow thespian and World War II veteran Ernest Borgnine, I was wondering if we could perhaps remember our favorite actors of both small and large screen that served during the war and helped saved the world? Among my favorites are Lee Marvin (Marine wounded on Saipan), Charles Bronson (Army Air Force tailgunner), Jimmy Stewart (AAF pilot), Clark Gable (AAF gunner), and of course, Audie Murphy. Most played tough guys with that edge of sensitivity that made them seem vulnerable, but never unmanly. And whether they were already movie stars before the war (as Stewart and Gable were), or became famous after, all did their duty for their country.