Walt Disney was an American patriot through and through.
He showed his love of country through wartime propaganda and of course, attractions at his parks. Walt Disney helped to bring Abraham Lincoln to the people 100 years after his death with Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and Hall of Presidents. Just walking through Liberty Square in the Magic Kingdom and the American Adventure in EPCOT, you can feel the patriotism with the man behind the mouse.
But did you know that it was deeper than that?
Walt Disney: The Patriot
Walter Elias Disney was born to a hard working couple who believed firmly in the American dream and that you get out what you put in. Walt really developed his “Keep moving forward” mindset from his father. Walt lived a simple, modest life growing up and felt a true love of country.
Walt’s two oldest brothers had served in the Army, and when the Great War was raging, Walt’s brother Roy joined the navy. Walt felt the call to join himself. There was just one problem. He was only 16.
Joining the Red Cross Ambulance Corps
Not only would his parents not sign off on his enlistment, he wanted to go in with his childhood best friend who was turned away for poor eyesight. Walt had given up on enlistment until that same friend found out about the Red Cross Ambulance Corps that was taking volunteers as young as 17.
He and his best mate planned to run away and join, but his friend’s mother caught wind and phoned Mrs. Disney. The boys’ plan to run off was foiled…for now.
Due to the fact that Walt was born December 1, 1901, making him only 16 during the time of this grand adventure and not the required 17, Walt used his artistic hand to alter his passport application from 1901 to 1900.
FUN FACT: The Disney Archives have acquired the actual passport application that Walt Disney forged in his youth. It is unbelievable by today’s standards that it would pass because the switch is rather noticeable.
The pair was off into the unknown. They were given uniforms and taken to Chicago to learn how to drive and repair vehicles in order to be shipped off to Europe. Two weeks of preparation is all that this Corps gave to send these young men to aid the front lines.
However, the great influenza outbreak took over the Chicago area and Walt became so sick that his unit shipped out without him. Once he was fully recovered and cleared to leave, the war was over.
To Walt’s delight, the unit decided to send 50 troops following the end of the war to help the transition. Walt Disney was number 50.
He shipped out to France and was left with only positive experiences to speak of. While reflecting back to this time, he said it was in those 11 months that he learned self-reliance and how to be a man.
We really see the man that created an animation powerhouse coming to life in his time in France. To make extra money, Walt began creating intricate souvenirs for American soldiers to take home. These were not the cute characters that we associate with Disney today, however.
Soldiers returning home loved to take home a German helmet as a trophy, but Walt Disney created a service to make the helmets more…shall we say, dramatic? He would paint them with intricate camouflage and then distress them so they appeared battle worn, even adding bullet holes.
While there is a myth that Walt Disney was dishonorably discharged from the military, it is simply not true. First of all, you cannot be discharged from the military if you were never, in fact, in the military. He was, however, released from duty from the Red Cross because of a series of events and poor decisions. It became one of his greatest regrets, but given his tender age of 17, it is fair to say that he is forgiven.
The story in his words –
“It was in February…they sent me with a white truck. I was the driver and I had a helper. A white truck loaded with beans and sugar to the devastated area in Soissons. Well, I went out of Paris and it started to snow. I got up part way and I burned out a bearing on the truck, close to a watchman’s shed…So, the orders were never to leave your truck. Sugar and beans were gold. So the helper was supposed to go, and I’d stay with the truck. There was this little watchman’s shed…and I sat with the watchman. I sat two nights and no help came. So, the third day I was so tired, so sleepy, that I left my truck and walked up to this town and ordered a meal. Then I got a bed and I flopped into this French bed. And I slept clear around the clock.
“And then I went back and my truck was gone…I didn’t know what had happened…I got a train into Paris. When I got into Paris, I found out the story. This helper got into Paris and went out that night before he reported to the headquarters…and got drunk and he was drunk for two days. Then he finally reported and he came to find me. I was gone and he picked up the truck. So I was court-martialed. They brought me up before this board, and…the greatest disgrace would be to be kicked out of the Red Cross, you know…
“Then this fellow that I had worked for…came to my defense…He was almost like my attorney He said ‘Look, this boy sat there for two nights.’ He said ‘What happened to the helper?’ He said, ‘Have you court-martialed the helper?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ He was in the brig. So they let me off.”
Walt Disney: Serving His Country for Years to Come
The eleven months spent in France really solidified Walt Disney’s patriotism and his appreciation and respect for the men and women who choose to wear the uniform in the name of freedom. This is apparent when decades later he devoted his whole animation studio to creating recruitment shorts, instructional military videos, and morale boosters for the country (See more about that here).
This Veteran’s Day we salute the man who did everything possible to serve his country during its time of need. The man behind the mouse, Walt Disney.
During the month of November, we at Military Disney Tips are honoring Veterans that helped build Disney. Each week we will feature one or more core members from the Disney Company to honor their service, their work, and their memory.
For all military members across the country, past or present, we salute you and say thanks. Happy Veterans day.
This post is part of the MDT Patriotic Disney Series!
- Honoring Disney Veterans: Roy Disney
- Honoring Disney Veterans: Robert Sherman
- Honoring All Disney Veterans and Those Who Served at Home
- Disney History: Disney and the War Effort
- Sergeant Donald Duck Learn About His WWII Service
- Pluto a World War II Private
Comments, Questions, be sure to leave them in the Comment Section Below!
This MDT Post By: Erin Schreiver
Erin is a MilSpouse who loves going to Walt Disney World with her family, pin trading, and collecting Minnie ears and coffee mugs! Check out her bio.
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