It's November 11th again. Which means that it's time once more for all of us to give thanks to our nation's veterans. Those brave men and women who went to far-off places -- some paying the ultimate price -- just to make sure that the rest of us could live and work in a land that's free.
And -- when you talk about far-off places -- you really can't get much further away from the United States than China, Burma and India. Yet -- at the height of World War II -- this is the exact route that Major Wolfgang "Woolie" Reitherman regularly flew. Ferrying planes back and forth through extremely hostile airspace as part of his assignment for the Army's Air Transport Command.
Now, most of you Disneyana fans have probably seen Woolie's name in the credits for animated movies like "Sleeping Beauty," "The Sword in the Stone," "The Jungle Book," "The Aristocats" and "The Rescuers." But don't let his somewhat silly and soft sounding knickname fool you. Reitherman was a man's man, folks. A type of guy who -- as soon as he heard about Pearl Harbor -- immediately went down to the Draft Board and offered his services.And -- given that Wolfgang was already a skilled civilian pilot -- the Army Air Corp quickly awarded Reitherman combat wings and assigned him the extremely important job of moving vital aviation equipment all around the globe. So -- over the next four years -- Woolie flew to all four corners of the map. Delivering desperately needed planes to the South Pacific and North Africa. Flying wounded soldiers out of Burma. Never once turning down an assignment. Flying in all sorts of weather conditions.
In recognition of his heroic efforts during wartime, Wolfgang was eventually awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross as well as the Air Medal with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster. Awards that any military pilot will tell you are extremely hard to come by.
And yet once the war was over and Woolie eventually went back to work for the Mouse Factory, he didn't ever brag about all the dangerous missions he'd flown in WWII and/or talk about all the medals he'd won. Reitherman just picked up his pencil and went back to work. Bringing us such memorable moments as Captain Hook's wildly comic battles with the crocodile in "Peter Pan" as well as Prince Phillip's duel to the death with the Maleficent-the-dragon in "Sleeping Beauty." Not to mention all of those wonderful animated features that Woolie helmed after Walt passed away in December 1966.
Me personally? I find it hard not to admire a guy like Wolfgang "Woolie" Reitherman. This incredibly talented artist who did flat-out amazing work on some of Walt Disney Studio's very best animated films. A guy who was also a really-for-real war hero. And yet Wolfgang still somehow managed to stay humble, down-to-earth.
So let me apologize now for today's JHM column being so short. Given all that Reitherman accomplished in his 74 years on this planet (Woolie would eventually die from injuries related to an automobile accident on May 22, 1985), I really could go on for pages and pages listing all of his accomplishments.
But -- for today -- all I wanted to let you know about this one small but important aspect of Wolfgang "Woolie" Reitheran's career. To remind you all that sometimes the people who drew the heroes for Disney's animated films actually were heroes themselves.
Happy Veterans' Day, everyone!