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Hollywood at War: Stars Who Served (Part II)

On May 8, 1945, Nazi Germany signed the unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht, thus ending World War II in Europe. The event came to be known as VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) and is celebrated every year in several European countries. Due to time differences, several former Soviet republics, including Russia and Belarus, celebrate VE Day on May 9.

At the outbreak of the war, thousands of men from all Allied nations enlisted in the armed forces to join in the fight against the Axis Powers. Many of them were established Hollywood stars, who decided to put their careers on hold to serve their country in its time of need. Others were young men who became screen legends after the conflict. Here are 5 (more) Hollywood male actors who served in World War II, before and after they were famous.
 

1. Robert Montgomery (1904-1981)

After World War II broke out in Europe in September 1939, Montgomery joined the American Field Service and drove ambulances in France until the evacuation of Dunkirk in May-June 1940. When the United States entered the war in December 1941, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served as Naval Attache on British destroyers hunting German U-boats.
 
Lieutenant Commander Robert Montgomery in his U.S. Navy uniform.
 
Later, Montgomery commanded a PT boat and saw action in the South Pacific, taking part in the Guadalcanal campaign, between August 1942 and February 1943, and the New Georgia campaign, from June to October 1943. Commissioned as a Lieutenant Commander, he was assigned as an operations officer to the destroyer USS Barton (DD-722), which landed on Utah Beach during Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy, on June 6, 1944. Barton also took part in the Bombardment of Cherbourg, on June 25, during which it was slightly damaged by German shell fire. After D-Day, Montgomery served aboard the light cruiser USS Columbia (CL-56), stationed again in the South Pacific. He was discharged from the Navy in 1946.
 
LEFT: The USS Barton on March 26, 1944. LEFT: U.S. soldiers landing on Utah Beach.
 

2. Lee Marvin (1924-1987)

Marvin enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in August 1942, when he was just 18 years old. He trained at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, and later at Camp Elliot in San Diego, California. In January 1944, assigned as a combat sniper with «I» Company, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, he was deployed to the Marshall Islands and saw action in the Battles of Kwajalein and Eniwetok.
 
LEFT: Lee Marvin in his U.S. Navy uniform. RIGHT: Lee Marvin during basic training.
 
In June 1944, Marvin took part in the Battle of Saipan, in the Northern Mariana Islands. During the assault on Mount Tapochau, he was hit by Japanese mortar fire, which severed his sciatic nerved, and was shot in the foot by a sniper. He was one of the few men in his unit that survived the attack. He spent over a year receiving medical treatment in naval hospitals and was awarded a Purple Heart in a hospital ship on Guadalcanal. He was medically discharged in July 1945 at the Philadelphia Marine Barracks, with the rank of Private First Class. In total, Marvin took part in 21 invasions during the U.S. island-hopping campaign in the Pacific Theatre of war.
 
U.S. Marines under Japanese fire during the Battle of Saipan.
 

3. Jack Warden (1920-2006)

Warden joined the United States Navy in 1938 and served in China with the Yangtze River Patrol for three years. In 1941, he joined the U.S. Merchant Marine, but quickly grew dissatisfied with his life aboard ship during the long convoy runs. He switched to the U.S. Army in 1942 and became a paratrooper in the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
 
LEFT: Jack Warden (right) during the war. RIGHT: Paratroopers from the HQ of the 501st PIR on board a Douglas C-47 Skytrain just before D-Day operations began.
 
In June 1944, shortly before the D-Day invasion, Warden, then a Staff Sergeant, broke his leg when he landed on a fence during a nighttime practice jump in England. After almost six months in the hospital, he recovered just in time to take part in the Battle of the Bulge, between December 1944 and February 1945. Also known as the Ardennes Counteroffensive, it was Nazi Germany's last major offensive campaign on the Western Front and the largest and bloodiest single battle fought by the United States in World War II. Warden was discharged in 1946.
 
LEFT: Paratroopers of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Europe. RIGHT: American infantrymen advance to the front during the Battle of the Bulge.
 

4. Rod Steiger (1925-2002)

Steiger was 17 years old when he enlisted in the United States Navy in May 1942. After boot camp at the U.S. Naval Training Station in Newport, Rhode Island, he was assigned as a Seaman 1st Class to the destroyer USS Benham (DD-397), stationed in the Pacific Theatre of war. The Benham served as an escort to the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) during the Battle of Midway in June, and the Guadalcanal campaign in August 1942.
 
LEFT: Rod Steiger (right) during the war. RIGHT: USS Benham carrying survivors of USS Yorktown (CV-5) during the Battle of Midway (June 1942).
 
In May 1944, Steiger was assigned to the newly commissioned destroyer USS Taussig (DD-746) as a Torpedoman 3rd Class. Upon joining the Pacific Fleet, Taussig went to work with the Fast Carrier Task Force and supported the Battles of Leyte (October-December 1944), Luzon (January-August 1945), Iwo Jima (February-March 1945) and Okinawa (March-July 1945). Steiger was deeply affected by his experiences in the war, particular the loss of Americans during the Iwo Jima campaign, as well as the sinking of small Japanese boats by Taussig which had women and children on them. Since the vessels could have radios on board, they had to be destroyed. He was discharged from the Navy in September 1945, two weeks after Japan surrendered.
 
LEFT: View of the massive U.S. naval fleet at Iwo Jima. RIGHT: Soldiers of the 10th Army after the amphibious landings on Okinawa. The Pacific Fleet is seen in the background.
 

5. Sterling Hayden (1916-1986)

Hayden enlisted in the U.S. Army in October 1941. He was assigned to the London office and spent the following months training with commando and parachute units in England and Scotland. In March 1942, after jumping out of a Short Stirling bomber, he landed in a quarry and injured his ankle, knee and backbone. Upon receiving medical treatment, he was discharged and sent back to the United States. In October 1942, he decided to join the U.S. Marine Corps.
 
LEFT: Sterling Hayden and other Marine recruits from Platoon 903 at Parris Island in December 1942. RIGHT: Sterling Hayden during a drill at Parris Island.
 
Like Marvin, Hayden underwent basic training at Parris Island and was later transferred to Quantico, Virginia to attend Officer Candidates School. After graduating in April 1943, he was commissioned as Second Lieutenant and assigned to work as an undercover agent with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) under the alias «John Hamilton.» As an OSS agent, Hayden commanded a fleet of sailboats whose mission it was to ferry supplies from Italy to Yugoslav partisans led by Marshal Josif Broz Tito. He also participated in the Naples-Foggia campaign, during the Allied invasion of Italy, in September 1943, and established Air Crew Rescue Unit Teams in enemy-occupied territory in the Mediterranean Theatre of war. Hayden was discharged from active duty in December 1945, with the rank of Captain.
 
LEFT: Partisans boarding a schooner for their voyage across the Adriatic Sea. RIGHT: USS LST-1 landing American troops onto a beach in Salerno during the invasion of Italy.
 
 
Stay tuned for more «Hollywood at War» articles. For now, you can also read Stars Who Served (Part I), The Female Front and The Hollywood Canteen.


_____________________________________
SOURCES:
Lee Marvin: Point Blank by Dwayne Epstein (Schaffner Press, 2013) 
U.S. Marine Corps Biographical Dictionary by Karl Schuon (Franklin Watts, Inc., 1963)
World War II Veterans in Hollywood by Art Evans (McFarland & Company, Inc., 2020)
«Montgomery, Robert, LCDR» (Together We Serve)
«Steiger, Rodney Stephen, TM3c» (Together We Serve) 
«Sterling Hayden, Hollywood Actor, Viking Hero of the OSS» by Michael D. Hull (Warfare History Network)
«USS Barton - Battle of Normandy» (D-Day Overlord)
«Warden, Jack, S/Sgt» (Together We Serve) 
«Warden, Jack, PO3» (Together We Serve)

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