In Walt Disney’s 1934 cartoon “The Wise Little Hen,” Donald Duck made his first appearance as a sailor skating away from his job helping the hen plant and harvested her corn. From this early cartoon, we might not have guessed that by the time he turned 50, he would have been let out of the U.S. Army.
Donald Duck did not have to wait long before he got his cartoon. By 1936, he had a girlfriend and three adopted nephews named Huey, Dewey, and Louie. He started to look more like the duck we know today, and he was more popular than Mickey Mouse. The world was in chaos that same year.
Adolf Hitler ran Nazi Germany, Benito Mussolini led fascist Italy, and the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy controlled much of Northern China. The Second World War was going to happen.
The Military Records of Donald Duck
The Department of Defense says that Donald Duck was officially drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941 before the U.S. got involved in the war. On May 1, 1942, he made his first appearance in the military in the cartoon “Donald Gets Drafted,” His actual middle name is Fauntleroy, which is what it says on his draught card. At the same time, Walt Disney and his animation studio, like many Americans, knew that war was coming and got ready to help.
At the end of the 1930s, the business had trouble making money, so the coming war was a big help. Disney started getting contracts from the government to make animated movies that taught war workers how to do their jobs. It did not take long for the studio to start making patriotic animations about making food and using camouflage, among other things.
Donald Duck even had a cartoon in which he paid taxes to show how patriotic he was. He wears his usual sailor’s outfit in most of these cartoons. In “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” which won an Academy Award in 1943, he dreams of being a Nazi. However, in his U.S. military cartoons, he was actually in the Army.
History of Disney and Donald Duck in the Military
After wearing an Army uniform for the first time in “Donald Gets Drafted,” Donald did so again in “The Vanishing Private,” “Sky Trooper,” “Fall Out Fall In,” and “The Old Army Game” (1943). Before he goes to war against the Japanese in “Commando Duck,” these show his adventures in training and garrison (1944).
Disney did everything possible to help the war effort, while Donald made patriotic cartoons and trained to fight the enemy. Since 1933, Walt Disney had been making the logo for U.S. and Allied military units, and he kept doing so throughout the war. Almost every Disney character, except Bambi, was on unit patches for the military. This included the Coast Guard and its auxiliary.
It makes sense that Donald Duck was one of the most popular characters for World War II insignia since he was a movie star on par with Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart, both of whom were also serving in the war. Disney made 1,200 patches for the war, and 216 had Donald Duck on them.
He flew almost every kind of plane used in the war, including the “Ruptured Duck” B-25 Mitchell Bomber that took off from the USS Hornet and bombed Tokyo during the 1942 Doolittle Raid. In his book “Donald Duck Joins Up.” Richard Shale says that service members liked Donald Duck because he had a lot of traits that were similar to theirs at the time they joined when the future was uncertain.
Shale says he signed up to do his part in the war and at home, but anyone could have done the same. He was not brave and was not even close to the ideal soldier. When he got outraged, he could even yell things that were hard to understand. He had the spirit of the time, the war, and the people who fought in it.
On May 19, 1984, Donald Duck, who was 50 years old, was officially let go from the military. Donald Duck wore his World War II uniform to the Armed Forces Day parade in Torrance, California. Daisy Duck was with him. At his retirement ceremony, Lt. Gen. Arthur E. Brown, Jr., at the time, gave him the rank of sergeant (E-5). That would be the end of the official U.S. Army story about Donald Duck.
But in September 1987, a show for kids called “DuckTales” started airing. In the first episode, “Don’t Give Up the Ship,” Donald Duck sends his nephews to live with their uncle Scrooge McDuck so he can join the Navy and serve as an aircraft carrier. No one knows if Donald has official Navy enlistment papers, but he is wearing a “dixie cup” hat with his uniform instead of his usual sailor’s hat from the turn of the 20th century.