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Charles Durning obit in the New York Times

Charles Pierce points us to Charles Durning’s obituary in the New York Times.  I knew something about his acting, but had not heard about his service in WWII:

His combat experiences were harrowing. He was in the first wave of troops to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day and his unit’s lone survivor of a machine-gun ambush. In Belgium he was stabbed in hand-to-hand combat with a German soldier, whom he bludgeoned to death with a rock. Fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, he and the rest of his company were captured and forced to march through a pine forest at Malmedy, the scene of an infamous massacre in which the Germans opened fire on almost 90 prisoners. Mr. Durning was among the few to escape.

By the war’s end he had been awarded a Silver Star for valor and three Purple Hearts, having suffered gunshot and shrapnel wounds as well. He spent months in hospitals and was treated for psychological trauma.

 …

Mr. Durning was also remembered for his combat service, which he avoided discussing publicly until later in life. He spoke at memorial ceremonies in Washington, and in 2008 France awarded him the National Order of the Legion of Honor.

In the Parade interview, he recalled the hand-to-hand combat. “I was crossing a field somewhere in Belgium,” he said. “A German soldier ran toward me carrying a bayonet. He couldn’t have been more than 14 or 15. I didn’t see a soldier. I saw a boy. Even though he was coming at me, I couldn’t shoot.”

They grappled, he recounted later — he was stabbed seven or eight times — until finally he grasped a rock and made it a weapon. After killing the youth, he said, he held him in his arms and wept.

Mr. Durning said the memories never left him, even when performing, even when he became, however briefly, someone else.

“There are many secrets in us, in the depths of our souls, that we don’t want anyone to know about,” he told Parade. “There’s terror and repulsion in us, the terrible spot that we don’t talk about. That place that no one knows about — horrifying things we keep secret. A lot of that is released through acting.”

ht Pierce’s political blog at Esquire

39 comments to Charles Durning obit in the New York Times

  • Ben

    About Durning’s military history … might be interesting, if true.

    He is recorded as being an infantryman with the Army’s 398th Infantry, which didn’t go to Europe until peacefully stepping off transport ships at Marseille in October 1944. That precludes Durning’s participation in the Normandy invasion in June 1944. The Army’s records of Silver Star recipients do not include a Charles Durning … could be a clerical oversight, but pretty good records are kept of these things. A lot has been written about the Malmedy debacle (Dec. 17, 1944), but nothing I’ve read mentions a Durning nor the 398th Infantry. So ….

    But I enjoyed, appreciated, and respected his acting roles. Godspeed, Charles Durning.

  • NMC

    Interesting that it made it into the NY Times. Will watch for a correction….

  • NMC

    Reading a fair amount about Malmedy, I’m reminded I’d read accounts of the trial and its aftermath (which gave Joseph McCarthy an early stage for his assholishness). But it seems really clear that Durning couldnt have been anywhere near it.

  • Observer

    I think that it is just a poorly written or edited obituary. It really doesn’t actually say Durning was among the men the Germans murdered at Malmedy and that he escaped that particular massacre. It says he was marched through the area. The next sentence causes the confusion, because it suggests he was one of them. I think it was a poor edit.

    On another topic, I have an uncle by marriage who served in the German army at the age of 14 very late in the war. The boys in his class were taught how to fire anti-aircraft guns. During air raids, officers would come get them from school and take them to the guns. After the raids, they’d go back to school. He told me a few of these stories at a funeral once. It was the only time I’d ever heard him speak of the war years.

  • Mike G

    Just a thought. Was “Charles Durning” a stage name? Maybe his records are under his real name. Worth a shot at looking up before questioning his background. Going deer hunting or I would do it. Otherwise, have a safe New Year’s Eve.

  • Anderson

    Beware the wartime memories of actors. Cf. Ronald Reagan.

  • NotZachScruggs

    If this is true: What an amazing story. What a heroic and modest and lucky man, though he might point out that being so tormented through the years would not qualify as good luck in anyone’s book, just luck. It’s refershing to read of a war hero who didn’t “wear it on his sleeve,” but, instead spoke philosophically and with no fear of admitting the emotional toll these events exacted upon him. Sounds like his acting career was therapy withan unexpected healing dimension. God bless our memory of this amazing man. If it isn’t true, how can he have gotten away with such a flight of fancy without some brave soldier who was “there” calling him out? Do they just hand out these medals to imposters,Ben, or is your doubt that he actually was awarded them?

  • Ben

    NZS: The information that has been published about Durning’s military service likely makes a true statement: Charles Durning served in the US Army’s 398th Infantry Regiment during World War II. Beyond that ….

    God bless Charles Durning. God bless all the servicemembers.

  • NotZachScruggs

    Agreed Ben. But isn’t there a record somewhere or the medals? There can’t be that many silver stars out there. Is there a published list?

  • Ben

    NZS: I was going to let it rest, but since you asked … I checked the Silver Star registry. Nothing. I checked the POW registry. Nothing. I checked the Bronze Star registry (every Army soldier who received the Combat Infantryman’s Badge in the European Theater of Operations, and that was just about everyone, also received the Army version of the Bronze Star). Nothing. I checked the Purple Heart registry. Nothing. I checked the 389th Infantry Regiment’s regimental history and reviewed the regiment’s 12 company-by-company lists of killed, wounded, taken prisoner, and decorated. Nothing. I think I need to know all I need to know about this.

  • Ben

    Errata: I think I need to know all I need to know about this.

  • Observer

    I checked the US Army official website and found this:

    …some other famous people whose true-life exploits read like an action novel include; Academy Award-winning actor Charles Durning, a survivor of the June 6 D-Day invasion who received a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts, and Eddie Albert of Green Acres fame who earned a Bronze Star for rescuing Marines during the Battle of Tarawa.

    See: http://www.army.mil/article/18424/

    Also found this: http://www.ww2awards.com/person/45589

    I just find it all interesting.

  • NMC

    THe UK Telegraph says that he was with a different unit at D-Day:

    >
    Drafted into the US Army in 1944, he served with the 386th Anti-aircraft Artillery (AAA) Battalion on D-Day and was the only member of his Army unit to survive when he went ashore at Omaha Beach in the Normandy landings. He killed several Germans and was wounded in the leg by an enemy mine.
    After recuperating in Britain, Durning returned to active service in December 1944, only to be bayoneted by a young German soldier whom he killed with a rock. Captured in the Battle of the Bulge, the German counter-offensive through the Ardennes forest in Belgium, he survived a massacre of prisoners-of-war. He was awarded the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts.
    <

    I’m reading that to suggest he came back to a different unit for the Battle of the Bulge. It may be worth noting that most of the victims of the Malmedy massacre where from an artillery unit.

  • Ben

    We’re flogging a dead horse. Public relations people appear to have created a mythical war record for Charles Durning, in my opinion.

    I find no Army historical reference to a 386 AAA Btn. A 389th Infantry Regiment … yes … I found that, but no 386 AAA Btn. And as I posted earlier, 389th IR records disclose no record of a Charles Durning’s being wounded or decorated.

    I find no reference to a Charles Durning in army Silver Star awards for WWII.

    The Malmedy captives were from an artillery observation unit (spotters) … not infantry.

    “I was captured at Malmedy, but I gave the Waffen SS Panzer troops the slip.” I’m sorry … I don’t buy that. The Waffen SS didn’t “earn” its horrendous reputation for cruelty, brutality, and mercilessness by letting prisoners slip away.

    The Army order of battle for the Normandy invasion (and I have a copy of that before me right now) includes no unit Durning has variously been identified with, including especially the elusive 386 AAA Btn. Everywhere I look for something lending credence to Durning’s military experiences, I find only things that produce conflict. There are no square corners anywhere in the stories. I think it’s a lotta fiction, probably generated by Durning’s publicity agents. Once it starts, it’s hard to stop.

    Consider too the compressed time within which all this reportedly occurred: Durning reportedly was drafted in 1944. Then he wades ashore at Normandy in early June 1944 … gets wounded and invalided back to England … heals … gets sent to a new unit (389th IR) just in time to go ashore in southern France … then works his way up to Belgium in mid-December … foils the Waffen SS at Malmedy ….

    Even Audie Murphy didn’t get around that much that fast.

    What would convince me otherwise?–an authenticated copy of Durning’s DD214. It likely can be obtained via FOIA, but I’m not interested enough to pursue that. If someone else digs up an authenticated copy, I’d probably find it almost interesting.

  • I have been a professional actor for 42 years and have had
    the honor to call Charles Durning a Friend & Collegue. In a trailer in Houston Texas on a movie shoot Charlie told me about his combat experience. He told me He was a Ranger on D-Day.was wounded and sent to London to Heal. He said he became a Ranger when he struck an Officer and was told he
    had two choices Rangers or Levinworth. Sent back for the Battle of the Bulge. He was bayoneted on the ground. He told me he kept a knife in his boot. he came off the ground
    and shoved it into a Germans throat.The German was pushing his hand against Charley’s chest.He said he sees that hand imprint on his chest when he looks in the mirror. There was so much blood the knife slipped out of his hand. He fought the second German with a rock and bashed his face in.Blood was all over his face and he was crying when more Germans came. One more was going to finish him off. When a German officer in command said..”Nien. Nien..Comaraden..Comaraden”
    wiping the blood off his face. The officer was impressed with his Bravery.There were more captured Americans. He marched, trailed behind when it was getting dark, and wrapped himself around a tree and escaped back to the American Lines. This was told to me by Charles Durning Face to Face. He told me about other horrors. I loved the Man,as
    many actors do who worked with him. I can’t believe it was
    Bull Shit story. He wasn’t acting trust me. Now we all embellish stories.Still I can’t believe he would make that up. He did have a strong need to perform,and would take jobs for little money some time which his agents didn’t like. But he told me he would rather be on a set or stage then sit home. I loved him and will miss him. I am very upset to read that there is this contradiction to his WW2
    experience. Maybe you should dig deeper into his history. He was, and will always be a Hero to me. I am proud to have known him and honored he told me this story to me personaly
    Respectively
    Richard Zavaglia

  • Anderson

    It sounds as if the Silver Star registry is more of a work in progress.

  • THANK YOU FOR POSTING MY COMMENTS CONCERNING CHARLES DURNING’S WW11
    EXPERIENCES. I HOPE THIS CLARIFIES YOUR OPINION OF HIM;FOR HE WAS ONE OF THE MOST FORTHRIGHT AND HONEST PERSONS IT WAS MY PRIVILEGE TO HAVE KNOWN.

    RESPECTFULLY,
    RICHARD ZAVAGLIA

  • Robin

    So glad to have found this thread. I hope that everything about Durning is true, but I have never seen such a lack of evidence on all the archives. I don’t get that. I worked as a lowly production assistant on a Durning film with Burt Reynolds, and I agree with Zavaglia that he was a straight forward guy. But I personally heard Durning tell a group of us that he was with a glider corps that landed behind enemy lines ond D Day, and him fighting his way back. It meant a lot to me because two of my uncles were paratroopers who also landed early behind enemy lines. It was a very specific story. And again, Burt Reynolds told that story on video during a Table for Five episode. So why then, when Durning gave his speech on the National Memorial Concert, after being introduced by Tom Hanks, (you can youtube search for these clips) did he tell a totally different version of the D Day experience? That he was on a boat and landed on the shore. Even I was taken aback by that, having heard his other story in person.

    So I don’t know. I think Durning being buried at Arlington says it all. I hope he is a great hero, because he looked like and acted like one to me.

  • Bob

    If you can get a picture of his headstone in Arlington National Cemetery, that might satisfy some questions regarding Mr. Durning’s record. The military puts the US valor awards on the marker, e.g., DSC, SS, DFC, LOM, BSM, PH, etc., as well as what conflicts the service member undertook partisipation. I believe the Medal of Honor is spelled out, but not positive, however, the others are abbreviated as indicated above. Worth a try.

  • D Pushman

    There was a 386th AAA AW (Anti Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons)Battalion in the European Theater in 1944. Late in 1944 the army was very short of infantrymen so many men from AAA battalions that were not needed due to the Allies air superiority over Europe were sent to infantry divisions as replacements. Many sources for this information are out there and I believe Stephen Ambrose put it down in one of his books (maybe Citizen Soldiers, IIRC), there were others that wrote about this as well. So Mr Durning may well have landed at Normandy with an AAA unit and been transferred to an infantry division later in the war.

  • Tom

    My father, a WWII veteran, played golf with a friend regularly. The friend told my dad he had seen Charles Durning on TV talking about his combat experiences in WWII. My father’s friend said he served with Durning in the Army, only they performed in USO shows & never saw combat. He said he couldn’t understand why Durning would make up all those stories. My father told me this I’m guessing 10+ years ago and both he and his friend have passed on. I have no way of verifying the story but it doesn’t seem like a likely story that someone would make up out of the blue to tell a friend on the golf course. It could explain the inconsistencies in the various and conflicting accounts of Charles Durning’s military record.

  • Total bullshit Sir. The man was a hero. my close friends the actors Dan Lauria
    and Joe Mantegna were at his funeral. They saw his Flag draped coffin with
    the Silver Star, Purple Hearts, and French Medal of Honor on top of it at
    the French Embassy ceremony honoring Charles Durning. He is buried in
    Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C. I knew and worked with him. Why
    people want to ruin his name and reputation with these false accusations
    really piss me off!
    Angry
    Richard Zavaglia

  • Bob’s suggestion about a headstone sent me a-googlin.

    Silver Star, Bronze Star, “PH & 2 OLC” (which I infer to mean “Purple Heart & 2 Oak Leaf Clusters,” i.e., 3 Purple Hearts?).

    … Mr. Zavaglia’s friend apparently saw a French award, but not a “medal of honor,” if Wikipedia can be credited:

    “In April 2008, Durning received the National Order of the Legion of Honor from the French consul in Los Angeles, awarded to those who served with distinction in France.”

  • Tom

    More mystery. See posting # 7 on the below link from 2008 – speech given by French Consul General from French Consulate in Los Angeles when the medal was awarded. Link to the speech on the French Consul – LA website is below the speech but no longer works, too old I’m sure. It says he was an Army Ranger which conflicts with other information that says he was in an AAA Battalion.

    http://www.arrse.co.uk/military-history-militaria/87046-actor-charles-durning-talks-about-d-day.html

    As to the headstone, I wonder how much checking is done in the case of famous persons buried there. I recall the scandal in the Clinton administration when a former Ambassador was buried in Arlington under false pretenses. Everyone accepted his story as the truth.

    http://www.nytimes.com/1997/12/12/us/body-and-tombstone-of-lies-are-removed.html?ref=mlarrylawrence

    I don’t want to call Mr. Durning a liar but there’s so many different versions and inconsistencies, I’d sure like to know the real version of his service.

  • Bin There

    Richard,

    I fully understand the dismay of finding out that a friend may have deceived you. Unfortunately, it happens all the time with ‘war stories’. A local paper recently ran a report on a pillar-of-the-community, hometown ‘hero’ who came in ‘with the leading troops on D-Day’. Everyone in town knows what a hero he is. But he actually landed two and a half months later, and most of his story is simply not true. It’s all too common for some returning GIs to exaggerate their service to look larger in the eyes of friends, family and, especially, children. A night at any VFW in the nation will prove this.

    We have three different accounts of Mr. Durning’s D-Day exploits: the landing with the Rangers; landing with the AAA unit, and landing a few days later as part of a replacement detachment (the latter being the only one with verifiable records, apparently). This is more than enough to cause reasonable doubts in anyone’s mind.

    Now the idea that he punched out an officer and was offered a choice of Leavenworth or the Rangers is precisely the kind of plot that Hollywood swallows whole and loves. In reality, it is completely absurd; the Dirty Dozen was fiction. The Rangers didn’t take disciplinary problems – they were the cream of the crop and had their choice of the best men. And they certainly didn’t take untrained replacements in with them on D-Day. The replacement system on 6 June 44 had about 74,000 trained replacements prepositioned in the UK. At least 6 replacement depots were holding trained infantry replacements alone (levied from units back stateside, these men all had been trained in their infantry MOS and certified deployable as infantrymen.) With this huge pool of trained infantrymen to draw from, it simply is not credible that the Rangers – the best, most intensely trained infantry in the US – would take an untrained anti-aircraft artilleryman as a last minute replacement. A cursory review of the 2d and 5th Ranger Battalions preparations for D-Day reveals just how absurd this idea is.

    His Malmedy story is equally absurd. He was discharged from a hospital in England on 6 Dec 1944, and, due to the urgent need for replacements as a result of the casualties during the Battle of the Bulge, was supposedly rushed to the front as a replacement, arriving there in time for the Malmedy massacre? Let’s look at that. The Battle of the Bulge began on 16 Dec 1944; the Malmedy massacre took place just a day later. But, with the confusion in the Allied command, the seriousness of the German offensive was not understood. Further, the urgent need for replacements would not have been recognized, much less been able to expedite Mr. Durning’s movement to a front line unit . . . in the 30 hours between the start of the offensive, and the time the massacre took place.

    Replacements did not simply fly from hospitals straight to front line units. They went back into the replacement system, were placed in line with thousands of others, were processed, and awaited ship availability. Then landed at the “Cigarette Camps” at Le Havre for further processing, and then waited for travel priority for movement through a series of theater, army and division replacement centers. It was, unfortunately, not an efficient system. To give you an idea how long this took, my father – a trained infantryman – entered the replacement stream in England on 23 November 44, and did not reach his unit until the first week of Jan 45. Six weeks. That’s how long the system took – and you’ll notice this period spanned the Battle of the Bulge – the same period Mr. Durning claimed to have gone through the same system.

    The idea that Mr. Durning left the hospital and made it to a front line unit in 10 days is wildly absurd . . . if one has the slightest understanding of how the system worked. In Mr. Durning’s case, it is even more absurd, as he was not a trained infantryman. Even under the pressure of the Bulge, troops transferred to the infantry as emergency fillers were given a minimum of 10 days infantry training at the field army replacement depot before moving to an infantry unit. That alone disproves Mr. Durning’s story.

    I am truly sorry you were taken in by these stories. Unfortunately, it is all too common. In this case the facts simply outweigh the claims. But there is a simple way to solve at least one question. As a friend of the family, perhaps you can obtain the general orders which authorized the Silver Star? The general orders contain the citation which explains the circumstances of the action that earned the award. That way Mr. Durning could get credit for at least one verifiable aspect of his service.

  • Tom

    I happened to run across this article today. This guy did quite a bit of research into Durning’s service which raised more questions than it answered and lots of inconsistencies.

    http://www.web2carz.com/people/who-you-know/2097/charles-durnings-war-heroism-exaggeration-fabrication

  • Charlie is buried in Arlington. My good friends and colleges JOE MANTEGNA & DAN LAURIA Attended a service at the French Embassy in
    LA where they saw the American Flag coffin with silver star,purple hearts,
    and French medal on it. I told Dan about articles. He said seeing the medals was good enough for him. Are you doubting the bayonet wounds.
    and mental problems he had after the war. I just can’t believe he made up
    those horror stories he told me in a movie trailer in Houston, TX. Why
    would he have to do that so late in his life. You will never convince me
    Charley was a phoney. Never!!! You can quote all you want about how the
    Army worked in WW11. Charlie did the Washington DC Memorial show
    with Joe Mantegna & Gary Sinese a lot. Your telling me he would stand in front of
    the Nation and other wounded veterans, and be full of shit, and lie. No F–King Way!
    Respectively
    Richard Zavaglia

  • Bin There

    I respect your loyalty to someone whom you admire. But perhaps it is misplaced in this case? At some point blind – though well-intentioned – faith has to come to terms with facts.

    When Mr. Durning got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he claimed that he forged his mother’s name so that he could enlist at 17 years of age (you needed your parent’s permission to join up younger than 18). Since he was born on 28 Feb 1923, that means he had to have joined up before 28 Feb 1941 (when he turned 18) . . . which would have been 9 months BEFORE Pearl Harbor. See anything odd here?

    He actually was drafted into the Army on 17 Jan 1943, just prior to his 20th birthday. Clearly his Walk of Fame speech was an attempt to convince unsuspecting people that he was an eager young warrior, rather than a citizen not too eager to get shot at till called (in fact, most WWII servicemen were drafted, so this was typical, if not particularly heroic sounding in later years). I respect your good natured trust, but in this case he is simply condemned by his own words. If he was ‘wrong’ about something so basic as sneaking off to war having faked his mom’s permission, I suggest that it isn’t hard to suspect he has been likewise ‘wrong’ in so many of his other statements.

    His own service records – which he signed at discharge – certifying them as true and accurate, show him assigned to only two tactical units: the 386th AAA/AW Bn and the 398th Inf Regt (his short period with the replacement detachment in Normandy when he was wounded, and his stay in the hospital were not tactical units). So if he were back in a combat unit by the time of the Malmedy massace, he would have HAD to have been assigned to the 398th Inf Regt. The problem with the Malmedy story is that at the time of the massacre, the 398th Inf Regt was fighting on the approaches to Bitche, France, some 200 kilometers from Malmedy, Belgium. Even if he had somehow magically been transported from the hospital in England to his new unit in time to reach it by the date of the Malmedy massacre, that unit still places him far, far away from the massacre he claimed to have taken part in.

    By the way. The unit history of the 398th Inf Regt has a complete record of medal awardees. It does not list Mr. Durning as receiving a Silver Star. It does not even list him as receiving a Bronze Star.

    You can write off one or two discrepancies to bad recordkeeping or reporters who misquote you. But the sheer volume of problems with Mr. Durning’s various stories leaves no doubt. The problem lies with the teller of the stories.

    And yes, I am doubting the bayonet wounds, or at least that what you saw were bayonet wounds. No offense intended, but how many have you seen in your life? Could you tell a bayonet wound from the scars left by the mine’s explosion and subsequent surgeries? Bayonet wounds were the most uncommon wounds in the ETO, As for what mental problems he may or may not have had, that proves nothing; again; the trauma of the mine explosion could well have accounted for that. Certainly the highly graphic and totally fabricated story of his coming off the lanind craft with the Rangers was not the cause . . . becasue we know it did not happen to him!!!

    The only thing to wonder about here is why it has taken so long for hints of his “credibility problem” to surface in the press. Anyone with a few minutes to space and a less than totally credulous nature could reveal these holes in his stories.

    If you could provide some factual evidence to substantiate Mr. Durning’s stories, it would be very nice.

    Warm Regards,
    Bin

  • The investigations are interesting, and should perhaps be turned over to the military, but I think the burden remains on the people arguing against the headstone. I am not surprised that an actor speaking decades afterwards may have “improved” his war record; heck, we elected just such a person president (twice).

  • Tom

    Here is an article referencing what “Bin There” says in his most recent post about Mr. Durning supposedly enlisting at age 17 vs. being drafted at age 20:

    Born in Highland Falls, New York, Durning said he was 17 when he went to war, along with his three brothers.

    “They dropped down the age (to enlist) to 18. I signed my mother’s name and she was not happy about that,” he said.

    During the war, Durning was a member of the first wave of soldiers to land on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, and was seriously wounded by a mine later that month in France. He was taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 and was one of a few survivors of the German massacre of American POWs at Malmedy, Belgium. Durning was honored with three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star.

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/2008/08/01/charles-durning-earns-star-on-hollywood-walk-fame/

  • Hi Folks,

    I’m the guy who wrote the article on Charles Durning’s war years that Tom so kindly shared. As I told him in a separate email, I was skeptical when I read Mr. Durning’s obituary back in December. Since I had done a lot of work with WWII vets in the past for a documentary and book I felt that there was something amiss with Mr. Durning’s wartime accounts (what he said and what was written about him). Having interviewed scores of D-Day veterans his version of events seemed inconsistent with those I had interviewed over a ten year period.

    When I contacted the 1st Division, 29th, Ranger associations and they didn’t have him on any rosters I decided to dig deeper. When I interviewed his family and friends, each had conflicting ideas about his unit affiliation. Joe Mantegna said “Charlie was a Ranger,” as did the executive producer of the Memorial Day Concert and his very nice son had no idea whatsoever.

    Next, I enlisted a researcher at the National Archives in St. Louis and that lead to most of my information. Believe it or not, a few researchers are still looking. I know for a fact that Arlington has already cut a new headstone for Durning, taking off the BSM, and two of the three Purple Hearts. His only action, might have been Normandy, and he got hit behind the lines before he could get to his new unit—hence the replacement detachment number.

    Tom’s story of his friend’s father having acted in plays with Mr. Durning is consistent with records .He had been assigned to the 20th Special Services Battalion (temporarily while with the 159th and 398th Regts) and that outfit did, in fact, put on plays. Mr. Durning didn’t join the 398th, which was part of the 100th Division until September 1945- just after the 159th rotated back to the states.

    As for the Bulge, the researchers and I think Durning didn’t leave the replacement depots until March- when he qualified for the M1. Bin’s description of the replacement system and time tables is spot on and I don’t think I could have said it any better.

    As for the Silver Star, his discharge papers reads “Silver Star” and not Silver Star Medal which also leads me to believe that one of his outfits had 5 bronze campaign stars (the 20th Special Services Battalion) which is usually replaced with one silver star. However, that’s just a hunch..

    My objective was initially to write an article praising a war hero’s record, and what I found was a war hero, but not a hero to the extent of that which has been previously thought. Durning deserves our respect.

    Best,
    Steve

  • Bin There

    This actually clarifies quite a bit. I especially appreciate the clarification on units and best estimate on his arrival back on the Continent. It makes a whole lot of sense.

    The transfer between units in late 45 was typical, too. When they identified a unit for rotation back stateside at the end of the war, they combed the guys with the highest rotation points out of other units and plugged them into the unit going home. The guys with lower points were then transferred out of the redeploying unit and sent to units that would redeploy later on.

    I’ve been very curious about his Silver Star Medal as well. I know of no other celebrity who has one that has been so widely publicized, but has refused to provide any details about how it was won. Your hunch regearding the silver Service Star may be dead on.

    I had friends who thought their father’s service record showed he had earned both a Bronze Star Medal and a Silver Star Medal. The record read ‘bronze SS’, which of course actually denoted just a single bronze service star for a campaign ribbon.

    Thanks!

  • You’re welcome. You’re also spot on about the bayonet wounds. Hospital records, which I can share only mention shrapnel from Normandy (the only campaign listed). Another giveaway is the missing arrowhead device which would have given him assault credit.

    The researcher Norm Richards wrote this:

    Here are the facts on Durning and all information is supported from unit
    rosters, morning reports and Durning’s own medical file.

    1. Inducted at Camp Upton, NY on Jan. 27, 1943.

    2. Assigned to 386th Coast Artillery Battery C at Camp Edwards, Mass. on
    Feb. 1, 1943 ( later re-organized as the 386th AAA Bn.)

    3. By July, 1943, Durning and the 386th AAA Battalion were stationed at
    Camp Polk, La.

    4. From August to Dec. 1943, the 386th was in the Louisana Maneuvers Area

    5. January 17, 1944 – 386th was stationed at Camp Livingston, La.

    6. Feb. 12, 1944 – The 386th AAA Bn. sails for England ( shipment
    #15749…..2140SX)  ( Exactly as his discharge indicates ) ( from Camp
    Kilmer, NY)

    7. Feb. 19, 1944 Arrived at Leek Staffordshire ( Same as discharge paper)

    8. May 22, 1944 – Durning and 11 other men are relieved from assignment
    with the 386th AAA Bn. and are sent to the 17th Replacement Depot, APO
    873 ( Special Order # 134, Paragraph 2 )

    9. Durning lands in France with a replacement unit ( O6E Unit 2) from the
    17th Replacement Depot. No replacement units landed at either Omaha or
    Utah Beaches until June 12th.

    10. Durning and his fellow replacements were marching to a Repple Depple
    for assignment to other units when an artillery shell landed and struck
    an S-Mine, sending schrapnel at Durning and replacement Leo Forster ( O6E
    Unit 1).

    11. Durning was first sent to the 499th Medical Collection Company with
    wounds to his thighs, lower right leg and face.

    12. Transferred to 24th Evac Hospital in LeCambe….which is inland from
    Omaha Beach about 6-7 kilometers.

    13. Durning’s admission card indicates he was not a member of any
    unit…..it shows he was a REPLACEMENT in a replacement unit….(O6E).

    14. Durning is admitted to Army Hospital Plant 4137 ( Detachment of
    Patients ) in Swindon, Wilts.

    15. Durning is sent to the 76th General Hospital on June 22, then on June
    28th sent to the 1st General Hosp. Det. A. APO 115

    16. Sent to 122 General Hospital Sept. 8, 1944 where he is awarded the
    Purple heart…and deservingly so.

    17. On Dec. 12, 1944, he leaves the hospital for the first time since
    June 15th and is sent to the 10th Replacement Depot.

    18. At some point he is assigned to the 159th Reg., which didn’t even go
    overseas until march, 1945 and experience no combat what soever.  On July
    31, 1945 there is a morning report that indicates Durning was sent on
    attachment to the 20th Special Service Company ( this was the unit where
    he assisted in organizing programs for the troops!

    19. He was sent to the 398th Reg. on Sept. 12, 1945 where he once again
    was attached to the 20th Special Services Company.

    20. Durning was hospitalized ( sick) on Nov. 18th, returned Nov. 28th and
    eventually came home aboard the SS Samuel Adams on Jan. 8th, arriving
    Jan. 24th…again, exactly as his discharge indicates.

    The mystery right now is how long he stayed with the Replacement Depot
    and when he was assigned to the 159th….there isn’t a report indicating
    those two dates….anyway, NOT YET…. working on it.

  • Bin There

    Steveland,

    There is an extensive discussion of Mr. Durning’s service over on the Talk page of the Wiki article concerning the man. Your name has come up, and you may be able to shed some light. The last three sections should especially interest you.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Charles_Durning#Durning.27s_Military_Service

    Warm Regards – ad once afain Thanks,
    Bin

  • Bin, you, “oldbobblehead” or anyone else can contact me at steve@web2carz.com

  • I HOPE THIS ALL GETS CLEARED UP SOON. I DON’T KNOW IF IT
    EVER WILL. SAD HIS NAME AND WAR RECORDS WILL ALWAYS HAVE
    DOUBTS. I FEAR WHAT IS TRUE OR NOT IS BURIED WITH HIM.
    REST IN PEACE CHARLEY
    RICHARD ZAVAGLIA

  • Jordan

    I’ll ask my grandpa if he knows him, he was with the 386th.

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