40 Insights into the Lives of Famous War Veterans
40 Insights into the Lives of Famous War Veterans

40 Insights into the Lives of Famous War Veterans

Khalid Elhassan - July 13, 2019

40 Insights into the Lives of Famous War Veterans
Clark Gable in WWII. Pintrest

10. Gable’s decision to enlist and go to war was as romantic as anything from a movie

Clark Gable was MGM’s biggest earner when America joined WWII. Following his wife’s death in an air crash while returning from a war bonds tour, a devastated Gable decided to enlist. Despite MGM’s reluctance to let its most lucrative star go, he joined the Army Air Forces in 1942, with the hope of becoming an aerial gunner. He was sent instead to Officer Candidate School, and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant. On personal orders from the Air Forces’ chief, general Hap Arnold, Gable was sent to the Eighth Air Force in England and tasked with making a combat recruitment film for aerial gunners.

40 Insights into the Lives of Famous War Veterans
Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable in WWII. Margaret Herric Collection

9. Gable duked it out with the Luftwaffe in B-17s over Germany

To obtain footage for his recruitment film, Clark Gable flew five combat missions as a B-17 gunner in 1943, including a bombing raid into Germany. His presence in the missions was for propaganda and PR purposes, but the dangers were all too real: during one mission, his B-17 lost an engine and had its stabilizer damaged after it was hit by antiaircraft fire and was attacked by fighters. Over Germany, two of his B-17’s crew were wounded, another was killed after being struck by flak, and shrapnel went through Gable’s boot and almost took off his head.

40 Insights into the Lives of Famous War Veterans
Captain Clark Gable. Robert F. Dorr Collection

8. Gable’s studio went behind his back to yank him out of combat

Gable’s brushes with death alarmed the folk at MGM, who had no wish to lose their most valuable actor. So the studio worked its connections to have Gable reassigned to noncombat duty. The star actor was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross and an Air Medal, and in late 1943, he was ordered back to the US to edit the film. Gable hoped for another combat assignment, but none came, and by the summer of 1944, he finally gave up and requested to be relieved from active duty. He stayed in the Air Forces reserves until 1947, when he finally resigned his commission.

40 Insights into the Lives of Famous War Veterans
Marcel Marceau. Virtual Jerusalem

7. The world’s most famous mime was also a French Resistance hero

Marcel Marceau was the world’s most famous mime. Before becoming world famous, however, Marceau spent most of WWII in hiding, and working for the French Resistance. His father, a Jewish butcher, had fled from the Nazi invasion in 1940, but was captured, and died in Auschwitz. Marcel moved to Paris with a new name and forged identity papers, and adopting the surname “Marceau” after a French Revolutionary War general, joined the Resistance.

40 Insights into the Lives of Famous War Veterans
Forged WWII identity document. History of Sorts

6. Miming came in handy for Marcel Marceau in WWII

Marcel Marceau’s underground activities included rescuing Jewish children from German clutches, and smuggling them to safety. His talent for miming – a career to which he had aspired ever since he first saw a Charlie Chaplain movie at age five – came in handy to distract and quiet the children as he smuggled them past German guards to safety in Switzerland. After the Allies landed in France, he gave his first major performance before an audience of 3000 troops in recently-liberated Paris. He then joined the Free French army for the remainder of the war. His talent for languages and near fluency in English and German led to his appointment as a liaison officer with Patton’s Third US Army.

40 Insights into the Lives of Famous War Veterans
Johnny Carson in the Navy and later in life. Pintrest

5. Johnny Carson, WWII US Navy Vet

Johnny Carson, host of The Tonight Show from 1962 to 1992, had a talent for reeling them in since early childhood. At age 12, bought a mail-order magician’s kit, and started doing tricks to entertain family and friends. His favorite were card tricks, and he took to following people around with a deck of cards, while pestering them to “pick a card. Any card” – which became a signature expression on TV. For decades, he was one of the best known American. Less known about him is that he was a also a WWII US Navy veteran.

40 Insights into the Lives of Famous War Veterans
USS Pennsylvania. Wikimedia

4. Johnny Carson joined the Navy when he was 17

Johnny Carson joined the US Navy in 1943, aged 17. He wanted to become a pilot, but the Navy had other ideas. After completing the Navy College Training Program, he was commissioned an ensign in 1945, and then sent to the Pacific Theater, where he was assigned to the battleship USS Pennsylvania as a communications officer. Carson also took up amateur boxing while in the Navy, and ran up a 10-0 record, with most of the matches taking place aboard the Pennsylvania.

40 Insights into the Lives of Famous War Veterans
Johnny Carson. Military dot com

3. Johnny Carson joined the war just in time to scrape up dead bodies from his ship

Johnny Carson was en route to the combat zone in August of 1945 when the war ended. He saw no combat, but did its aftermath: the Pennsylvania had been torpedoed two days before he joined the ship. The damaged vessel sailed to Guam for repairs, and as the newest and most junior officer, Carson was tasked with the removal of 20 dead sailors. Reminiscing about his naval experience, Carson thought that the highlight of his naval career was performing a card trick for James Forrestal, the notoriously cantankerous Secretary of the Navy. Forrestal was amused, and the realization that he could entertain somebody so crabby was a major boost to Carson’s self confidence.

40 Insights into the Lives of Famous War Veterans
Josephine Baker. Direct Expose

2. Josephine Baker was a French Resistance Heroine

Josephine Baker, AKA the “Creole Goddess”, “Black Pearl”, and “Bronze Venus”, was recruited by French military intelligence when WWII began. In the 1930s, she had voiced support for Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia, so when the Axis overran Franc in 1940, they assumed she was sympathetic to their cause. They were mistaken. Taking advantage of the occupiers’ trust, Baker exploited her fame to charm Axis officials at social gatherings to collect information. As an international entertainer, she had an excuse to travel, and she did, smuggling coded messages, written in invisible ink on her music sheets, between the French Resistance and the Allies.

40 Insights into the Lives of Famous War Veterans
Josephine Baker sporting her war medals during the 1963 March on Washington. Washington Post

1. Josephine Baker earned a military funeral for her WWII exploits

Josephine Baker also hid fugitives in her home, supplying them with fake IDs and visas. Later in the war, she joined the French Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, in which she was commissioned as a lieutenant, and also performed for Allied troops. In recognition of her wartime exploits and contributions to France, she was named a Chevalier of the Legion d’honeur by Charles de Gaulle, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Medal of Resistance with Rosette. Upon her death in 1975, Baker became the first American woman buried with military honors in France, including a gun salute.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Alter Net, December 28th, 2018 – Josephine Baker‘s Secret Life as a WWII Spy

Bronx Pinstripes – On This Day in History: Yogi Berra Takes Part in D-Day

Cooper Toons – Did George Washington Really Tell Henry Knox to ‘Shift That Fat Ass’?

Defense Media Network – Actor Clark Gable Served in Uniform, Flew Combat Missions in WWII

Encyclopedia Britannica – David Niven

History Net – Mr. Stewart Goes to War

Military Dot Com – Famous Veterans: Ernest Borgnine

Military Dot Com – Famous Veterans: Johnny Carson

Ranker – The Most Beloved US Veterans

Reel Rundown – Kirk Douglas: 9 Amazing Things About Hollywood‘s Favorite ‘Spartacus’

Smithsonian Magazine, March 22nd, 2017 – The Mime Who Saved Kids From the Holocaust

Smoking Gun – Lenny Bruce‘s Gay Naval Ruse

Task Force Baum – The Hammelburg Raid

Vintage News – More Than 30 Years Before ‘Star Wars’, Sir Alec Guinness Was a WWII Landing Craft Hero

We Are the Mighty – Patton Once Sent 300 Men to Rescue His Son-in-Law From a Nazi Prison

Wikipedia – Lee Marvin

Wikipedia – Yogi Berra