Arness, James, Cpl

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Last Rank
Last Service Branch
Last Primary MOS
Last MOS Group
Infantry (Enlisted)
Primary Unit
1943-1945, 3rd Infantry Division
Service Years
1943 - 1945


One Overseas Service Bar

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Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by SP 4 Steven Ryan (LoneWolf) to remember Arness, James ("Matt Dillon"), Cpl.

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Contact Info
Home Town
Last Address
Los Angeles, CA

Date of Passing
Jun 03, 2011
Location of Interment
Forest Lawn Cemetery - Glendale, California
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Great Mausoleum Crypt 16174

 Official Badges 

3rd Infantry Division Infantry Shoulder Cord Honorably Discharged WW II

 Unofficial Badges 

 Military Association Memberships
The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor
  1945, The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor [Verified]

 Photo Album   (More...

 Ribbon Bar

Combat Infantryman 1st Award

 Enlisted/Officer Basic Training
  1943, Basic Training (Camp Butner, NC), E
 Unit Assignments/ Advancement Schools
2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry 3rd Infantry Division
  1943-1945, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry
  1943-1945, 3rd Infantry Division
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1941-1945 World War II
  1943-1943 WWII - European Theater of Operations/Naples-Foggia Campaign (1943-44)
  1944-1944 WWII - European Theater of Operations/Anzio Campaign (1944)
 Colleges Attended 
Beloit College
  1946-1950, Beloit College
 Additional Information
Last Known Activity
Military service in World War II

Arness served in the United States Army during World War II with the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, and was severely wounded during Operation Shingle, at Anzio, Italy, leading to a lifelong slight limp.

A rifleman in 2nd Platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry, on January 25, 1944, he received his "baptism of fire" when he was almost killed by enemy 20 mm flak wagon fire during a night patrol behind enemy lines. A few days later, Arness was involved in a sustained firefight with enemy machine gunners occupying a farmhouse. Ultimately, the enemy brought mortar fire down on Arness and his squad, which were lying low in a shallow drainage ditch filled with water. One mortar round hit within a few feet of Arness, killing the infantryman to his left. Heavy artillery then pinned down 2nd Platoon until nightfall. Using darkness to mask their escape the platoon quietly and quickly made their way back to their lines.

Later his squad engaged an enemy machine gun in a farmhouse. Upon entering the house Arness and two other rifleman crept up the steps, and threw grenades into the room with the machine gun. Once the grenades exploded, Arness and the others rushed the room and sprayed the enemy with rifle fire, killing the three-man gun crew.

On the night of February 1, 1944, 2nd Platoon (with Arness) was assigned to reconnoiter a sector between the lines. There was no moon. The platoon spread out to minimize casualties and advanced slowly, under direct orders not to speak or make a sound. Due to his night combat experience and a 'sixth sense' Arness was the point man for his squad. Moving silently as possible, approximately 40 to 50 feet (15 m) ahead of his squad, Arness would later say that it was so dark that he could not see his feet or where he was stepping.

After walking approximately 20 minutes there was no contact and except for the night sounds the air was quiet. Arness moved through a small vineyard. Suddenly he heard voices just 50 feet (15 m) ahead. Seconds later Arness heard a 'guttural scream' and an enemy machine gun fired, hitting Arness in the right leg with a machine gun bullet (or bullets).

Despite the excruciating pain (he later said the bones in his lower right leg 'had been shot all to hell') he was able to leap over a row of vines, and out of the line of fire. Now intense enemy fire was directed at him from both sides. Then an enemy 'potato masher' concussion grenade went off near him, the explosion literally lifting Arness off the ground. Arness hugged the earth as enemy machine gunfire racked around him, just 18-inches above the ground.

After an intense firefight, the enemy was eventually beaten back or eliminated by the rest of 2nd Platoon. While lying in the vineyard Arness felt he was going into shock. In a semi-conscious state he heard voices, realizing it was soldiers from his own platoon checking on the wounded and dead. The point man next to Arness had been killed, as well as several others. Finally a medic found Arness and asked if he had been hit.

Arness responded, 'In the leg' and realized he could not move. The medic said the leg bones had been severely splintered. Treating the wound with sulfa powder, the medic administered a shot of morphine directly into Arness' stomach. The medic then declared the wound  or Zone of Interior wound, (aka Million Dollar Wound), which meant an eventual ticket stateside.

On January 29, 1945, having received numerous surgeries, Arness received an honorable discharge. Still, his wounds would affect him for the rest of his life. In later years Arness has suffered from acute leg pain (which prevented him from mounting a horse) and has undergone a series of operations to remove bullet fragments that had infused into the bone.

After the war James Aurness entered Beloit College where he was initiated into Beta Theta Pi (with his original surname).

According to his 2001 autobiography, James Arness An Autobiography, he landed on Anzio Beachhead on January 21, 1944 while serving as a rifleman with 2nd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division. Due to his height (6' 7"), acting as "a depth finder", he was first ordered off his landing craft to determine the depth of the water (it came up to his waist).
Other Comments:
American leading man famed as the star of one of the longest-running shows in U.S. television history, "Gunsmoke" (1955). Born of Norwegian heritage (the family name, Aurness, had formerly been Aursness) in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Rolf and Ruth Duesler Aurness. His father was a traveling salesman of medical supplies and his mother later became a newspaper columnist. James attended West High School in Minneapolis. Although he appeared in school plays, he had no interest in performing, and dreamed instead of going to sea. After high school, he attended one semester at Beloit College before receiving his draft notice in 1943. He entered the army and trained at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, before shipping out for North Africa. After landing at Casablanca, Arness joined the 3rd Infantry Division in time for the invasion of Anzio. Ten days after the invasion, Arness was severely wounded in the leg and foot by German machine-gun fire. His wounds, which plagued him the rest of his life, resulted in his medical discharge from the army. While recuperating in a Clinton, Iowa hospital, he was visited by his younger brother Peter (later to gain fame as actor Peter Graves), who suggested he take a radio course at the University of Minnesota. James did so, and a teacher recommended him for a job as an announcer at a Minneapolis radio station. Though seemingly headed for success in radio, he followed a boyhood friend's suggestion and went with the friend to Hollywood in hopes of getting work as film extras. He studied at the Bliss-Hayden Theatre School under actor Harry Hayden, and while appearing in a play there was spotted by agent Leon Lance. Lance got the actor a role as Loretta Young's brother in The Farmer's Daughter (1947). The director of that film, H.C. Potter, recommended that he drop the "u" from his last name and soon thereafter the actor was officially known as James Arness. Little work followed this break, and Arness became something of a beach bum, living on the shore at San Onofre and spending his days surfing. He began taking his acting career more seriously when he began to receive fan mail following the release of the Young picture. He appeared in a production of "Candida" at the Pasadena Community Playhouse, and married his leading lady, Virginia Chapman. She pressed him to study acting and to work harder in pursuit of a career, but Arness has been consistent in ascribing his success to luck. He began to get small roles with frequency, often, due to his size, villainous characters. Most notable among these was that of the space alien in The Thing from Another World (1951). While playing a Greek warrior in a play, Arness was spotted by agent Charles K. Feldman, who represented John Wayne. Feldman introduced Arness to Wayne, who put the self-described 6' 6" actor under personal contract. Arness played several roles over the next few years for and with Wayne, whom he considered a mentor. In 1955, Wayne recommended Arness for the lead role of Matt Dillon in the TV series "Gunsmoke" (1955). (Contrary to urban legend, Wayne himself was never offered the role.) Arness at first declined, thinking a TV series could derail his growing film career, but Wayne argued for the show, and Arness accepted. His portrayal of stalwart marshal Dillon became an iconic figure in American television and the series, on the air for twenty seasons, is, as of 2008, the longest-running dramatic series in U.S. television history. Arness became world-famous and years later reprised the character in a series of TV movies. After the surprising cancellation of "Gunsmoke" in 1975, Arness jumped immediately into another successful (though much shorter-lived) Western project, a TV-movie-miniseries-series combination known as "How The West Was Won." A brief modern police drama, "McClain's Law" (1981), followed, and Arness played his mentor John Wayne's role in Red River (1988) (TV), a remake of the Wayne classic. Following the aforementioned "Gunsmoke" TV movies (the last in 1994, when Arness was 71), Arness basically retired. His marriage to Virginia Chapman ended in divorce in 1960. They had three children together, one of whom, Jenny Lee, died a suicide in 1975. Arness subsequently married Janet Surtrees in 1978.
IMDb Mini Biography By: Jim Beaver <>

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