The Truth is Better than Fiction

  • Published
  • By Col. "Tip" Stinnette
  • 39th Air Base Wing commander
Man I thought I had a real good story to share with you about Lee Marvin and Captain Kangaroo. For our younger teammates Lee Marvin was an actor most famous for his tough guy rolls and if you ever want to see a good war movie, checkout Lee Marvin in "The Dirty Dozen."

Captain Kangaroo was the predecessor to Barney the Dinosaur in televised children's entertainment. There is a story going around about these two men that is not true, but what is true is better than fiction.

What is not true:

Some people were a bit offended that the actor, Lee Marvin, was buried in a grave alongside three-and four-star generals at Arlington National Cemetery. His marker gives his name, rank (private first class) and service (U.S. Marine Corps) ... nothing else. Here's a guy who was only a famous movie star and served his time; why the heck does he rate burial with these guys? Lee Marvin was a genuine hero. He earned the Navy Cross at Iwo Jima. There is only one higher award ... the Medal of Honor. Lee Marvin credits his sergeant with an even greater show of bravery. One evening on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson," Johnny Carson was talking to his guest Lee Marvin:

"Lee, I'll bet a lot of people are unaware that you were a Marine in the initial landing at Iwo Jima and that during the course of that action you earned the Navy Cross and were severely wounded."

"Yeah, yeah ... I got shot in the bottom and they gave me the Navy Cross for securing a hot spot about halfway up Suribachi," he said. "Bad thing about getting shot up on a mountain is guys getting shot hauling you down. But, Johnny, at Iwo I served under the bravest man I ever knew. We both got the Navy Cross the same day, but what he did for his cross made mine look cheap in comparison.

"That dumb guy actually stood up on Red Beach and directed his troops to move forward and get the hell off the beach. Bullets flying by, with mortar rounds landing everywhere and he stood there as the main target for gunfire so that he could get his men to safety. He did this on more than one occasion because his men's safety was more important than his own life. That sergeant and I have been lifelong friends. When they brought me off Suribachi we passed the sergeant and he lit a smoke and passed it to me, lying on my belly on the litter, and said 'where'd they get you Lee?' 'Well Bob ... if you make it home before me, tell Mom to sell the outhouse!' Johnny, I'm not lying, Sergeant Bob Keeshan was the bravest man I ever knew. You and the world know him as Captain Kangaroo."

What is true:

Both Lee Marvin and Captain Kangaroo are heroes. Lee Marvin was indeed a guest on the "Tonight Show" and saw action as a private first class in the Pacific during World War II. He was wounded (in the buttocks) by fire which severed his sciatic nerve. However, his injury occurred during the battle for Saipan in June 1944. Mr. Marvin received a Purple Heart and was interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Bob Keeshan, a.k.a. "Captain Kangaroo," also enlisted in the U.S. Marines two weeks before his 18th birthday, several months after the fighting at Iwo Jima and never saw combat.

What strikes me most is, they both served their country and the fictional account of their service above misses the real point ... they served and that is what makes them heroes. America's real heroes don't flaunt it; they quietly go about their day-to-day lives, doing their best. Look around and see if you can find one of those heroes in your midst; they're probably standing right next to you. They are the ones you'd most like to have on your side if anything ever happened. I know that I'd want everyone of you, heroes all, on my side ensuring freedom's future!