What does a Hollywood star, Jackie Coogan, have to do with a place called Broadway in the jungles of Burma during World War II?

Those of you who are old enough will remember Jackie Coogan as the character Uncle Fester in the 1960s sitcom The Addams Family. Those of you even older will remember Jackie as a Hollywood child star who played with Charlie Chaplin in the movie Sidekick. Few of you will remember Jackie as a pilot who flew gliders in the CBI Theater of World War II.


Coogan1 Jackie Coogan USAAF

John Leslie Coogan was born in 1914 in Los Angeles, California and was the first major Hollywood child star. He began performing as an infant in both Vaudeville and film and continued his illustrious career until the 1970s.

Jackie enlisted in the U.S. Army in March 1941. Because of his experience as a civilian pilot, he requested a transfer to the Army Air Force after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He was made a flight officer after graduating from glider school and volunteered for hazardous duty with the 1st Air Commando Group.  His unit was sent to India in the CBI Theater in December 1943 where he was to participate in a very dangerous mission.

During World War II, a specially trained group of commandos known as Chindits were ordered to infiltrate behind Japanese lines in Burma. They were to be flown into Burma aboard gliders and land at a site named Broadway, 150 miles behind Japanese lines. The operation became known as Operation Broadway and Jackie Coogan was one of the glider pilots.

Operation Broadway took place on the night of March 5, 1944 and was by no means an easy mission. C47 Dakota transport planes, each towing two gliders, took off into the night. A total of 67 gliders were lifted from airfields in India and began their journey into Burma. Soon after the operation began some C47s began reporting the loss of their towed gliders. For one reason or another, the tow lines had snapped and around 18 gliders crashed before reaching Broadway. Some of the soldiers from the crashed gliders were killed, others were captured, and the remainder harassed the Japanese and escaped. The remaining gliders carrying more than 500 men and 33 tons of equipment arrived at Broadway where they began to land in the darkness. Almost all the gliders were damaged or destroyed as they hit obstacles or crashed into each other. The glider pilots were mystified because their landing speed was a third faster than normal.  It wasn’t until the next day that they learned the commandos had overloaded the aircraft by bringing along unauthorized supplies.

In the end, glider pilot Jackie Coogan and the other men of Operation Broadway were successful in establishing a foothold behind enemy lines. They were a thorn in the enemy’s side and harassed the Japanese for months, so the next time you watch a rerun of The Addams Family, remember Uncle Fester wasn’t just a pretty face. He was also a certified war hero.

If you would like to learn more about how the troops at Broadway were supplied, you can find the answers in my book “Kicker” available at the sites listed below.








What is the connection between Mark Harmon, star of the hit TV series NCIS, and the China Burma India (CBI) theater of World War II? His father Tom Harmon, University of Michigan Heisman Trophy winner, served as a fighter pilot in the CBI during WWII.

Tom Harmon was born in Rensselaer, Indiana on September 28, 1919. His family later moved to Gary Indiana where he graduated from Horace Mann High School in 1937. During high school, he was an outstanding athlete winning 14 varsity letters and was named All-State quarterback two times. Harmon played college football for the University of Michigan Wolverines from 1938 to 1940 where he won the Heisman Trophy and the Maxwell Award in his senior season. He excelled as a tailback and as a kicker. During his college career he rushed for 2,134 yards, completed 100 passes for 1,304 yards and 16 touchdowns, and scored 237 points. In his final game against Ohio State, he led Michigan to a 40-0 win over the Buckeyes. During that game, he scored 3 rushing touchdowns, 2 passing touchdowns, four extra points, intercepted 3 passes and punted 3 times for an average of 50 yards.

Tom Harmon FB

During World War II, Harmon enlisted in the Army Air Corps and received his wings in October 1942. He trained in B-25 bombers and took off for North Africa in a B-25 in April 1943. During that flight, his plane went down in the jungles of Dutch Guiana. Harmon was the only survivor and walked through the jungle until he was rescued by natives. He was then shipped to North Africa where he trained in P-38 fighter aircraft. In the summer of 1943 he flew his P-38 named “Little Butch II” to the CBI theatre where he shot down his first Japanese airplane on August 28, 1943. In October 1943, he was shot down and bailed out over Japanese occupied China during an air fight. When he reached the ground, he discovered bullet holes in his parachute and played dead to discourage further attacks by the enemy pilots. During this ordeal, he was smuggled through Japanese-held territory to an American base by friendly Chinese groups. Harmon saved the silk from his parachute and it was later used to make his wife’s wedding dress when he married actress Elyse Knox in 1944. He received the Purple Heart and the Silver Star for his actions in the CBI.

Tom Harmon AF

After the war Tom Harmon played professional football for the Los Angeles Rams, but injuries to his legs during the war limited his success. He then became a sports broadcaster and was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954. Harmon’s children also became successful in the fields of sports and entertainment. His son Mark Harmon, played quarterback for UCLA and later became a top TV star. His daughter Kristin Harmon became an actress and married Ricky Nelson. Among her credits are TV roles on Green Acres and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

Mark Harmon

Kristin Harmon

Additional stories of men who survived the jungles of Burma can be read in my book Kicker which can be found at the links below.

Amazon http://amzn.to/2joaoRK