A York (Pa.) Daily Record photographer captured the late actor Eddie Albert – Oliver Wendell Douglas in the 1960s sitcom ‘Green Acres’ – in East Berlin, Pa., in 1997. Albert received a Bronze Star in that eastern Adams County town for his heroics in the Pacific Theater in World War II. Also of interest: Nazis murdered downed WWII airman from York and York County sacrificed on homefront and war front to aid Allies in World War II and War memorials stand proudly in towns throughout York County.
York Daily Record/Sunday News writer Jeff Frantz has told a touching story about York’s Robert Kressler, who was killed in France in combat in World War II.
For years, his sister, Jeanne Stefanowicz, 82, of York, did not know how he was killed.
He wrote how the Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New York answered that question. (Please read this excellent story The death of Pfc. Kressler: A call, and an answer to find out the details.)
This post, looking ahead to Veterans Day, is about another hero – a high-profile hero – who fought in the Pacific Theater. He held a local link in East Berlin.
That hero was the late Eddie Albert, aka Oliver Wendell Douglas, TV husband of Eva Gabor and foil of Arnold the Pig… .
Yes, of “Green Acres” fame.
The short story is that he came to East Berlin twice in 1997 to be feted for saving 79 fighting men in the Battle of Tarawa.
Yes, the gentleman farmer of TV fame was one tough fighting man.
Excerpts from the York Daily Record (11/11/1997) story on Albert’s link to East Berlin follow:
“Battle of Tarawa,” starring Eddie Albert: In this thrilling action-adventure, legendary actor Eddie Albert plays a recently enlisted Navy sailor sent to defend his country during World War II. He is a lieutenant junior grade, a reserve sailor fresh out of boot camp.
As the action unfolds, Albert’s ship, the U.S.S. Sheridan, circles a coral atoll in the South Pacific. It is a November day in 1943. It is Albert’s first invasion. Marines swarm the waters off the coast of the Gilbert Islands, wading toward the beaches under heavy Japanese fire. Hundreds are dead and wounded.
At first, Albert watches in horror. Then, in a daring move, he commandeers a small boat and sets out to rescue the wounded. He throws one leg and his torso over the side of the boat and plucks soldiers from the water. When he has rescued six or seven, and his boat is full, he returns to the U.S.S. Sheridan to drop them off. Then he goes out and collects more of the wounded, dodging bullets all the while. That day, 1,056 American men are killed. Albert rescues 79.
Eddie Albert may star in this story of heroism, but this is no Hollywood production. The 89-year-old actor, best known for his role in the television series “Green Acres,” will receive a combat award today, 53 years after his heroics at the Battle of Tarawa. He didn’t ask for the honor. The request came from a Thomasville resident who witnessed the rescues from his perch on a Navy destroyer.
George F. Thomas, commander of the East Berlin Veterans of Foreign Wars post, spent three years persuading the Navy to review Albert’s actions. U.S. Rep. Bill Goodling, R-York County, lent his weight to the effort, and last month, the Navy awarded Albert the Bronze Star, marked “V” for valor in combat.
“We thought he was crazy,” Thomas, 76, said of Albert. “We just saw this guy and couldn’t believe how he was getting away with it and not being killed.” Thomas watched in amazement that November day, peering through binoculars at the daredevil rescuer.
He didn’t know who the hero was. A few years ago, Thomas met a veteran who had a photograph of himself and Albert taken at a Marine Corps reunion. “What are you doing with Eddie Albert?” Thomas asked. The man answered: “He’s the one who got us out of the water.”
Thomas took it from there. He dug up a list of the soldiers stationed on his ship and the wounded men who had been treated there. He searched through records at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., to track the men down. He called Albert at his home in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and the two became friends.
Earlier this year, Albert visited York County for the 50th anniversary of the East Berlin VFW. For Albert’s second visit, Tarawa veterans have come from as far away as Illinois and Oklahoma. Retired Marine Dean Snyder drove from Streator, Ill., to honor the man who saved him from drowning. Albert explains his actions with dollops of understatement and humor.
“Well, I thought, “Somebody ought to help them out. They’re going to drown in this water.’ I was highly indignant,” Albert said. Snyder, who was shot in the belly, remembers how Albert strolled through the hospital ship, singing and playing guitar for the wounded men.
Albert has a modest explanation for that, too. “I did that so I wouldn’t have to work.”
When Albert died in 2005, local folks remembered his 1997 visits.
VFW member Paul Kopp recalled members of the American Legion surprising Albert by singing the “Green Acres” theme.
“He got up and he was a-wavin’ and a-singin’,” Kopp said.