So many of us have a relative or someone we know of who served in the Second World War. To us, they are our heroes, and we are proud of their contributions in one of the greatest conflicts in human history. However, during the Second World War, a number of faces recognizable to almost all of us also added their name to the Honour Roll. The war was indifferent to social standing and occupation, and required effort from every person. This week's post explores some of the most famous members of the "greatest generation" who gave their all in WWII with the best of them.
1. Clark Gable
Of course, we all know him as Rhett Butler, but during the war he was known to many as major Clark Gable. After enlisting in 1942, he served as an aerial gunner on a bomber and flew in five combat missions, for which he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal. He was discharged in 1944 at his own request after he became over the age for active service. During his time in the Air Force, he also completed a film called Combat America. Interestingly, Adolf Hitler favored Gable above all other actors. During the war, Hitler offered a sizable reward to anyone who could capture and bring Gable to him unscathed.
2. Carole Lombard
The beautiful blond actress famous for her comedies was also known for being married to actor Clark Gable. During the war, the couple became known for their support of the war effort, with Carole making a particular name for herself advertising the sale of bonds. When the U.S. entered World War II at the end of 1941, Lombard traveled to her home state of Indiana for a war bond rally with her mother, and Clark Gable's press agent. Lombard was able to raise over $2 million in defense bonds in a single evening. Her party had initially been scheduled to return to Los Angeles by train, but Lombard was anxious to reach home more quickly and wanted to fly by a scheduled airline. Her mother and the agent were both afraid of flying and insisted they follow their original travel plans. Lombard suggested they flip a coin; they agreed and Lombard won the toss.
In the early morning hours of January 16, 1942, Lombard, her mother, and the agent boarded an aircraft to return to California.After refueling in Las Vegas, the flight took off at 7:07 p.m. and approximately 13 minutes later, crashed into "Double Up Peak" near the level of Potosi Mountain, 51 km southwest of Las Vegas. All 22 aboard, Lombard and her mother included, plus 15 army servicemen, were killed instantly.
3. James Stewart
We all know him as the charming lead of the classic It's a Wonderful Life, but Jimmy Stewart also served his country during the Second World War. A pilot before the war, Stewart was drafted into the army in 1940 but repeatedly denied because he was just shy of the minimum weight requirement. Eventually, he became the first major American movie star to wear a military uniform in World War II when he enlisted in 1941. His celebrity status led to his role as a flight instructor in the U.S, but eventually led squadrons in attacks over Germany, for which he received numerous prestigious awards. Eventually, he became one of the few Americans to rise from private to colonel in four years.
At the beginning of June 1945, Stewart was the presiding officer of the court-martial of a pilot and navigator who were charged with dereliction of duty for having accidentally bombed the Swiss city of Zurich the previous March—the first instance of U.S. personnel being tried for an attack on a neutral country. The Court acquitted the defendants.
Stewart is known for being one of the most active celebrities in the Second World War, and never let his status influence his duty.
4. Glenn Miller
The wildly popular big band leader will always be remembered for such songs as "American Patrol", "In the Mood", and "Chattanooga Choo Choo". However, Glenn Miller also contributed to the war effort in a tragic and sinister way. In 1942, at the peak of his civilian career, Miller decided to join the war effort, forsaking an income of $15,000 to $20,000 per week in civilian life. At 38, Miller was too old to be drafted and first volunteered for the Navy but was told that they did not need his services. Miller then wrote to Army Brigadier General Charles Young. He persuaded the United States Army to accept him so he could, in his own words, "be placed in charge of a modernized Army band". At first placed in the United States Army, Miller was transferred to the Army Air Forces. Captain Glenn Miller served initially as assistant special services officer for the Army Air Forces Southeast Training Center in Alabama in December 1942. He played trombone with the Rhythmaires, a 15-piece dance band, in both Montgomery and in service clubs and recreation halls on Maxwell. Miller also appeared on the radio, promoting the activities of civil service women aircraft mechanics.
On December 15, 1944, Miller was to fly from the United Kingdom to Paris, France, to play for the soldiers there. His plane departed from the outskirts of Bedford and disappeared while flying over the English Channel. There were two others on board the plane. No remains were ever found.
I hope that a newfound appreciation can be gained for these famous faces of the war, just some of many. While all experienced the hardship that so many others had to endure, some ended up paying the ultimate sacrifice. These heartbreaking stories are a reminder that the horrors of the Second World War were not particular about who they affected, and that not even the icons people looked up to were spared the experience.
Thanks for reading,