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Child Actor Tapped To Be Voice Of Disney’s Bambi Grew Up To Be Highly Decorated Marine

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As we wrote a few days ago, it is important that Veterans take the time to record their stories for future generations. Below is just one example of one of those recorded stories by a Veterans.

Today, on the anniversary of when Disney’s “Bambi” premiered at Radio City Music Hall in 1942, we would like to introduce you to the voice of Disney’s animated character Bambi.  As a child actor, Donnie Dunagan was tapped by Walt Disney to be the voice of Bambi in the animated film.   Donnie Dunagan would later become U.S. Marine Corps Major (Retired) Dunagan, who received two awards for Valor in Combat as well as a Purple Heart.

You may be saying to yourself, “This can’t be a true.  A Marine was the voice of Bambi?”  Well, it is true and you can listen to Donnie Dunagan talk about it in an interview he recorded for Story Corps by clicking the image below.

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About Donnie Dunagan:

Dunagan was born in San Antonio, Texas, but his family soon moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where they struggled with poverty. There, at the age of three-and-a-half he won a talent contest prize of $100. Spotted by a studio talent scout, the family moved to Hollywood, where Dunagan appeared in a series of films and soon became his family’s main breadwinner. His career ended after he provided the voice for the young fawn in Walt Disney’s Bambi. By the age of 13, Dunagan was living in a boarding house and working as a lathe operator. In 1952, at the age of 18, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He became the Marines’ youngest-ever drill instructor and served three tours in Vietnam, where he was wounded several times, before finally retiring in 1977 with the rank of Major. For his service he received a Bronze Star and the Purple Heart three times. Dunagan has said in interviews that he kept his acting career a secret while serving in the Marines.

Transcript of the interview recorded by Story Corps.  Take a few minutes and listen to the recording online here.

Donnie Dunagan: I got a draft notice in 1952, Korean war’s still going on and I’m gonna do my duty. I think I had 13 promotions in 21 years, as I remember, it was a Marine Corps record at the time.

Dana Dunagan: Did anyone know that you were the voice of Bambi?

Donnie: During the Marine Corps? No chance! I never said a word to anybody about Bambi, even to you. When we first met I never said a word about it. Most of the image in people’s minds of Bambi was a little frail deer, not doing very well, sliding around on the ice on his belly.

Bambi: Mother look! What’s all the white stuff?
Mother: It’s snow.
Bambi: Snow?

Donnie: I am a commander in Marine Corps boot camp. Drill instructors, hundreds of recruits I’m responsible for…I just thought to myself, “I don’t think I want all these young Marines to start calling me Major Bambi.” And I kept my mouth shut.

Dana: When did your comrades find out?

Donnie: One Marine learned about it a month before we both retired. I worked for him three times, twice in combat, and I’m one of his guys. A major audit was going on on the base. I am up to my neck in duties. He called me in at five-thirty in the morning, I will never forget it. I go in his office and he says, “Dunagan! I want you to audit the auditors.”

I never said a disrespectful word to this man in twenty years, I said, “General, when do you think I’m going to have time to do that?”

Then he looked at me, pulled his glasses down like some kind of college professor. And there’s a big, red, top secret folder that he got out of some safe somewhere that had my name on it. He pats this folder, looks me in the eye and says, “You will audit the auditors. Won’t you…Major Bambi?”

Dana: So how has your life been different than you imagined it would be?

Donnie: Uh, golly. Well, I have some holes in my body that God didn’t put there. I got shot through my left knee. Got an award or two for saving lives over time. But I think I could have been appointed as the Aide de Camp in the White House, it wouldn’t make any difference, it’s Bambi that’s so dear to people. But I, I love it now. When people realize, “This old jerk, he’s still alive and was Bambi.” And I wouldn’t take anything for it, not a darn thing for it.

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