The Marine Who Played Bambi

This week on Warrior Wednesday (The idea shamlessly taken from CDR Phibian) I want to discuss one of the traits of our military that makes us such an awesome and effective fighting force: Diversity. No, not the diversity you may be thinking of. When I talk diversity, it’s of backgrounds, walks of life, ideas, and opinions. This cornucopia of points of view on a myriad of topics provides the United States military with supreme adaptability. One of those warriors is Major Donnie Dunagan, USMC.

Before joining the Marine Corps in1952, Dunagan  was a child actor from San Antonio, Texas. While living in Memphis, Tennessee, he was discovered at winning a talent competition with a tap dance routine that had been forced to learn by his mother. From tap dancing came movie roles with silver screen greats like Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. But his biggest role didn’t come until 1942 when he provided the voice of Bambi in the iconic animated film of the same name. Bambi would be his last film as he left show business soon afterwards. After his parents divorced, Dunagan worked in a myriad of odd jobs around the Los Angeles area until he received a draft notice shortly after turning eighteen. Then Private Dunagan would find a home in the Marines, making it a career that would span a quarter of a century.

Dunagan served three tours in Vietnam, where he was wounded several times. He was promoted quickly, eventually becoming an officer of Marines. He retired in 1977 as a Major in an infantry unit. He holds the distinction of being one of the youngest Drill Instructors in Marine Corps history.

While in the Corps, Dunagan did not speak of his previous experiences as a child actor. He especially did not mention his role as the voice of the beloved Disney deer. He believed that it would make him appear soft and leave him open for ridicule. It was not until a few years ago that he began speaking of his acting career again, after an accidental discovery by his local news station. In an interview about his time in the Corps and  his childhood acting career, Major Dunagan makes an interesting comment that I believe speaks volumes about the character of those men who serve in the combat arms:

“Is there any incongruity in being a tough old Marine and loving Bambi? No, no,” Dunagan said.

“I’m a sensitive man. When I had my first casualties as a lieutenant, I had a hard time controlling my emotions, but I had a strong sergeant with me who kept me from doing something stupid.

“I’ve been around some real tough guys, and I promise you on my honor: The strongest guys I’ve known in life would pick up a wounded baby kitty on the side of the road. Yet you wouldn’t want to go against them in combat. That is not inconsistent. It is part of the same ethos.”

To read the entire interview, follow the link.


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