Audie Murphy, born in Kingston, Texas, was a small guy, five foot five inches tall and weighing only 110 pounds. He was rejected by the Marines and the Paratroops because of his size but was accepted by the regular or “straight-leg” army.
He became the most decorated serviceman of WWII. He earned: the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars and two Bronze Stars with v for valor, two Purple Hearts and a host of other medals. Altogether, Murphy earned 33 US medals, 5 Medals from France and one Medal from Belgium. Five of the medals were earned more than once.
When he was discharged, Murphy, at the urging of James Cagney, went to Hollywood seeking a career in acting. At first, he struggled to find work but eventually began to get parts and lead roles. He spent 25 years in Hollywood, appearing in 44 feature films, 33 of which were westerns. In his most noted role, Murphy played himself in the autobiographical film “To Hell and Back”.
Murphy was killed in a plane crash on Brush Mountain, Virginia on May 28, 1971. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Except for John F. Kennedy, his is the most visited gravesite at Arlington. (1) (2)
Before he “Left His Heart in San Francisco”, Anthony Benedetto was drafted into the US Army for service in WWII. He did his basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey and advanced Infantry training at Fort Robinson. In January 1945 Benedetto was assigned as a rifleman to the 25t5th Infantry Regiment of the 63rd Infantry Division. The Division replaced units that had been decimated in the Battle of the Bulge. The unit fought across France and into Germany in March 1945. Benedetto’s company was engaged in bitter winter fighting as the German Army was pushed across France and into their homeland. Anthony was personally engaged in heavy fighting and narrowly escaped death several times. At the end of March 1945 Benedetto’s unit had crossed the Rhine River, by the first week in April they had crossed the Kocher, and by the end of April 1945 they had occupied the Danube. As they moved across Germany, the regiment liberated several concentration camps and freed American prisoners of war who were members of the 63rd Division.
Benedetto stayed in Germany with the Allied occupation forces singing with a Special Services band to entertain the troops. His friendship with a black friend from high school alienated his superiors, since the US Army was still segregated, and he was demoted. After he was discharged, Anthony used his GI Bill to study at the American Theatre Wing. In 1949, he was noticed by Bob Hope and he took Benedetto on tour with him. Hope suggested that he change his stage name to Tony Bennett.
Bennett’s first big hit was “Because of You.” It was no. 1 on the pop charts in 1951 and remained there for 10 weeks. During the 1950s Bennett succeeded in placing 8 songs in the top 40. In 1962, he released the single “I Left My Heart In San Francisco”. That year the album of the same title won Grammy for “Best Album of the Year” and Bennett won a Grammy for “Best Solo Performance”. In 2006, when Tony was 80 years old, his album “Duets: An American Classic” won a Grammy. (3)
Durning was inducted into the US Army in January 1943. After basic training, he was deployed to England landing there in February 1944. He landed on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion June 6, 1944 with a Ranger Battalion. His unit suffered severe casualties but Durning managed to cross the beach without being wounded. Later, in June 1944, Durning was severely wounded by a land mine and was hospitalized for 6 months. However, when the German Army broke through the Allied defenses in the Ardennes in December, he was rushed to the front lines. He was engaged in bitter winter fighting trying to stop the German offensive and was severely wounded in a bayonet attack. On December 16, 1944, his unit was overwhelmed and captured. Along with a group of other captured Americans, he was marched to a field in Belgium where members of an SS Panzer unit massacred hundreds of the prisoners. Durning and two other Americans somehow managed to escape and rejoin the Americans. He was then assigned to the 398th Infantry Regiment and fought across Germany. In March 1945, he was again seriously wounded and evacuated to the United States. Durnings military awards include the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts. In 2004, France awarded Durning the Legion of Merit to honor his distinguished record in France during WWII.
Durning is recognized as a stellar character actor having twice been nominated for Best Supporting Actor Academy Awards. He starred in major films such as: “The Sting”, “Dog Day Afternoon” and “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”. He has starred in many television productions and has received 8 Emmy nominations. In 2007, the Screen Actor’s Guild awarded him their Life Achievement Award. (4)
Before teaming up with Jackie Gleason and creating unforgettable comedy on TV, Art Carney served on active duty during WWII. He was drafted in 1943 and went to Normandy in July 1944 as a replacement in the 28th Infantry Division. He was put in the front lines around St. Louis. In August 1944, he was hit in the leg by mortar shrapnel. He was evacuated to Britain and then to the US. The wound caused Carney to limp for the rest of his life. (5)
Garner was born James Scott Bumgarner, in Norman, Oklahoma on April 7, 1928. Although he served in the Oklahoma National Guard for a while, he is credited with being the first Oklahoman to be drafted for the Korean War. Garner has always been closed-mouth about his military service but he was involved in combat in the Korean War, was wounded and received the Purple Heart.
His first major role was in the TV Western “Maverick”. He is perhaps best known for his role as Jim Rockford in the TV series “The Rockford Files”. In 1977 he won an Emmy for Best Actor for his work in that series. He has appeared in 8 television series and 58 feature films. (6)
Franz served for 11 months in Vietnam with the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. He says that those 11 months were tormenting since he saw many of his friends wounded and killed. He added that he would never want to repeat the experience but that it was very maturing. He indicated that he was very frivolous before his service in Vietnam but came back a different person; definitely more serious. Dennis is most famous for his role as detective “Andy Sipowicz” in the television series “NYPD Blue”. (7)
1. “Audie Murphy”, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wki/audie-murphy
2. “Audie Murphy”, Hollywood Stars-Veteran Patriots, http://www.freepublic.com/focus/news/152023/posts
3. “Military People: Tony Bennett”, Military Hub, http://www.militaryhub.com/militaryPeople.cfm?id=16
4. “France Honors Wartime Service of Charles Durning”, Jim Burch, Beverly Hills Community News Project, http://bhcnp.org/article.php?articleid=5
5. “Art Carney, More Than Military”, Military Hub, http://www.militaryhub.com/military-people.csm?id=19
6. “James Garner”, NNDB: Tracking the Entire World, http://www.nndb.com/people/266/000023197/
7. “Dennis Franz”, Hollywood Stars, Veteran-Patriots, Dolly Howard, November 11, 2005, DollyCali, http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/1520231/posts