Monday, February 22, 2016

Hollywood Went to War

Forty fourth in our series Hollywood Went to War, is Jack Lemmon's bosom buddy, Tony Curtis, and Lady Gaga's duet partner, Anthony Dominick "Tony" Benedetto. (Bennett)

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Curtis enlisted in the United States Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor and war was declared. Inspired by Cary Grant's role in Destination Tokyo and Tyrone Power's in Crash Dive (1943), he joined the Pacific submarine force. Curtis served aboard a submarine tender, the USS Proteus, until the end of the Second World War. On September 2, 1945, Curtis witnessed the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay from his ship's signal bridge about a mile away




Benedetto was drafted into the United States Army in November 1944, during the final stages of World War II. He did basic training at Fort Dix and Fort Robinson as part of becoming an infantry rifleman. Benedetto ran afoul of a sergeant from the South who disliked the Italian from New York City and heavy doses of KP duty or BAR cleaning resulted. Processed through the huge Le Havre replacement depot, in January 1945, he was assigned as a replacement infantryman to the 255th Infantry Regiment of the 63rd Infantry Division, a unit filling in for the heavy losses suffered in the Battle of the Bulge. He moved across France, and later, into Germany. As March 1945 began, he joined the front line and what he would later describe as a "front-row seat in hell."

As the German Army was pushed back to its homeland, Benedetto and his company saw bitter fighting in cold winter conditions, often hunkering down in foxholes as German 88 mm guns fired on them. At the end of March, they crossed the Rhine and entered Germany, engaging in dangerous house-to-house, town-after-town fighting to clean out German soldiers; during the first week of April, they crossed the Kocher River, and by the end of the month reached the Danube. During his time in combat, Benedetto narrowly escaped death several times. The experience made him a pacifist; he would later write, "Anybody who thinks that war is romantic obviously hasn't gone through one," and later say, "It was a nightmare that's permanent. I just said, 'This is not life. This is not life.'" At the war's conclusion he was involved in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp near Landsberg, where some American prisoners of war from the 63rd Division had also been held.

Benedetto stayed in Germany as part of the occupying force, but was assigned to an informal Special Services band unit that would entertain nearby American forces. His dining with a black friend from high school – at a time when the Army was still racially segregated – led to his being demoted and reassigned to Graves Registration Service duties. Subsequently, he sang with the 314th Army Special Services Band under the stage name Joe Bari (a name he had started using before the war, chosen after the city and province in Italy and as a partial anagram of his family origins in Calabria). He played with many musicians who would have post-war careers.

He was discharged from the Army and returned to the States in 1946.


Gentlemen, we salute you and thank you for your service to our country. Mr. Curtis, rest in peace. Mr. Bennett, say 'hi' to Gaga for us!

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