Sins of Omission

James Arness

Early in June, James Arness died.  Everyone thinks of him as Matt Dillon, the brave and incorruptible town marshal of Dodge City in the television series Gunsmoke.  I think of him as the father of one of my childhood friends and as one of the last actors in Hollywood to have fought in World War II.  Although renewed interest in World War II during the last several years has made some aware of Arness’s service, few knew of it while he starred on Gunsmoke—or of the severity of the wound he had suffered.  Once there were many in Hollywood who were decorated veterans of the war.  They stand in stark contrast to more than a few of the stars today, who can make only contrived attempts to imitate men.

Jim Arness was born and reared in Minnesota.  His obituaries say he was Norwegian, but that’s only a quarter of the story.  His father was half Norwegian and half German, and his mother was purely German.  Arness said he had a wonderful childhood in the Minnesota of the 1920’s and 30’s, and especially enjoyed hunting, fishing, and sailing.  Most of his summers were spent at Ox Lake, where his family rented a cabin on an island in the middle of that pristine body of water some 60 miles west of Duluth.  He was the designated woodchopper for the family.  The exercise and the fresh air must have done him good.  By the time he was 14 he stood more than 6'6" and had...

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