Mel Brooks would carve out a place in American entertainment history as one of the most successful directors of comedy films, and would also be one of the few people to win an Oscar, a Grammy, and a Tony award.
Born in New York City in 1926, Brooks was drafted into the US Army in 1944.
Having scored well on aptitude tests, Brooks was approved for specialized training as an Engineer. He surmised that such a profession would be unlikely to see combat, much to his chagrin, however, we would learn that there were two types of Engineers in the US Army – those that build things, and those that destroy things. He was assigned as a ‘combat engineer’ and sent into action in the European Theater of Operations with the 78th Division.
Brooks would later relate that he would spot a target and begin speaking to artillery gunners over a radio telephone in code, identifying the position and then concluding with “Do you see the white church with the steeple? The Germans are in the house next to it, try to hit that.”
Once, in the waning days of the war, as they set up their positions on one side of a river, Brooks could hear German soldiers on the other side singing. Brooks set up a loudspeaker and began singing back songs from musical comedies that he had learned during his childhood visits to the theater in New York, to which the Germans responded with applause and shouts of approval.
As he began his career in comedy, Brooks would often make humorous references to his military service. Once, a member of the audience became offended, rising to his feet, grumbling that this was not a topic for levity and shouted that he was not amused and that he had fought in WWII. Brooks shot back, “Me too! I didn’t see you there.”
Brooks generally spoke with affection regarding his military service and pride in the fact that he managed to be promoted to the rank of Corporal, saying that he saved his Army uniform just in case he was called back into service, he could reenter, “with a little rank.”