The examples cited involve Garner’s on-screen choices and characters as well as his off-screen battles with studios. But before all that — before a career that spanned from Maverick to The Rockford Files to … well, to Maverick, and plenty of stops in between — Garner was in Korea, quite literally trying to avoid getting his ass shot to pieces.
Then-Pvt. James Bumgarner received his second wound during his time in Korea (multiple obituaries say he was the first Oklahoman drafted during that war) on April 23, 1951, while serving with the 24th Division, according to 30-plus-year-old Associated Press article.
He described the injury to the AP thusly: “As a matter of fact, I got it in the backside. I went into a foxhole headfirst and I was a little late. There’s a lot of room for error with a wound in the rear. It’s a wide target.”
The posterior puncture was the second wound Garner suffered during service; his obituaries list him as earning two Purple Hearts. The medal for the foxhole incident came three decades after the war, with the Army reportedly making the presentation after Garner mentioned never receiving it during a TV interview.
He was, at the time, promoting one of many military-themed projects of his long career — the early-80s comedy “Tank.” A New York Times film reviewer wrote that the movie’s “screenplay wobbles uncertainly between sadistic melodrama and populist farce,” showing that, if nothing else, NYT writers probably got paid by the syllable in the 1980s.
A better-known military role for Garner was alongside Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape.” He also played an aging bomber pilot-turned-preacher-turned-astronaut in 2000’s “Space Cowboys” and played the leader of the 1st Ranger Battalion during World War II — an early big-screen starring role — in 1958’s “Darby’s Rangers.”
His view on real-life military service came through fairly clearly in the AP report: “Do I have fond memories? I guess if you get together with some buddies it’s fond. But it really wasn’t. It was cold and hard. I was one of the lucky ones.”