How Donald Duck & Dumbo Helped to Win the War

Just one day after Pearl Harbor, Walt Disney received his first military contract and began creating promotional reels, war bond advertisements, short training and instructional films, and other WWII materials.  Also at this time, he received requests from military units all over the world requesting Disney-designed insignia’s and mascots.

David Lesjak, a former employee and Disney historian says, “Insignia helped build morale.  Having a cartoon character you grew up with on your plane or shoulder patch helped remind you of home.  In my mind it was a happy diversion from the horrors of war.”

Hank Porter @ Disney

One of the purest expressions of Walt Disney’s genuine patriotism during the war years was his decision to establish a unit devoted to producing customized military unit insignia free of charge for U.S. armed forces and their allies.  Headed by the talented draftsman, Hank Porter, whom Walt referred to as a “one-man department,” a unit of 5 full-time artists worked steadily throughout the war, turning out 1,300 insignia.

By far, the single most requested and used Disney character was Donald Duck, who was featured in at least 146 designs.  The numerous requests for Donald’s likeness resulted in a wealth of drawings that successfully channeled his irascibilty as patriotism and military zeal, often with a comedic flourish.

Next, the character that appeared most was Pluto in about 35.  Pluto was popular and his trademark facial expressions made it easy for the artists to incorporate him into a variety of insignia.  Goofy followed in popularity at 25 insignia and Jiminy Cricket appeared in 24.

B-29 Thumper nose-art

Sometimes a unit had a special design in mind and was seeking a Disney artist’s skill to bring it to life, attaching a rough sketch to their request letter for reference.

The bulk of insignia were designed for Army units and Navy vessels, but occasionally individuals requested their own personal design.  These requested were accommodated and executed with the same level of care as an insignia for an entire ship, bombardment group or battalion.

Mickey nose-art

The requested letters were often addressed simply: Walt Disney, Hollywood, California.  Once a letter was received in was placed in the queue of pending requests, and the turnaround time was usually 3-4 weeks, though a wait of several months was possible when the insignia unit was particularly swamped.

The procedure for the creation of the insignia design varied, but it typically involved a preliminary pencil drawing in which the image was established, then a full-color pencil version and finally a full-color gouache on art board that would then be forwarded to the requesting unit or party.  This would often hang in the unit headquarters and serve as a template for reproducing the emblem on aircraft, tanks, and other military equipment – as well as uniforms and letterheads.

War Bond by Disney

It is difficult today to fully appreciate how it felt for a serviceman to have his unit represented by a Disney-designed insignia.  For the generation that fought WWII, Disney character images possessed and iconic heft that has no analog in contemporary animation.

A Donald Duck insignia boosted morale, not just because it reminded soldiers of home, but also because it signified that the job they were doing was important enough to be acknowledged by Walt Disney.

The 127th Airborne Engineers/11th Airborne Division’s first insignia was Donald Duck with combat engineer equipment and aviation goggles.

This article and information was printed in the “Voice of the Angels” 11th Airborne Division Association newspaper.

Click on images to enlarge.

############################################################################################

Military Humor – 

Tracking Guide

Disney Humor

############################################################################################

Farewell Salutes – 

John Bradshaw III – E. Greenwich, RI; US Army, WWII & Korea. Major (Ret. 45 y.)

Jimmie Calder – Pensacola, FL; US Navy, WWII / US Air Force, MSgt. (Ret. 22 y.)

Charles Graybeal – W. Jefferson, NC; US Army, WWII, ETO

Charles Hankammer – San Francisco, CA; US Navy, WWII, CSG2 cook

Clayton J. Horne – Atlanta, LA; Saudi Arabia, Specialist, 351/160th Military Police Battalion, KIA

Meredith Keirn – Niagara Falls, NY; USMC, WWII, PTO, Spl. / Korea, Sgt., Co F/2/7/1st Marine Division, KIA

Ralph Mayville – Windsor, CAN; RC Forces, WWII, ETO, 1st Special Forces (Black Devils)

Horace Ogle – Whangarei, NZ; RNZ Air Force # 44071, WWII

George Rash – Pulaski County, VA; US Army, WWII, POW / Korea

Martin J. Wurth –  Paducah, KY; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 11th Airborne Division

############################################################################################

Advertisements

About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on August 22, 2019, in Home Front, Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 161 Comments.

  1. I enjoyed this article, GP. I remember Disney’s movies from childhood, and it is interesting to know about the insignia he provided, even the special requests!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on John's Notes and commented:
    I enjoyed this article on Disney in WWII and wanted to share it through a reblog.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I absolutely love this story! Way to go, Walt Disney.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Bought back a few memories for me gp, not specifically that war era but do recall seeing many training films made by Disney during my army life, actually used to use some in training lectures. Cheers

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Fascinating… Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Love this stuff. Think I’d have Snow White or Blondie on my plane.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Very interesting. Even Batman cannot measure up to a real patriotic icon. Today’s super heroes are not heroes at all but icons of massive disorder. ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I had never heard of any of this before! Amazing.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I’ve been wanting to read this article ever since it dropped into my feed. Fascinating – I didn’t appreciate the extent of the input Disney had and the background work involved. Astonishing!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. A lot of people thinking Disney is only fun for family and kids. But I don´t think so. Disney had his own way in wartime. I remember a Micky-Mouse-training-video for soldiers. That was in a funny way, but it should help understanding.
    For one of my books I made a lot of research and so I found clips like them on youtube. Thank you for holding the past for later generations.

    Liked by 3 people

    • You are quite right. The military discovered that training films bored the men, so they asked people like Disney to develop films that the men could relate to more and keep their attention. I have put many of these videos in the Military Humor section in the past, especially ‘Private SNAFU’.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. OMG – the “tracking guide” is absolutely great … it made me to laugh ….
    Where are you finding all this funny things?

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Wasn’t Fifinella, emblem for the WASPs, also Disney designed? I would attach the photo of mine but can’t figure out how to do it!

    Liked by 2 people

    • The Women’s Air Force Pilots used that patch after receiving permission from Disney – you are quite right.
      (When you go to add media to your posts, below the caption is an URL address for that picture. You highlight that address, right click and Copy it. Where you’re going, you can right click again and hit Paste.)

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I happen to be a great fan of animation, so very much enjoyed this post, GP. Thanks! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Never knew any of this. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: