This D-Day vet played the role of his British commander in 'The Longest Day'

On D-Day, Richard Todd was one of the paratroopers who took part in the capture of Pegasus Bridge. Todd had parachuted in after the original assault and helped reinforce the British Army’s Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry led by Maj. John Howard.

Little did Todd know at the time that he would find himself portraying that same British commander when legendary director Daryl Zanuck was making Cornelius Ryan’s book “The Longest Day” into an epic movie.

Imdb.com reports that Todd was very nearly killed on D-Day. He had been assigned to a new plane. The switch was a fortunate one since his original transport was shot down by the Nazis, killing all aboard. A 2004 article by the London Guardian reported that Todd’s D-Day involved making his way to Pegasus Bridge, reinforcing Howard’s unit, and helping to fend off German attacks on the bridge while under Howard’s command until seaborne forces linked up with the paratroopers.

Pegasus Bridge, June 9, 1944. Richard Todd helped defend this bridge. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Todd never discussed his actions on D-Day. However, in his memoirs, “Caught in the Act,” he would write, “There was no cessation in the Germans’ probing with patrols and counter-attacks, some led by tanks, and the regimental aid post was overrun in the early hours. The wounded being tended there were all killed where they lay. There was sporadic enemy mortar and artillery fire we could do nothing about. One shell landed in a hedge near me, killing a couple of our men.”

By 1962, Richard Todd had become a well-known actor, with his most notable role having been Wing Commander Guy Gibson in the 1954 movie, “The Dam Busters.” Todd had also starred in “D-Day, the Sixth of June” three years later as the leader of a commando group sent to take out German guns.

Richard Todd portraying Major John Howard in “The Longest Day.” (Youtube Screenshot)

When he was asked to play himself in “The Longest Day,” he demurred, admitting his own role in the invasion had been a small part. The London Telegraph quoted him as saying, “I did not do anything special that would make a good sequence.” Zanuck, determined to have Todd in the film, cast him as Howard instead.

“The Longest Day” was one of Todd’s last big roles, as British cinema moved in a very different direction in the 1960s. He still found work acting, narrating the series “Wings over the World” for A&E Television and appearing in several “Doctor Who” episodes, among other roles.

Todd would die on Dec. 3, 2009, after having been named a member of the Order of the British Empire in 1993. Below is the trailer for “The Longest Day.”

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