Monday, May 30, 2016

Eddie Albert: War Hero

Many actors over the years have played war heroes on the big screen; however, there are only a few who actually were the real thing. Among them is Eddie Albert. Best known today as a comic actor, particularly as the lead in the classic sitcom Green Acres, he served in the United States Navy during World War II and performed a remarkable feat of heroism.

Indeed, Eddie Albert performed services for his country even before the war began, even before he was enlisted in the military. In the Thirties Eddie Albert already had an established career in entertainment. He appeared on Broadway in Brother Rat, Room Service, and The Boys in Syracuse. In 1938 he made his film debut in the adaptation of Brother Rat. It was in 1939 while he was sailing off the coast of Baja California that he heard rumours of the Japanese making hydrographic surveys of the region while posing as fishermen. He reported this to United States Army intelligence. In 1939 Eddie Albert toured with the Escalante Brothers Circus in Mexico. While he was performing with the Escalante Brothers Circus Mr. Albert photographed German U-boat activity off the coast of Mexico.

It was in September 1942 that Eddie Albert enlisted in the United States Coast Guard. In 1943 he was discharged from the Coast Guard so that he could become a lieutenant junior grade in the United States Navy. It was in November 1943, during the Battle of Tarawa, that Eddie Albert performed an incredible act of bravery. Coral reefs around the Tarawa Atoll made it impossible for the Marines to land directly on the beach. As a result the Marines had to disembark from the landing craft about 500 yards from the shore. Unfortunately they were welcomed by intense gunfire from the Japanese. In a matter of minutes many Marines were wounded or dead. Eddie Albert had been sent to the area to retrieve equipment, but when he saw the Marines being slaughtered he commandeered a boat and saved 47 Marines at incredible risk to his own life. He supervised the rescue of 30 more Marines.

For his bravery during the Battle of Tarawa Eddie Albert was awarded the Bronze Star with Combat "V". In later years Eddie Albert would be asked about his courageous action during World War II. Rather than talk about himself, Mr. Albert preferred to discuss the courage of the Marines at the Battle of Tarawa and others with whom he served. Today Eddie Albert might be best remembered as Oliver Wendell Douglas on Green Acres, but during World War II he served his country with honour and performed an act of bravery of which many would not have been capable.

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