Actor Ernest Borgnine is known for his role at the titular character in “McHale’s Navy’ and as Sgt Fatso Judson in “From Here to Eternity,” among many others.
These roles were perhaps a little more reflective of his real life than many realize because, from 1935-1945, Borgnine was a member of the United States Navy.
Borgnine joined the Navy after graduating from high school in 1935. Although he was discharged in 1941, he re-enlisted after the attack on Pearl Harbor and served until 1945.
“I was what they call a Depression sailor. I went in when there was a depression, just to get away, instead of hanging around the streets … I got in the Navy, and I served for six years, and after that the thing was over and I said, “Well, I’ll go back home,” the actor once said. “This was ’41. I was home for three months and ‘pow!’ the war started and I was right back in again.”
From 1942-1945, he served on the USS Sylph, which had originally been built as a yacht. In the early years, she patrolled off of America’s east coast conducting antisubmarine-warfare activities. Later in the war, she was used in the Atlantic Fleet’s Antisubmarine Development Detachment in training sonar men and testing and researching equipment.
By the time he left the Navy, Borgnine had achieved the rank of Gunner’s Mate and earned the Navy Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Service Medal with Fleet Clasp, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal. He took advantage of the GI Bill to study for six months at the Randall School of Dramatic Art, and his life as an actor was born.
However, Borgnine never forgot the US Navy. Once he left the Navy, he continued to support its efforts and Naval families around the world. Because of this continued work, he was given the honorary rank of Chief Petty Officer.
Yesterday, when Borgnine passed away at the age of 95, we lost not only a great actor but a great American patriot. He will be remembered as a man who served his country with pride.