I'm a sucker for World War II stories. When Charles Durning died recently, I found out that he was a World War II veteran, which made me like him even more. But he didn't just see action in World War II—he had a Band of Brothers-type experience that took him from D-Day to the Battle of the Bulge. In fact, if you were writing a fiction novel set in World War II and you created a character that experienced what Charles Durning went through, your editor would probably tell you that it seems a little too "fictiony."
Even if you don't know who Charles Durning is, you know who Charles Durning is. He's one of the great all-time "that guy" characters in movies. He played Detective Snyder in The Sting, he played the crooked governor in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, he played the guy who kept hitting on a cross-dressing Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, and he played a memorable cop in Dog Day Afternoon.
He was in the first wave of soldiers landing at Omaha Beach. When the door of the landing craft opened, the guy in front of him went down, and Private Durning jumped over him and sunk to the bottom. As he pulled his gear off under the water, bullets whizzed by him. Here, he tells the story himself in this video clip:
R.I.P. Charles Durning 1923-2012