Medal of Honor Recipients Portrayed On Film


Hollywood Abominations


GEORGE M. COHAN (1878-1942)


Portrayed by:

James Cagney


In the film:

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Text of Citation:



This case is such an abomination on the part of Hollywood that even though the subject was not and never had been a Medal of Honor recipient, the authors feel that it warrants a separate entry just to shatter any myths and set the record straight. We have omitted any photos of Cohan or James Cagney for that reason.

Somewhere in the course of his composing patriotic songs for both World Wars, Cohan received a special medallion from Congress in recognition of his compositions. Cohan had the chutzpah to rationalize that, since it was a medal that honored him and that it came from Congress, it must be a Congressional Medal of Honor. By the time his autobiography made it to the silver screen, Cohan was portrayed by James Cagney as receiving the Medal of Honor from President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House. FDR tells him something to the effect that others can serve their country as greatly in other ways as those exposed to battle. One might wonder, had such an event and dialogue actually taken place in real life, what the reaction would have been of Franklin Roosevelt's cousin and predecessor, whose own Medal of Honor recommendation had been denied and whose involvement with the Medal of Honor is discussed elsewhere on this website.

A myriad of other popular composer-musicians come to mind whose contributions to America's war effort easily surpass those of Cohan and who would have never had the chutzpah to make such a claim, the two coming foremost to mind having actually served in the armed forces as bandmasters: Glenn Miller, who actually died in service with the Army Air Force in World War II; and John Philip Sousa, who served several years first in the Marine Corps and then in the Naval Reserve, and who served on active duty for the duration of World War I while donating his entire Lieutenant Commander's salary (minus $1 a year) to the Sailors' and Marines' Relief fund. If any musician ever came close to deserving the Medal of Honor, it sure as hell wasn't George M. Cohan!

Interestingly, some historians like to illustrate the naively blind patriotism with which America entered World War I and the rapid disillusionment brought on by the hell of modern war by saying, "It was the last war we marched into singing." Appropriately enough, most of the songs were Cohan's.

James Cagney did atone somewhat to the brotherhood of Medal of Honor recipients for his complicity in this abomination, by introducing Audie Murphy to Hollywood and vice-versa after World War II.



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