Drafted at 21, Durning served with the 398th Infantry Regiment, and supported 3rd Army operations.
He stepped on a German S mine and received wounds in both legs and in his forehead, but was back in uniform in time to take part in the Ardennes Offensive.
He was one of the first infantrymen quite literally to storm the beaches of Normandy. He was on Omaha Beach, the second beach in between Utah Beach and Gold beach with the US 1st Division, the Big Red One. There he was the only survivor of his company. He was wounded in the leg there.
In Belgium, he was engaged in close quarters combat with a Wehrmacht soldier whom he bludgeoned with a stone. He received a bayonet wound.
He was made a POW in the Ardennes Offensive and marched in a pine forest near Malmedy, the site of a massacre of 90 unarmed US POWs. He escaped.
He won a Silver Star for valor and three purple hearts. He also received the National Order of the Legion of Honor from the French government.
He died yesterday after a successful career as a character actor. What makes his life so amazing to me is not just his success in the larger American culture. Charles Durning took part in some of the fiercest combat US forces ever saw in World War II. D-Day, Malmedy, The Battle of the Bulge. These alone will be at the forefront of American History for centuries. And he was hit with a Bouncing Betty Mine and survived. And he was a POW. Durning’s life was incredible and one has to wonder why a man who is thrust into this sort of historic violence exited the Army as a Private.