Monday, September 28, 2015

Hollywood Went to War

Number 23 in our series Hollywood Went to War, is child actor, pilot, & Uncle Fester... Jackie Coogan!

Coogan enlisted in the United States Army in March 1941. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he requested a transfer to United States Army Air Forces as a glider pilot because of his civilian flying experience. After graduating from glider school, he was made a flight officer and he volunteered for hazardous duty with the 1st Air Commando Group. In December 1943, the unit was sent to India. He flew British troops, the Chindits, under General Orde Wingate on March 5, 1944, landing them at night in a small jungle clearing 100 miles behind Japanese lines in the Burma campaign.
Coogan, jobless and moneyless, enlisted into the US Army in the spring of 1941. He married his second wife, Flower Perry, that summer (they would have one kid, writer/producer/3D pioneer John Anthony Coogan).

And when Pearl harbor dragged the US into World War II, Coogan requested transfer to the Army Air Corps and ended up becoming a Flight Officer and glider pilot. For those not familiar with WWII gliders, they were how you inserted soldiers behind enemy lines before the helicopter. Literally nothing more than a fragile, fabric-covered, engineless airframes with seats, they were towed to altitude by a cargo plane, then released and left to glide down to the ground. The pilot had to dead-stick the plane to a landing, typically in a rough field far from a runway. It was a dangerous task even under ideal conditions.

But Flight Officer Jackie Coogan, rather than shirk, volunteered for progressively more daring missions, eventually joining the 1st Air Commando Group. This group, which remains in existence today, was and is one of the primary US military forces for inserting special operations forces deep behind enemy lines.

Coogan saw action in Southeast Asia on March 5th, 1944, when his glider was among those delivering General Orde Wingate's "Chindits" (British special forces, including elements from the 2nd Gurkha Rifles) deep behind Japanese lines.

Landing a heavy glider is hard enough under training conditions. Landing one onto a crude strip hacked from out of virgin jungle, at night, under blackout, hundreds of miles behind enemy lines in a war zone...let's just say that takes a level of daring and skill few possess. He completed his mission. Enough said.

He was also well-loved by the commandos he served with, where the sheer fact that he had been married to Betty Grable - pin up queen of the war - made him a legend.

Flight Officer Coogan, we salute you for your service. R.I.P.

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