Friday, June 6, 2014

D is for Doohan

Today is June 6th, which makes it the anniversary of "D-Day", the storming of the beaches of Normandy by Allied forces in World War II. There will be a lot of discussion today about the "greatest generation" and some will watch Saving Private Ryan, and many Americans will honor those that day. I thought it would be nice to shine a light not on an American today, but on a Canadian.

In the States, we often fall back on this notion that it was our involvement that won the war, and no matter how true that may be, we mustn't overshadow the contribution of our neighbor to the north. Canadians stormed those beaches, too. I'm going to tell a little bit about one such Canadian. Now, my memory of this is a little fuzzy, as I read it all in his autobiography more than a decade ago. So I hope I don't relate the story wrong.

A young Canadian soldier by the name of James Doohan was there at the beach that day, rushing from the boats and taking cover from fire. Eventually Allied forces took the beach. I don't remember how much of Doohan's story takes place there, or further into the European front. But I do know that shortly after getting there, Doohan was in the midst of battle. He took a bullet to the chest, but just like a scene out of a movie, his life was saved by something in his pocket. It was a cigarette lighter (or cigarette case? I don't remember) that his brother had given him before he left. Stories like that end up in movies because they happen in real life. But as fighting went on, this brave young Canadian was wounded. He was shot in the hand. Bullets riddled his middle finger, shattering the bones inside.

When the fighting had waned, and Doohan had been seen by medics, they told him about his hand. The bones in his finger were such that he was left with a decision. He could opt to have the finger amputated, or keep it knowing it wouldn't heal like it should and he would be unable to bend it properly. Rather than being in a perpetual state of giving a rude gesture, Doohan opted to lose the finger.

And what became of this young nine-fingered man? He went back home, started an acting career and twenty yeras later landed the iconic role of Scotty on Star Trek.

I never knew until I read his book, Beam Me Up, Scotty, that he had served in World War II and had been there on D-Day. I found that fascinating. Usually on the show they kept his right hand out of sight. There are even a couple times when he uses a button on the captain's chair that the producers cut in an insert of a hand double. But there are certain episodes where Doohan's missing finger is visible. Er, invisible. You can see it's not there. The most notable is in "The Trouble With Tribbles".
James Doohan became one of the most beloved characters in what became an enduring franchise. He provided many voices for the animated series, reprised his role in seven feature films and an episode of The Next Generation, and invented the few Klingon phrases spoken in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Doohan died in 2005, but I thought it fitting to honor him today. While many of us are aware of his service to the Enterprise, on this day I remember his service to his country, and to the world.

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