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According to his TV Guide biography, Durning left home at age 16 and later enlisted in the Army. Durning landed at Normandy on D-Day and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, receiving the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts.

He worked odd jobs that ranged from professional boxing to teaching ballroom dancing to ushering in a burlesque house, where he got his start on stage by once filling in for a comic who failed to show up, the actor often recalled.

I think the first time I saw him was in Queen of the Stardust Ballroom. He was quite a dancer.
 

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Gertie Kindle 'a/k/a Margaret Lake' said:
Durning landed at Normandy on D-Day and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, receiving the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts.
There is more to the story than that. He got off the boat on the beach with two other guys. The other two were shot.

One of his Purple Hearts was for this: He was walking across a field, and a German soldier came rushing toward him with a bayonet. The German looked 14 or 15 years old. "I didn't see a soldier," Durning said. "I saw a child." He couldn't shoot him. The German soldier attacked, and Durning tried to neutralize him. They wrestled; the German soldier stabbed Durning several times before Durning picked up a rock and shattered his skull, without wanting to. When he realized he'd killed him, Durning dropped to the ground and cried and cradled the dead boy in his arms. He spent 10 years after the war recovering from what we now call post traumatic stress. I just read that account this morning. I've admired as an actor him since I saw him in 'Kiss Me Deadly' but now my feeling about him as a person is profound.
 

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Thanks for expanding the story, Steve. I've always enjoyed Durning as an actor. It's nice to know he was a good person as well.
 

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It's surprising that nobody outside his family and friends knew what he'd done in the military. It seems everyone and his uncle are spilling all about their personal lives, especially those in the public eye. He was a modest man about his heroics, unusual in this day and age.

Joyce
 
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