Film, History Class, Uncategorized, World War 2

Before He Was Scotty: James Doohan and World War II

Star Trek pictures
Some familiar faces showed up on my Facebook feed. *

Some familiar faces showed up recently in my Facebook feed*. Of course, I’d guess that the faces of the cast of Star Trek: The Original Series would be familiar to almost any “Trekkie,”  even if these photos are from before their days of space exploration.

File:Star Trek crew members.jpg
Scotty in the captain’s chair? Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

While I’ve been a lifelong Trek fan, the crew of the  Enterprise has only made it into my writing once before. After all, how much could 60’s sci-fi have to do with the Second World War?

But something in that Facebook image caught my eye. No, it wasn’t the photo of Chekov, which many internet voices declared was really a picture of Davy Jones from the Monkees. (I’ll let you make your own decision there.)

It wasn’t even that it jogged my memory and reminded me of the time Kirk and company had to fight the Nazis in space. 

File:Star Trek Patterns of Force.JPG
From the 1968 episode “Patterns of Force.” Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. 

It was the picture of actor James Doohan, or “Scotty,” that made me pause. First I noticed the beret, then the uniform.

I wonder…he’d be about the right age.

My suspicions were correct. James Doohan—Scotty—served in the Second World War. Not only that, he was wounded on D-Day.

Judging from his kilt-wearing, bagpipe-playing, Scottish-brogue-speaking Star Trek character, my initial guess was that Mr. Doohan had served with one of the Highland Regiments. However, all of those traits were affected for the role of “Scotty.”

In reality, James Doohan was born in 1920 in British Columbia, Canada. His autobiography cites an unhappy home life growing up. Perhaps that influenced him to enlist at the age of 19.**

On D-Day —the Allied invasion of the Normandy beaches in France on June 6, 1944—he and the rest of 14th Field Artillery Regiment of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division went ashore at Juno beach.

“Canadian Soldiers Disembark at Juno Beach. Source: Library and Archives Canada”

He and his men made it successfully across the beach. Later, they found out that they had been dashing right over the top of German anti-tank mines. Fortunately, they had been too light to set them off.*** Doohan was credited with taking out two German snipers, and by evening of D-Day they’d made it off of the beach and to a French village.

However, Doohan wouldn’t make it through the day unscathed. Late that evening he came under fire from a machine gun. (There is some debate whether it was from a German gun or friendly fire.)

Four bullets struck his knee; others took out his right middle finger.  One hit him in the chest, which might have been the end of “Scotty,” if he hadn’t been a smoker.  (It’s not too often you can claim that the habit saved a life!) The silver cigarette case that his brother had given him “for luck” blocked the bullet.

Reportedly, he was still able to walk to an aid station. According to one source, he said he didn’t even notice the leg injury until it was pointed out to him.

Apparently, Doohan also had some piloting adventures, earning himself the title “craziest pilot in the Royal Canadian airforce.”

After the war, Doohan worked as a voice actor, using his ability to mimic different accents. In his audition for Star Trek, he tried out several before the creators settled on his Scottish brogue.  One source indicated that the accent was inspired by a man from Aberdeen that Doohan met while he was in Britain during the war. In any case, the intrepid engineer of the Enterprise, James Montgomery Scott, was born!

SO, Trek fans, if you have sharp eyes and ever notice Scotty’s missing middle finger—visible in a few episodes, though he tried to conceal it during his acting career—it can be a reminder that before his heroics in space, James Doohan was one of those who served and sacrificed on the Normandy beaches.


I always find it fascinating when pieces of World War II history pop up in unexpected places. What about you, Readers- have you discovered any stories from the era recently?

Thank you so much for stopping by today!

For those who might not have all of the Star Trek DVDs on their shelf, and are curious about Scotty’s war wound, well, I’d be happy to loan you my copies, but it is probably more convenient to check out this YouTube clip of Trouble With Tribbles. When Scotty comes in with an armload of the adorable pests, you can get a glimpse of it.

*This image is not something that I can take credit for in any way- it was circulated widely on facebook. I could not find any way to cite the creator or copyright information on the original images. If anyone has information that would allow me to give credit where it’s due, I’d be glad to add it to this post.

**Or 18, according to one source. The obituaries and other sources I used to research this had some lots of minor disagreements, including just HOW many bullets he was struck with on D-Day. I really should try to find a copy of his bio and see if it clears things…the information I included in this post was what seemed verified by multiple sources.

***From a NY Times article quoting a letter from James Dohan to director Steven Spielberg after the release of the film “Saving Private Ryan.” Linked here. 


16 thoughts on “Before He Was Scotty: James Doohan and World War II”

  1. You beamed me up and took me back in time today, Anne, back to when I rarely missed an episode of Star Trek.:) One of my best friends in the 70s was in on D Day. Not many people left who fought in that battle. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Scotty’s” story reminded me of how much I enjoyed Star Trek, too- I’ve been planning to get out some of the old episodes, once I get a chance to sit down 🙂
      We’re loosing veterans from that era every day it seems. We got to hear a gentleman who was at Pearl Harbor and one who was at D-Day speak last year- I was glad the kids got that chance, and I hope they remember it.


  2. I gotta say, that collage of the young crew made me smile–so, so much hair oil, amiright? LOL But yes, it’s fascinating to see how those who come into acting come from such a HUGE variety of life experience, including the dark places of human nature one’s got to trudge through in times of war.

    (And I’ll respond to your other message soon, I promise! This week is FINALLY lighter than the rest)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My son’s hair is getting so shaggy that I’ve threatened hair oil once or twice…
      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Jean! I was pleased that my hunch about Scotty’s clothes paid off.
      And no worries- I know what a crazy life you lead m’dear. We will talk when we talk!

      Liked by 1 person

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