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Commentary
Commentary
Commentary

Published on: 05/24/2024

Description

Charles Durning. Images: Voice of America.

There are many secrets in us, in the depths of our souls, that we don’t want anyone to know about…There’s terror and repulsion in us, the terrible spot that we don’t talk about. That place that no one knows about — horrifying things we keep secret. A lot of that is released through acting. — Charles Durning, Parade Magazine, 1993

By Linda Stamato

As Memorial Day approaches, we summon up memories about who died, who lived, and who returned with memories to haunt their lives.

With parades and ceremonies and visits to graves and monuments, we celebrate those who were on the front lines for the nation. I think a lot, now, about one particular soldier, Charles Durning.

He was an actor in service to his nation.

Durning enlisted in the Army during World War II. In Robert Berkvist’s moving obituary for the New York Times, he recalls Durning’s harrowing combat experiences:

He was in the first wave of troops to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day and his unit’s lone survivor of a machine-gun ambush. In Belgium he was stabbed in hand-to-hand combat with a German soldier, whom he bludgeoned to death with a rock. Fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, he and the rest of his company were captured and forced to march through a pine forest at Malmedy, the scene of an infamous massacre in which the Germans opened fire on almost 90 prisoners. Mr. Durning was among the few to escape.

By the war’s end he had been awarded a Silver Star for valor and three Purple Hearts, having suffered gunshot and shrapnel wounds as well. He spent months in hospitals and was treated for psychological trauma.

It took more than a decade following his military service for him to find his footing in the theater, and in movies. He is credited with 200 roles and he continued to act almost until his death on Christmas Eve 2012.

In this video clip, introduced by Tom Hanks at a Memorial Day ceremony in Washington in 2008, Durning remembers being a 21-year-old infantryman on Omaha Beach:

Durning described hand-to-hand combat in his 1993 Parade interview.

“I was crossing a field somewhere in Belgium. A German soldier ran toward me carrying a bayonet. He couldn’t have been more than 14 or 15. I didn’t see a soldier. I saw a boy. Even though he was coming at me, I couldn’t shoot.”

Durning was stabbed seven or eight times, according to the Times obituary, “until finally he grasped a rock and made it a weapon. After killing the youth, he said, he held him in his arms and wept.”

As emotionally shattered as Durning’s life was, he drew from it to render performances of uncommon depth and quality. He made nobility of the ordinary.

As the crooked cop, small town mayor, slippery governor, Nazi colonel, priest, firefighter, hostage negotiator, good neighbor, mailman, prosecutor, suicidal industrialist, nursing home resident, police chief, kindly father, and former president of the United States, Durning received widespread acclaim and garnered many awards.

We now know what it took to do all that, even though we can barely imagine it.

What a privilege to be Durning’s witness, and to acknowledge, with profound gratitude, his service, the service of all who never came home…and the service of those whose lives have been haunted by horrifying things they have kept secret.

MORE COLUMNS BY LINDA STAMATO

Linda Stamato is treasurer of the nonprofit Corporation for New Jersey Local Media. She also serves as a commissioner on the Morristown Parking Authority, and a trustee of the Morristown and Morris Township Library Foundation. And she is Co-Director of the Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, where she is a Faculty Fellow.

Opinions expressed in commentaries are the authors’, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.

News Source : https://morristowngreen.com/2024/05/24/commentary-remembering-one-who-served-actor-charles-durning/

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