5 Famous Actors You Never Knew Were World War II Heroes! – Top5s
Crime & History

5 Famous Actors You Never Knew Were World War II Heroes!

19 Sep 2017

World War II affected the lives of so many, as young men all over the world were called up to fight for their country. Some were unable to fight due to health or reserved occupations.

Many film actors did not enter the war theatres to fight but to go on morale-boosting trips. The following five servicemen were either actors or became famous in that profession after the war.

5Clark Gable

In the 1939 film ‘Gone With The Wind’, Oscar-nominated Clark Gable uttered probably the most famous line in screen history

‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.’

Gable was the toast of Hollywood and was at the height of his fame when the US entered the war in 1942. Just over a month later, Gable’s wife; the actress Carole Lombard, was killed when the DC-3 she was travelling in crashed near Las Vegas.

Gable was distraught and sought solace in joining up with the US Army Air Force. He enlisted and became an aerial gunner and flew five combat missions against Germany in B-17s based in England. On one of his missions, his plane was damaged by flak. One crew member was killed in the attack and Gable narrowly avoided injury when a piece of shrapnel passed through his boot.

When his studio bosses heard of his exploits, they convinced the army to give Gable a non-combative role, and he ended up back in the US making films. Gable ended the war with a number of decorations including the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.

His career declined after the war, but he continued making films until his untimely death at the age of 59 in 1960.

4James Doohan

James Doohan was known to millions around the world as Scotty from Star Trek, appearing in the television series, the cartoon and six of the films in the franchise.

What he wasn’t so well known for was his service in the Royal Canadian Artillery in World War II. Doohan joined the forces soon after war was declared in 1939 and was eventually commissioned as a Lieutenant as part of the Canadian Infantry.

After completing his training in England, he first saw combat in 1944 landing on Juno beach on the 6th June – D-Day. On that first day, he killed two snipers and led his men through a minefield to take up defensive positions for the night. While on patrol that night, he was shot six times by a Canadian sentry who had mistaken him for the enemy. He received hits to all parts of his body; one bullet took off a finger on his right hand, and another was stopped from hitting his heart by a silver cigarette case.

He later graduated as a pilot and became an aerial artillery spotter and in 1945 completed a foolhardy stunt when he slalomed between telegraph poles in spotter plane.

Doohan died in 2005 aged 85 in Washington, USA.

3James Stewart

In a long and successful Hollywood career, double academy award winner James Stewart also had a parallel life in the US Army Air Force and US Air Force.

Stewart was initially drafted into service in 1940 but failed his medical for being underweight. After help from a trainer, he was finally accepted in 1941. As a qualified pilot, he applied and achieved a commission in the Air Corps.

Due to fame, his expectation that he was not going to see front-line combat was confirmed in early 1943 when he was assigned as an instructor in the US. However, by the end of the year, he had received the command of a bomber group heading to Europe.

The now Captain Stewart flew 20 official combat missions over Germany until July 1944 when he was assigned to a different unit although he continued to fly uncredited on missions. He finished the war as a highly decorated Colonel and remained in the Air Force reserve until 1968, seeing further action in Vietnam, as a Brigadier. He was promoted by President Reagan in 1985 to a Major General on the retired list.

The highest ranking actor in military service, James Stewart died in 1997 aged 89.

2Mel Brooks

The actor, writer, producer, composer and comedian Mel Brooks has created some of the funniest films ever made such as The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.

In 1944, the 17-year-old Melvin Kaminsky as he was then known, enlisted in the US Army. He ranked highly in intelligence tests and was assigned to an elite specialist training programme at the Virginia Military Institute. However, due to a shortage of men with high intelligence, the programme was closed down and the men assigned to regular army units.

Brooks found himself in an Engineer Combat Group, a unit that would support the front-line soldiers by building bridges, roads and other types of infrastructures.

Following his first action at the Battle Of The Bulge, the young Kaminsky’s main responsibility was a highly dangerous one. He became a specialist in mine clearance and deactivation, facing possible death at any moment. He joked about his time spent in the army – “I was a Combat Engineer. Isn’t that ridiculous? The two things I hate most in the world are combat and engineering.”

Although now in his nineties, Brooks continues to work regularly in film and television.

1Audie Murphy

Audie Murphy was one of the most decorated combat soldiers of World War II. He was awarded every military combat award available as well as honours from France and Belgium.

After falsifying documents to show he was older than he actually was, the 16-year-old Murphy joined the army soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor. An expert marksman, he saw his first combat during the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943.

He quickly gained a reputation as a brave and talented soldier, rapidly rising through the ranks. After taking part in the invasions of mainland Italy and Southern France, Murphy was wounded in Northern France and awarded a battlefield commission.

His heroic exploits made him a household name in the US and actor James Cagney signed him to his production company and gave him acting and voice training. Over the next 20 years, Murphy became a box-office draw starring in over 40 films; mostly westerns.

Post-traumatic stress disorder affected him throughout his life, and by the late 1960s his film career had petered out. He was killed in a plane crash in 1971 at the age of 45.

Submitted by Paul Galliford