CHERISHING OUR VALLEY 2012
This last year, as part of The Museum's "Narrating Lives, Oral Histories of the San Fernando Valley, I had the distinct honor of interviewing one time television superstar Biff Elliot. He died this week in his Studio City home.
As expected, obituaries about Biff's television and film career, most notably as the hard boiled detective Mike Hammer, have appeared in newspapers and on the Internet. His accomplishments as an actor were amazing. However, few commentaries will more than take note of his service to the American Republic as a foot solider in the Second World War.
By 1943, young Biff Elliot was an ideal candidate for military service. He had finished school and as an amateur boxer in prime physical condition. He enlisted int the United States Army and was assigned to the 34th Infantry Division. Finished with boot camp, Biff was sent to North Africa where he joined already battle hardened soldiers preparing for the invasion of Sicily, and heavily fortified Italy. The 34th Infantry would consequently engage in more combat against German and Italian soldiers than any other division in the World War II.
Biff Elliot was among those young American soldiers to experience a record number of days fighting what must have seen like inch to inch up the Italian peninsula. Nearly 4,000 of Biff's comrades died from the trenches of Anzio to the borders of France, and over 17,000 were wounded or missing in action.
The great old actor only mentioned his combat experience in passing. But, Nick Baird, the young California State University Northridge student who filmed The Museum's interview, and I easily recognized that we were in the presence of genuine American patriot.
The Museum's oral histories project planned a second interview with Biff Elliot about his military experience, but alas we were too late. However, it is never too late for us to be thankful for the life, courage and talent of the extraordinary human being.