Mickey Rooney. The Patriot. The name is synonomous with Hollywood, USA. Once the reigning "King of the Box Office," the Mick, as he is affectionately called by those who know, and knew, him best, was--and is--a powerhouse of energy, wit, wisdom, and loyalty--loyalty, of course, to the country of his birth. The land of his opportunity, for a time paved with streets of gold, became a labor of love for over nine decades and two centuries. So what was "the Mick," "the Mickster," doing in between filming, and sometimes that included work on two and/or three different films at one time. Mickey, was becoming the dedicated American and patriot that he still is today. Only, today, Americans celebrate not Mickey Rooney the actor, but Mickey Rooney--the patriot. And Mickey is honored that Americans and veterans alike remember his service and all that he, himself, had done for America's veterans and the war effort for over sixty years.

If you ask Mickey about his service and his contributions to those serving, he will tell you that his was just a small contribution among so many greater contributions. Well, Mickey, a soldier is a soldier. A veteran is a veteran. You served your country honorably and without attention to self but to those you served alongside and in support of. Mickey, we remember what you did and Americans are grateful to you for both your service and your support of service. Today's generations of soldiers may not know who Mickey Rooney is, but it is important that you should know and remember that the greatest generation which gave us many heroes who have since gone "home," leaves us a few worthy of remembrance to come. Support for the American soldier serving during Vietnam and since Vietnam, and for those serving now in the War on Terror, had been, and has been, minimal for greater deference has been put on liberalism and equality rather than old-fashioned standards and morale. The veterans from Vietnam and all conflicts since have not been welcomed home as they should have been. They have been largely forgotten when all is said and done. However, some do not forget nor will ever forget what our nation's veterans risked and sacrificed for American freedom.

Mickey, we are about to tell your story. The story of Mickey Rooney, Patriotic American. The man of many characters who played one role for a career lifetime, a role for which he deserves an award for outstanding service. Thankfully, Mickey has been receiving his share of recognition from veterans all across the nation. Rightfully so. We would like to share Mickey's story with you here:

With a strong sense of patriotism since before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Mickey was never away from the cause. When Mickey was originally called up for service, he was turned down, classified 4-f due to high blood pressure. Extremely upset by this disappointment for one so anxious to join in on the war effort, Mickey would not give up and he took measures to insure that he would be accepted on another try. In the interim, the Mick spent the next two years entertaining the troops at the USO, going all out on bond drives, including with friends Judy Garland and Jimmy Cagney, and doing shows for Armed Forces Radio. When next Mickey tried again to re-enlist, he was accepted. He was twenty-four years old, already married and was newly divorced. Louis B. Mayer, Mickey's boss at MGM, did not concern himself in the loss of a major box-office attraction and instead had the studio adapt with Mickey who was in the midst of filming "National Velvet" with 12-year old Elizabeth Taylor. Mickey was told by representatives of Uncle Sam that he would be free for one month more only, so with that news Mayer decided that all of Mickey's scenes would be shot first. By the time the picture had finished filming, Mickey was already on his way overseas.

Pfc Mickey Rooney with the Infantrymen of the 44th Division,
Kist Germany, 13 April 1945

(Private Rooney shares some of his Hollywood impersonations with the men of the 44th. One of three entertainers who traveled alone by jeep to various portions of the front lines, Mickey had nothing but compassion for these men.)

Mickey Rooney's Service Record.
In June of 1944, Mickey was inducted into the United States Army at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, Calif. Three days later he boarded a troop train headed for Fort Riley, Kansas where the Mick was instructed in cavalry tactics. A trooper for sure, Mickey particularly enjoyed basic training: the forced marches with heavy packs, the obstacle courses, and especially time spent on the rifle range where he qualified as sharpshooter with the automatic rifle. He was quite clearly leadership material and within two weeks time was promoted to squad leader. Despite that the Mick excelled in tactics and training, a whiner in the group incited trouble by stating that the only reason Rooney received promotion to squad leader was because of his Hollywood celebrity status. Entirely untrue, Mickey would not have anyone, not even a veteran, denegrate his love of country and honorable service. He called the soldier out. The two came to fistacuffs--bare knuckle--with the entire squad looking on. Rooney, famous for his short stature, got the best of his opponent before the fight was broken up. Afterward, the two made amends over a couple of brews. There were no other questions raised as to Mickey's patriotism, nor did anyone wish to test the "punch" of the "little giant."

In September, 1944, Mickey was sent to Fort Sibert, in Alabama, for training in chemical warfare. While in Alabama, he met and soonafter married his second wife, Alabama beauty queen, Mary Jane Rase, who became the mother of Mickey's two oldest boys, Mickey Rooney, Jr. and Timothy. While Mickey was about to start training, a new development forced his reassignment to the 6817th Special Services Battalion. It seemed that USO performers refused to bring their entertainment to the front lines, and so the Army devised special units for front line entertainment from among musicians, entertainers, comedians, and actors within their own military ranks. Mickey headed out for an Army base in New York and from there would head overseas on board the luxurious, Queen Mary, ocean liner bound for England. The ship lawfully held up to 1,000 passengers, however, the United States Army crammed no less than 7,000 soldiers onto the liner which brought the Americans to Tenth Replacement Center in Litchfield, near Birmingham. The entertainers in the group, when they were not entertaining the other troops, were assigned to KP duty to ward off any suggestion that they were being given special treatment. En route to France, it was carefully regarded that a total of 153 entertainers could not be easily transported at the hurried pace traveled at that time by the infantry who was moving about steadily. The authorities decided that they would assign three entertainers each: one musician, one singer, and one MC to do the joking, to do what became known as "jeep shows" known as "OK-USA" strictly entertainment for the men on the front lines. In his troop of three, Mickey was the MC. His first show was given three miles from the front lines and in-between two Sherman tanks in a Belgium snowstorm.

The objective of the troops entertaining in the "jeep shows" was to entertain the men on the front lines meanwhile also remaining soldiers and prone as well to combat situations. The members of the jeep shows ate c-rations and as did the infantry, could go for weeks without showers or shaving, and were required to carry a gun in case they needed to use it. Mickey has his share of combat stories, evolving from situations where sometimes he was also required to pick up the rifle.

The story of Mickey Rooney does not start at 18 months old on the Vaudeville stage. It starts within the heart and soul of a young boy who understood what it meant to "support the troops." A young boy whose only mission in life was to make people happy; all people--including our nation's veterans. Mickey felt, and continues to feel, a bond with his fellow servicemen. Today, Mickey and his family attend many veteran-related ceremonies. In 2008, Mickey was Grand Marshall for the World War II veterans leading off the Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C. This year, in November of 2009, Mickey is the invited honored guest to speak at Tom Hank's National World War II Musuem in New Orleans, Louisiana, after which ceremony Mickey will be flying out to Crystal City, Virginia, to join our National Vietnam & Gulf War Coalition for a ceremony honoring the man who knew what it meant to be a patriot before the world knew about Pearl Harbor.

From military service in WWII and entertaining the troops in combat zones, to entertaining with the USO in Korea, Mickey continues to support veterans and patriotic causes still today. During the Vietnam years Mickey supported the troops and also appeared in war-themed movies watched by many of the soldiers overseas. The song, "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," performed by The Hollies in 1969 was written by Bobby Scott and Bobby Russell to depict a soldier carrying his wounded and/or dying buddy. The inspiration for the title of the song came from Mickey Rooney's performance in the 1939 film, "Boys Town." In 1991 Mickey participated in the Hollywood Welcome Home Desert Storm Parade and is an active supporter of carrying on the tradition of the Hollywood Christmas Parade which has come under scrutiny over the last couple of years. Mickey continues to pray for our soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and along with his wife, Jan, has offered their prayers and hopes to the soldiers on a DVD project for them located at: http://www.operationdvd.net/cprayers.php

Mickey as Grand Marshall of the 2008 Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C.
God Bless you, Mickey! Thank you for all your years of devoted service to our nation and it's veterans.

When Being Honored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Mickey had this to say:

“Celebrity! Forget that. I am a soldier who loves his country,” he said. In referring to the presidential election, Rooney concluded: “Vote for the best interests of our country.”

This jeep above was used by
Mickey Rooney during his jeep shows on the front lines, WWII. (photo in military archives)

Mickey in his jeep during one of those fierce Belgium snowstorms, and during what was perhaps one of his greatest escapes of the war. It seems a headquarters building where they were preparing to entertain was slated for explosion and within 8 minutes time, the officers and men, and Mickey and his companions had to flee for their lives. In driving the jeep as quickly as able through the dense snows, the trio ended up lost . Approx. five hundred yards ahead of them Mickey spotted a tank moving ahead toward them through the brush. Just as quickly, Mickey noticed the swastika on the tank and once again the jeep sped off and safely out of line of fire.
(photo ctsy. of Mickey Rooney website)

Above, Mickey with some of the soldiers he befriended during one of his shows.

Another situation involved Mickey on a solitary jaunt to entertain and as he arrived at a designated location he sat alone in his jeep, strumming on a guitar. He had planned to start singing a tune when it became clear to him that no one was present. Within a few seconds a soldier came running out, motioning for Mickey to move on. As he ran up closer to the jeep he warned Mickey that an ambush was about to take place.
Mickey pulled away in the nick of time. It was becomming more apparent in a brief amount of time that with these jeep excursions came a greater amount of risk along with the entertainment. Mickey did not mind. To the contrary, he was a soldier first.

Mickey playing the drums, a lifelong passion of his, at one of the USO shows.
(photo ctsy. of Chris Aber Rooney)

During World War II, Hollywood played an important role in supporting the troops as well as the war effort back home. Many celebrities lent a hand to performing in the USO, Hollywood Canteen, and other venues. Mickey, and fellow performers including dear friend, Judy Garland, involved themselves in these shows. Mickey, today, is one of the last surviving members of an era in Hollywood when celebrities understood what it meant to be patriotic and knew how to support the troops who stood in harm's way. Times have changed since the greatest generation. We should never forget the men and women who have risked their lives to preserve our rights as a free nation. God Bless America!

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©2009 National Vietnam & Gulf War Veterans Coalition. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.