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Jack L. Key

Anyone Can Be A Soldier
By Jack L. Key
Jan 15, 2008 - 7:50:19 PM

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We hear a lot of media hype today about "heroes", and almost without notice wartime analogies and terms have slipped into sports writing and news broadcasts. Tinseltown's movies display hype-casting and false visions of war and use actors who have never worn a military uniform except out of the wardrobe department. Quarterbacks, goalies, and pitchers are said to be "soldiering through" their pain, coaches are referred to as "field generals" who strategize ways to bring their "troops" to victory. And Tom Hanks really looks the part of a tough soldier in Searching for Private Ryan.

In Hollywood all it takes is the right costume and a good script - and sometimes, even those basics are not required.

Many of Hollywood and the sports world's finest have taken on the role of soldiers in film or TV stories, but only a few have actually served in the U.S. military. Whether they were called to duty in past military drafts or volunteered for one of the services, those who served didn't always return unscathed and left the service with the physical and emotional scars of battle. Some didn't return at all. Most recently, Arizona Cardinals football safety Pat Tillman of the U.S. Army's rangers, killed in action in Afghanistan.

A number of Hollywood's greatest stars served in both World Wars and Korea. Humphrey Bogart, Audie Murphy, Lee Marvin, James Arness, Gene Autry, Clark Gable and James Stewart were noted for their service. Most of America's Astronauts up through the present were also members of the military.

Bogart - Bogie, as he was known - joined the U.S. Navy in May, 1918 during WWI and was assigned as a coxwain on the USS Leviathan (SP-1326). There are several stories as to how Bogart acquired the scarred and partially paralyzed upper lip that later accounted for his characteristic lisp and tight-set mouth, but whatever happened most likely took place while he was serving on the Leviathan. He was escorting a prisoner who tried to escape by hitting Bogart in the mouth. But Bogie, whose upper lip was almost torn off and bleeding profusely, chased down the prisoner and only after he was locked up did Bogart get medical attention for what would become his trademark look.

Audie Murphy was the son of poor Texas sharecroppers but will be remembered as the most decorated soldier of World War II. He received 33 awards and decorations, including the Medal of Honor, the highest military award for bravery that can be given. Beginning service as a private, he received a battlefield commission as a lieutenant. He fought in nine major campaigns in Europe, was wounded three times and became a legend in the 3rd Infantry Division. After being invited to Hollywood by the legendary James Cagney, Murphy starred in 26 films in 15 years. He suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, insomnia and depression from his war experiences and was killed in a plane crash near Roanoke, VA in 1971. Audie Murphy was buried in Arlington National Cemetery near the Tomb of the Unknowns with full military honors.

Lee Marvin was known for playing tough military men in his movie career, and he probably pulled from his actual military experiences while filming some of his more memorable roles. After problems in high school, Marvin joined the Marine Corps during World War II as a private. During the invasion of Saipan in 1944, he was one of only nine survivors in his unit. Seriously wounded when a bullet severed his sciatic nerve, he was awarded the Purple Heart and shipped home. After working as a plumber's assistant, he finally made his big-screen debut with an unaccredited part in USS Teakettle, which starred Charles Bronson and Eddie Albert, both of whom, like Marvin, served in the U.S. military. After achieving major star status and the Academy Award for Cat Balleu, Marvin died of a heart attack and is also buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

James Arness - of Gunsmoke fame - led his unit at the landings at Anzio, Italy in World War II. He was 6 feet seven inches tall and the brother of fellow actor Peter Graves who later also served in the U.S. Air Force. Arness was seriously wounded in action, and was decorated with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. After the war, John Wayne spotted him for Gunsmoke, a role Wayne had turned down. Incidentally, John Wayne, perhaps the screen's leading war movie hero, never served in the military, having been rejected for physical reasons. James Arness played Marshall Matt Dillon on TV's Gunsmoke for 20 years.

Other notables of screen legend who served their country in military service were James Stewart, a general in the Air Force during Korea and the Cold War, Gene Autry, America's "Singing Cowboy", and Clark Gable, perhaps the screen's biggest legend and star of Gone With The Wind. Both Autry and Gable served in World War II

Maybe it's time we chucked today's make-believe "heroes" of Hollywood and sports and let our children admire some real ones again - those who have earned honor and dignity for bravery and courage in the service of America, instead of those who just earn money.

Liberal and socialist politicians provide us with quite enough make-believe.



Jack L. Key is the author of Gideon's Trumpet, a novel of peace and war in the 21st century. He is also a veteran of the U.S. Navy and writes commentary and features articles for the Internet and print media. Contact him at

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