Lee Marvin, Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers
Date Added: Sept. 24, 2002
This story offers several stunning revelations. First, that a Hollywood actor deserves his final resting place alongside military heroes. Second, that a kid's TV legend was a fearless Marine soldier. Later versions make a third assertion that young America's favorite 'neighbor' was a trained assassin. How many, if any, stack up?
Captain Kangaroo turned 75 recently, which is odd, because he's never looked a day under 75. (Birthday 6/27/27)
It reminded me of the following story. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Some people have been a bit offended that Lee Marvin is buried in a grave alongside 3 and 4 star generals at Arlington National Cemetery. His marker gives his name, rank (PVT) and service (USMC). Nothing else.
Here's a guy who was only a famous movie star who served his time, why the heck does he rate burial with these guys? Well, following is the amazing answer:
I always liked Lee Marvin, but did not know the extent of his Corps experiences. In a time when many Hollywood stars served their country in the armed forces, often in rear-echelon posts where they were carefully protected, only to be trotted out to perform for the cameras in war bond promotions, Lee Marvin was a genuine hero. He won the Navy Cross at Iwo Jima. There is only one higher Naval award... the Medal Of Honor.
If that is a surprising comment on the true character of the man, he credits his sergeant with an even greater show of bravery.
Dialog From The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson:
His guest was Lee Marvin.
Johnny said, "Lee, I'll bet a lot of people are unaware that you were a Marine in the initial landing at Iwo Jima... and that during the course of that action you earned the Navy Cross and were severely wounded."
"Yeah, yeah... I got shot square in the ass and they gave me the Cross for securing a hot spot about halfway up Sibachi...bad thing about getting shot up on a mountain is guys gettin' shot hauling you down. But Johnny, at Iwo I served under the bravest man I ever knew... We both got the Cross the same day, but what he did for his Cross made mine look cheap in comparison. The dumb bastard actually stood up on RED beach and directed his troops to move forward and get the hell off the beach. That Sergeant and I have been lifelong friends. When they brought me off Suribachi we passed the Sergeant and he lit a smoke and passed it to me lying on my belly on the litter and said, 'Where'd they get you Lee?' "Well Bob... if you make it home before me, tell Mom to sell the outhouse!" Johnny, I'm not lying...Sergeant Keeshan was the bravest man I ever knew..... Bob Keeshan... You and the world know him as Captain Kangaroo."
Though rugged actor Lee Marvin was a frequent guest on Johnny Carson's "The Tonight Show," it's unclear whether the exchange cited in this letter ever took place. What we do know is that the story can't be true, regardless of whether it was actually ever told. Here are the facts:
Entertainment legends are expected to tell legendary tales. It's possible that Marvin did relate this story, but its also just as likely that it's an urban legend that got attributed to Marvin to make it sound better. Not surprisingly, this chain picked up some steam in response to Keeshan's death on January 23, 2004, at age 76.
Urban legends that portray childrens' television stars in a situation or profession that is in stark contrast to their on-screen personas are common. Can you imagine dear Captain Kangaroo lying in the sand, clad in fatigues, dragging on a cigarette? Me neither, that's why legends like this endure - shock value.
Newer versions of the Marvin/Keeshan chain above now carry an interesting prologue that suggests another beloved Childrens' TV personality has a dark and deadly secret:
On another note, there was this wimpy little man (who just passed away) on PBS, gentle and quiet. Mr. Rogers is another one of those you would least suspect of being anything but what he now portrays to our youth. But Mr. Rogers was a U.S. Navy Seal, combat proven in Vietnam with over twenty-five confirmed kills to his name. He wore a long sleeve sweater to cover the many tattoo's on his forearm and biceps.
A master in small arms and hand-to-hand combat, able to disarm or kill in a heartbeat. He hid that away and won our hearts with his quiet wit and charm.
This one is completely the stuff of Urban Legend - the facts simply do not bear it out. (The same rumor has also been falsely applied to folk singer, John Denver.) Rogers was never in the military - let alone a Navy Seal. And, he was born in 1928, so he would've been the oldest sniper in Viet Nam.
It's no surprise that this bit of folklore resurfaced in the days following Fred Rogers' death in 2003 - and the Marvin/Keeshan chain seems a logical vehicle to tack it on to. But, to paraphrase an old cliche, two lies do not make a truth. Break this Chain.
References: Snopes.com (Marvin/Keeshan), Snopes.com (Rogers), TruthOrFiction.com