Monday, November 23, 2015

Hollywood Went to War

Thirty first in our series Hollywood Went to War, is a man who proves they also serve who only stand and wait...Glenn Ford.

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After playing a young pilot in his 11th Columbia film, Flight Lieutenant (1942), Ford went on a cross-country 12-city tour to sell War Bonds for Army and Navy Relief. In the midst of the many stars also donating their time - from Bob Hope to Cary Grant to Claudette Colbert - he met the popular dancing star, Eleanor Powell. The two soon fell in love; they attended the official opening of the Hollywood USO together in October. Then, in the midst of making another war drama - Destroyer - with Edward G. Robinson, an ardent anti-Fascist, Glenn impulsively volunteered for the United States Marine Corps Reserve on December 13, 1942. The startled studio had to beg the Marines to give their second male lead four more weeks in order to complete shooting. In the meantime, Ford proposed to Eleanor Powell, who subsequently announced her retirement from the screen to be near her fiance as he started boot camp.

Ford recalled to his son that he and Bill Holden, who had joined the Army Air Corps, "talked about it and we were both convinced that our careers, which were just getting established, would likely be forgotten by the time we got back... if we got back." He was assigned in March 1943 to active duty at the Marine Corps Base in San Diego. With his Coast Guard service, he was offered a position as an officer, but Ford declined, feeling it would be interpreted as preferential treatment for a movie star and instead entered the Marines as a private. He trained at the Marine base in San Diego, where Tyrone Power, the number-one male movie star at the time, was also based. It was Power who suggested Ford join him in the Marine's weekly radio show, "Halls of Montezuma" broadcast Sunday evenings from San Diego. Ford excelled in his training, winning Rifle Marksman Badge and named "Honor Man" of the platoon and promoted to sergeant by the time he finished..

Awaiting assignment at Fort Pendleton, Ford volunteered to play a Marine raider - uncredited - in the film Guadalcanal Diary, made by Fox with Ford and others charging up the beaches of Southern California. He would later show this to his little boy, Peter, along with his many other black-and-white battle scenes in other films. Frustratingly for Ford, filming battle scenes was the closest he would ever get to any action. After being sent to Marine Corps Schools Detachment (Photographic Section) in Quantico, Virginia, three months later, Ford returned to the San Diego base in February 1944 and was assigned to the radio section of the Public Relations Office, Headquarters Company, Base Headquarters Battalion, where he resumed work on "Halls of Montezuma."

Unfortunately - just as Eleanor, now his wife, was expecting the birth of their child, and Ford himself was looking forward to Officers Training School - he was felled by inexplicable abdominal pain and hospitalized at the U.S. Naval Hospital in San Diego with what turned out to be duodenal ulcers, an affliction for the remainder of his life. He was in and out of the hospital for the next five months, and finally received a medical discharge on the third anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1944. Though his time in the Marines was without the combat duty he had been hoping for, Ford had been serving his country for longer than it had technically been at war and won several commemorative medals for his three years in the Marines Reserve Corps: American Campaign Medal and Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal, created in 1945 for anyone who had been on active duty since December 1941.

Mr. Ford, we thank you for your devotion to and service to our country. R.I.P.

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