Lt. James Doohan led his men safely across Juno Beach and took out two German snipers before being dubbed the ‘craziest pilot in the Canadian air force.’
In his iconic role on Star Trek as “Scotty,” James Doohan has inspired a whole generation of real-life aeronautical engineers.
However, many of those who idolize him don’t really know about his real-world heroic exploits as one of the 14,000 Canadian soldiers who landed on the shores of Normandy during World War II.
This sci-fi actor has a war story that’s almost stranger than fiction and one that landed him the title of “craziest pilot in the Canadian Air Forces.”
His Early Life
James Doohan was actually a Canadian of Irish descent. He was born in 1920 in Vancouver to a pair of Irish immigrants.
After attending school at the Sarnia Collegiate Institute and Technical School, where he particularly excelled in mathematics, physics, and chemistry, Doohan fled his tumultuous home life and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Army.
When James was 19 years old, he enlisted in the Canadian Army – just before the outbreak of WWII.
In 1940, James had worked his way up to the rank of lieutenant and was in England with the 14th Field Artillery of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division by the time allied troops invaded Normandy in 1944.
Doohan and his division were tasked with taking Juno Beach on D-Day as other Allied forces (including U.S. and British troops) focused on other nearby landing points.
He managed to take out two German snipers and successfully lead his men across the beach without setting off any planted mines.
While James wasn’t injured during the initial invasion, he was accidentally shot six times by a fellow Canadian solder later that evening when returning to his post.
After recovering from his wounds, he joined the Royal Canadian Artillery, where he was taught how to fly a Taylorcraft Auster Mark IV plane.
He was later dubbed the “craziest pilot in the Canadian air force” after flying between two telephone poles to prove that he could.
James Doohan on Star Trek and His Acting Career
Doohan returned to Canada when the war ended and enrolled in a Toronto acting school.
He spends the next 20 years performing in television, radio, and stage shows before landing his spot on Star Trek in 1966.
Doohan rose to stardom playing Montgomery Scott – an engineer aboard the Starship Enterprise – on both TV and in film.
His character, Lt. Cmdr. Montgomery “Scotty” Scott was the problem-solving engineer aboard the spaceship, captained by Shatner’s Captain Kirk.
Doohan’s Later Life and Legacy
Doohan’s fame went beyond that of a regular television actor.
He was even awarded an honorary degree from the Milwaukee School of Engineering after nearly half of the students in the school reported that they had decided to study engineering because of ‘Scotty.’
Sadly, Doohan’s died of pneumonia in 2005. It was reported at the time of his death that he was suffering from a respiratory disease believed to be from exposure to toxic substances during World War.