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A Simple Twist of Fate Saved Paul Newman’s Life During his WWII Service

Ian Harvey

Paul Newman was born in 1925 in Cleveland, Ohio, the second son of Arthur and Theresa Newman, according to IMDb. His father, who was of Jewish descent, ran a sporting goods store.

His mother was a Christian Scientist from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and she had a love of the creative arts which she passed down to young Paul. He began acting in plays in elementary school and never really stopped.

Newman in his first film, The Silver Chalice (1954)

Newman in his first film, The Silver Chalice (1954)

He’s best known for his acting career, and he played in about 60 films in the course of his 50 years in the business.

Despite his incredible body of work, Newman remained very humble about his accomplishments and always believed himself to be lucky to get to do what he did.

Those beliefs had their genesis in a time before he became a big Hollywood actor. They had their roots in the period when he served his country during World War II.

U.S. Navy portrait of Paul Newman

U.S. Navy portrait of Paul Newman

Newman enlisted in the Navy right after he completed high school, joining the V-12 program at Yale, with hopes of becoming a pilot. Unfortunately Newman was found to be color-blind, which made him ineligible to fly.

Instead, he was shipped off to basic training and ended up becoming a gunner and rear-seat radioman for torpedo bombers.

He was sent to Barber’s Point in 1944 where he was part of the operation of torpedo bomber squadrons meant to train replacement pilots for the war effort. After that, he was sent to an aircraft carrier, where he was a turret gunner for an Avenger torpedo bomber.

Gate at Naval Air Station Barber’s Point as it appeared in December 1958

Gate at Naval Air Station Barber’s Point as it appeared in December 1958

According to Newman’s Own Foundation, one event occurred during his time in the navy that deeply affected his beliefs about humility and luck.

When his squadron was in Saipan, attached to USS Bunker Hill, the pilot of the plane Newman was assigned to picked up an ear infection. As a result, the plane was grounded and didn’t go when the rest of the squadron was deployed with the Bunker Hill.

USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) at sea in 1945

USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) at sea in 1945

Several days after the deployment, the ship was hit by kamikazes and crippled. Around 400 of the crew died, the few survivors managed to keep the ship afloat and the badly damaged Bunker Hill was decommissioned in 1947. That one simple twist of fate – the pilot’s ear infection – meant the difference between his life and death. It was a fact he remained aware of his whole life. Newman certainly did see some combat during his time in the Pacific, though, and was decorated for it.

During his Navy years, he was awarded a Combat Action Ribbon and also Combat Aircrew Wings for his work as a gunner and radioman. His other honors included the American Area Campaign Medal, a Good Conduct Medal, and a World War II Victory Medal.

Take a closer look with this video:

https://youtu.be/ejGEhVjUGW0

After the Japanese surrender, he spent the last few months of his active duty service in Seattle, as part of a land-based support unit, and was discharged from the Navy in 1946.

Paul Newman on a water taxi in Venice in 1963 Photo by Lmattozz -CC BY-SA 4.0

Paul Newman on a water taxi in Venice in 1963 Photo by Lmattozz -CC BY-SA 4.0

He used the GI Bill to enroll in Kenyon College in Ohio and received BAs in both Drama and Economics. Later, he spent a year at the Yale School of Drama before heading to New York and studying at the Actor’s Studio.

The rest of his life is much better known – his prolific acting career, his love of, and involvement with, auto racing, his family life, and his “Newman’s Own” line of salad dressings and pasta sauce.

Newman And WoodwardAmerican actor Paul Newman (1925 – 2008) with his wife, actress Joanne Woodward, circa 1963. (Photo by Fotos International/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Newman And Woodward
American actor Paul Newman (1925 – 2008) with his wife, actress Joanne Woodward, circa 1963. (Photo by Fotos International/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Of the latter, Newman’s Own has earned well over $100 million – more than he earned in his acting career – and he donated all of it to various charities.

In 2005, he also created the Newman’s Own Foundation, with the purpose of supporting military personnel, veterans, and their families.

Since 2010, the foundation and Newman’s Own, Inc. have donated over $18.6 million to help the men and women who serve.

The foundation has given grants to a wide range of nonprofits who offer services to Veterans and military personnel including education services, entrepreneurship, and other services as well.

Read another story from us: The “Bad” from Good, Bad and the Ugly was a WW2 Hero

It’s all part and parcel of Newman’s unfailing awareness both of his own blessings in life and the power of a little bit of luck in transforming lives.