Charles Durning died this week, and a quick biography doesn’t quite cut it for the character actor from Tootsie, especially when there is this:
He was among the first wave of U.S. soldiers to land at Normandy during the D-Day invasion and the only member of his Army unit to survive. He killed several Germans and was wounded in the leg. Later he was bayoneted by a young German soldier whom he killed with a rock. He was captured in the Battle of the Bulge and survived a massacre of prisoners.
In later years, he refused to discuss the military service for which he was awarded the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts.
“Too many bad memories,” he told an interviewer in 1997. “I don’t want you to see me crying.”
Tragedy also stalked other members of his family. Durning was 12 when his father died, and five of his sisters lost their lives to smallpox and scarlet fever.
“Not only was Charlie a World War II hero but he was also a hero to his family. Charlie loved Christmas and if he could have chosen a time to pass, he would have chosen this day,” said a statement from his stepdaughter, Anita Gregory, released Tuesday by Ana Martinez, spokeswoman for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
“He loved that holiday and played Santa Claus many times in films and TV shows,” Gregory said. “Charlie lived the spirit of Christmas each and every day of his life. He taught me to believe that nothing was impossible. He brought joy and a smile to everyone’s life.”