Star Spangled War Stories #126, April-May 1966

“You Can’t Pin a Medal on a Gorilla!”

The story called “the hairiest battle tale of the war” opens with a stage act entertaining the toops on the South Pacific. Using blanks and rubber bayonets Charlie the gorilla demonstrates his moves as a GI, much to the amusement of the assembled crowd and his owner, Sgt Pinky Donovan. As the troops return to the front, Charlie salutes them — an action Pinky never taught him.

One day Pinky is called out of the Reserves to see some real action, and, in a tear-jerking scene straight out of the worst kind of Tom Hanks movie, reluctantly leaves a caged Charlie behind.

However, several days out to sea, Donovan is amazed to find Charlie on board! For his perceived cheek, Donovan is busted down to Coporal. Charlie laughs, and gets to bunk with Donovan (no, not THAT kind of “bunk” — well not that we see anyway!)

Donovan joins an assault boat attacking a Pacific island, but the main ship — with Charlie aboard! — takes a direct hit and sinks. On the island Donovan and his fellows come under intense fire. Suddenly, Donovan is shoved out of harm’s way by a familiar hairy foot — and he watches helplessly as the gun-toting Charlie attacks a machine gun nest single-handed!

With the enemy succesfully defeated, the CO informs Donovan that he is really not happy that the gorilla has come along again — and busts Donovan down to private!!

The troops advance but come under mortar fire. Charlie leaps into action, throwing enemy snipers down fromn the tree tops. As a reward he easts some C-rations, containers and all. Refreshed, he digs the men a trench as cover. Then, as darkness falls, Charlie defends the trench from an enemy stealth attack.

The next day the Marines arrive at their main objective: a mountain top surrounded by steep cliffs. “Only an ape could climb that!” shouts one man, dejectedly. Well, luckily…

Again Charlie jumps into action. As he disappears from view, the sound of shelling fills the air. Donovan is overcome with grief, but the CO laughs: he reckons he was right about Charlie all along, and the stupid gorilla has fled. “If that buddy of yours had Marine blood in him, we could have strung a bandolier of grenades around him — and he’d be swinging up ahead of us — clearin’ the way..!”

Just then a clutch of grenades fall past their very eyes – followed by enemy soldiers! “This is a crazy time for them to practice swan dives!” thinks Donovan — who’s clearly gone barking mad — “Maybe they just slipped on a barrel of banana peels!”

As they approach the top of the cliffs, the troops are given a helping hand up by none other than Charlie, who’s once again routed the enemy all by his lonesome. And still the CO is none too impressed, “To me he looks just like a hairy ape clownin’ around in a uniform..!”

Charlie is a bit put out by this, but says nothing.

Then a massive gun atop the mountain flashes, once more threatening to sink the US fleet, but it’s too high up to reach. Donovan ties a rope around Charlie, and the gorilla hauls the entire assault force behind him as he climbs. At the top, Charlie once more comes into his own, taking on the gun emplacement armed only with his fists.

With the enemy finally defeated, and the gun destroyed, Charlie takes the initiative and plants the Stars and Stripes. “I’ve gotta admit,” says the CO reluctantly, “that big ape acted like a real Marine!”

In recognition, Charlie is awarded sergeant’s stripes — but there’s one final problem: “How in blue blazes do you pin a medal on a gorilla!”

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This frankly astonishing story, featuring the adventures of “the only non-com who escaped from a zoo to join the Marines”, was the work of Bob Kanigher and Joe Kubert. Given the somewhat bizarre nature of some of his output, the former can perhaps be excused; Kubert however…

At the time Star Spangled War Stories was home to the ongoing series of stories about The War That Time Forgot. This was set during World War 2 on an island where dinosaurs and other assorted prehistoric creatures roamed. Various military types washed up on the shores of this modern hell every issue, the battles between machine and giant reptile providing most of the action. For some reason — we can probably assume a deadline problem — the series was replaced for this one issue by the tale recounted above. On the other hand, perhaps sales were falling and so editor Kanigher decided to test Julie Schwartz’s theory that a gorilla on the cover increased sales significantly. As the dinosaurs returned next issue, and continued uninterrupted for another couple of years, we can assume the experiment didn’t work.

Kanigher is clearly writing with tongue firmly in cheek. I’m sure even he must’ve known how completely daft this whole set-up is. The running gag of Donovan being busted down a rank each time Charlie springs into action tips us the wink that this is supposed to be a comedy — but even so, this is entirely mad stuff. Kubert manfully steps up to the plate, providing his usual sterling work. Looking at these images — bizarre as it sounds — one can almost believe it. Now that takes some pulling off! In Michael Eury’s Comics Gone Ape!, Kubert, perhpas not surprisingly, claims not to remember even drawing this story.

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