Long before he was making everyone laugh with classic films like “Blazing Saddles” and “Spaceballs,” comedy legend Mel Brooks was defusing land mines in World War II.
After graduating high school in 1944, Brooks — real name Melvin Kaminsky — enlisted in the Army Reserve, where he was picked for the Army Specialized Training Program at the Virginia Military Institute. There he learned electrical engineering, later explaining to Marc Maron on his WTF Podcast, “I figured if the army was going to make me an electrical engineer, I wouldn’t be blown up.”
It didn’t quite go as he planned.
“When I got to Fort Dix after VMI and all of that, they saw engineer, so they put me in the combat engineers [and said] ‘you’re ahead of the infantry!’ You’re ahead of the infantry! You’re clearing minefields.”
Brooks was shipped to Europe in late 1944 and assigned to the 1104th Engineer Combat Group, according to the Army. He started out as a forward observer for artillery in the Battle of the Bulge, and then later, was tasked with deactivating enemy land mines.
“I was a Combat Engineer. Isn’t that ridiculous? The two things I hate most in the world are combat and engineering,” Brooks later joked.
Since he got to the battlefield late in the war, he only saw three months of combat before the war ended.
From the Army:
Discharged as a corporal, he soon found work as a comedy writer in the infant medium of television and adopted the name Mel Brooks. His career expanded into acting, directing, and producing. His achievements include classic films such as Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and The Producers – in which he skewered his old foes Hitler and the Nazis
“I became a corporal. I felt a great sense of achievement, two stripes. … I still have my uniform. I have it at home, have my ribbons. Just in case I have to go in, at least I’ll have some rank.”
Listen to Brooks talk about his time in the Army on the WTF Podcast: