I blew a chance to meet James Doohan. It was the mid-90s, and I was at a comic book convention — in Boston, perhaps, but I can’t swear to that. This was during my venture into self-publishing my own comics, and I was on my way to a panel discussion I had thought would help me in my fledgling career. I strode down a carpeted hall. To my left were tables with artists and celebrity guests from TV and film. If you’ve ever been to a con, you know they’re a regular sight, even if they have no direct connection to comics or even sci-fi/fantasy.
I looked and there he was: Scotty from Star Trek.
In later years, I’d meet other fans, like Bibi, and would go to more cons. When Doohan died in 2005, I was a bigger Trekkie with a deeper appreciation of TOS and its cast. I thought of that moment in Boston and regretted not stopping for Doohan. Still do. I hope this post will be my way of making up for it, however inadequately.
World War 2 remains an evergreen inspiration for world cinema. Hollywood has a very good track record for films about the Allied invasion at Normandy, France. Here’s a list of some of the best ones, and here’s an overview of D-Day itself.
Doohan was part of the Royal Canadian Artillery. He made lieutenant while part of the 14th Field Artillery Regiment, Third Canadian Infantry Division. The artillery unit of an armed forces is responsible for large-caliber land weapons, like howitzers or mortars.
was well documented by the Canadian forces. A 2010 TV movie called Storming Juno focused on the Canadian involvement in D-Day.
There were anti-tank mines, but Doohan and his men weren’t heavy enough to activate them. Doohan took out two snipers and led his unit as far as Courseulles in the peninsula. You can read more about the Juno Beach operation in general here.
That night, Doohan smoked a cigarette from the case his brother gave him for luck. Doohan kept it in his breast pocket. Ten minutes later, while walking back to his command post, he was shot six times by a nervous Canadian sniper, four in his left knee, one in his right middle finger, and once in his chest, a shot that might have been fatal were it not for that cigarette case.
Later, after his recovery, Doohan learned to fly a Taylorcraft Auster Mark IV plane, a liaison aircraft made by the British. In 1945, he reportedly once flew between two telephone poles on Salisbury Plain just to see if he could.
|with Patrick Stewart, in a guest appearance on TNG|
Throughout his acting career, Doohan did his best to hide his injured right hand. On Star Trek, he had to operate the transporter, and sometimes they’d use a hand double for him, but if you look closely in one scene in the episode “The Trouble with Tribbles,” you can see his missing finger.
I didn't know any of this when I saw Doohan. Maybe if I had, I would've stopped to talk to him, asked him about that long-ago day on the beaches of France. I'm glad I know now, though. When he died, his ashes went on a ride into space. Hell of an ending for a guy who not only played a hero on TV, but was one for real too.
James Stewart goes to war