Hollywood Patriots

D.W. Wilber
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Posted: Jan 23, 2015 12:01 AM
Hollywood Patriots

Whatever happened to patriotism and love of country in Hollywood? You rarely hear much from the Hollywood elite extolling the virtues of being an American and praising the heritage bought and paid for on many battlefields over many years by American patriots.

While there indeed are patriots in the entertainment industry out in ‘LA LA Land’, I have a number of friends who are actors who have served in the military or who have devoted much of their time helping with organizations such as Wounded Warriors. And they have an abiding love for this country that they call home.

But there are far fewer it seems than during the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood, when actors of the stature of Clark Gabel and James Stewart donned a uniform and served the country that had bestowed upon them the blessings of fortune and fame.

Nowadays far too often Hollywood produces films that portray the military in a negative light, emphasizing any lapses of judgment or poor choices that we all experienced in life, but which are greatly exaggerated and magnified on the big screen.

Following World War II many of those patriots who served returned home and some were lucky enough to pursue a career in acting, eventually becoming many of the well known ‘stars’ that entertained us for decades afterwards.

Take for example Sterling Hayden who served with the OSS, the predecessor of today’s CIA. Hayden parachuted behind enemy lines during World War II and worked with the Yugoslav resistance. He was awarded the Silver Star.

Already mentioned was James Stewart who was initially ruled ineligible for military service because he was too thin. Stewart persevered and eventually enlisted into the U.S. Army Air Corps where he served as a bomber pilot earning the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross in World War II. Stewart chose to remain in the military reserves while he pursued his acting career and eventually rose to the rank of Brigadier General before retiring.

Before Ernest Borgnine won his ‘Best Actor’ Academy Award for the movie ‘Marty’ he served as a Gunner’s Mate in the U.S. Navy for ten years. He was discharged earlier in 1941 but after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th he re-enlisted.

Another Oscar winner was Lee Marvin who served in the U.S. Marines and was seriously wounded during the battle for Saipan

And how about the wonderful character actor Danny Aiello who felt so strongly about serving that he lied about his age and enlisted in the U.S. Army at the age of sixteen, serving for three years during World War II.

Who can forget the long-running TV program ‘Gunsmoke’ and Marshall Matt Dillon of Dodge City ? Played by actor James Arness who served in the U.S. Army as an infantryman and was severely wounded at Anzio.

Two-time Oscar nominee Charles Durning was part of the U.S. invasion force that landed at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. He was wounded a few days after assaulting the Normandy beaches and Durning carried that bullet inside his body for the rest of his life.

After months of recovery he was sent back to the front lines in time for the Battle of the Bulge. Durning was wounded twice more during the fighting and was captured by the Germans who were flooding into the ‘bulge’ created by their attacking forces that had caught the Allies off guard.

Near the small town of Malmedy the Germans decided they didn’t want to be slowed down by prisoners so they machine-gunned dozens of American soldiers. Durning was one of the few who survived the Malmedy massacre. In addition to three Purple Hearts for wounds received during the war, Durning was also presented the Silver Star, America’s third highest award for valor.

At a ceremony recognizing the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day Durning spoke to a reporter of the terror he felt, and the death and destruction he saw when his landing craft hit the beach on D-Day. "I forget a lot of stuff now but I still wake up once in a while and it's still there," he’s quoted as saying. "I can't count how many of my buddies are in the cemetery at Normandy."

My generation grew up being entertained by and laughing with many of these patriots with few of us ever really knowing what they contributed during the war. Like the millions of other Americans who served in the military or on the home-front during World War II they served with honor, and some like Charles Durning served with valor and distinction.

Those lucky enough to come home returned to their life and tried to put the horrors of war behind them. Much like most combat veterans few talked about their experiences, most just tried to build a new life for themselves. And some made their way out west to simply look for work or pursue a dream and make for themselves a career in the Hollywood film industry.

Unfortunately there are far fewer in Hollywood now who have answered America’s call over the years since World War II came to an end. Some morally and conscientiously objected to the wars our country has been involved in. And that’s fine, standing up for one’s conscience is also a noble thing.

But other Hollywood notables such as Jane Fonda aided and abetted the enemy during a time of war by traveling to North Vietnam and mugging for the cameras on an anti-aircraft gun. The same type of gun that was shooting down American pilots. They chose to make political statements against our government while men and women who had no part in the decision to go to war were fighting and dying, or simply trying to stay alive in a prisoner of war camp.

With the release of the Clint Eastwood movie ‘American Sniper’ some in Hollywood have chosen to attack the memory of a dead American hero, one who served his country with honor and with distinction. While the most dangerous thing those Hollywood elites have ever done is to risk a bruised ego when the reviews for their most recent cinematic failures come in.

Maybe we need an influx of new talent into Hollywood. Men and women who chose to serve their country rather than sip cocktails at Hollywood parties and tear down everything that America stands for. Maybe it’s time we have more people like Charles Durning who can bring their talents, and their patriotism back to the American big screen.