Wednesday, December 26, 2012

You won't see many more guys like this one

Charles Durning, an Oscar-nominated actor, died on Christmas Eve. Naturally, the Washington Post obituary focuses on his Hollywood career. They gave one paragraph to the fact that this guy was a badass of historic levels. Other sites make it clear that the dude was not just a character actor and song-and-dance man.
Like Medal of Honor recipient Audie MurphyCharles Durning was a highly-decorated soldier in World War II before he began an acting career.
His is a remarkable story of survival. As a 21-year-old infantryman, Private Charles Durning was in the first wave of soldiers to land on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion of Normandy. He was the only man to survive a machine-gun ambush. Despite suffering serious machine gun and shrapnel wounds, Durning killed seven German gunners to survive D-Day.
Several months later, in Belgium, Durning was stabbed eight times by a bayonet-wielding teenage German soldier. That day, he survived by killing the German with a rock in hand-to-hand combat. Durning recovered from those wounds and was released from the hospital just in time to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, where he was taken prisoner.
Charles Durning was one of only three men to survive the infamous massacre of American POWs at Malmedy, Belgium. He and two others escaped, and the rest were murdered. Durning was obliged to return with American troops to identify the bodies of his fellow prisoners.
Several months later, a chest wound caused his return to the US, where he recovered from both physical and psychological wounds in Army hospitals until being discharged as a Private First Class in January 1946, a month shy of his 23rd birthday.
For his service during World War II, Charles Durning was awarded the Silver Star Medal and three Purple Hearts.
There seems to be some dispute over whether Durning was a Malmedy survivor -- there were more than three, by theway -- but no dispute that he served with distinction and was highly decorated during World War II. For my part, the only thing I remember about seeing "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" is the scene where Durning sings "Sidestep" and at least three times does this nifty trick where he puts his ten gallon hat on sideways and then turns into it so it is facing the proper direction. It's well worth a viewing.

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