Born in 1934 to Irish parents fleeing for their lives to America, Donnie Dunagan has had a tremendous impact on his adopted country. After being born at sea on a tramp steamer, arriving in Houston, and then moving to San Antonio, the little child grew to be a fascinating man.
During the Great Depression, a common entertainment was a talent contest in a small town. Entered in such a contest (Dunagan was all of 4 years old!) to win a grand prize of $100, a talent scout for RKO Studios spotted Dunagan, and his movie career began.
Dunagan has many films to his credit, and was a popular child star of the Golden Era of Hollywood. Universals’ Son of Frankenstein and Tower of London (both 1939), and Walt Disney’s BAMBI (1942, Dunagan was the face model for Bambi and the voice actor for the young deer) are some of his films.
Tragedy struck Dunagan’s home life and he was sent to Ireland for several years to live with his grandfather.
The next journey saw Dunagan placed in an orphanage back in the U.S., after the death of his grandfather.
Leaving the orphanage at age 14, Dunagan worked and supported himself in a boarding house, while also attending high school. Determined to be a doctor, but with no funds or adult to help him attend college, he became a star athlete in order to (hopefully) obtain a scholarship. Dunagan’s plan worked, and although he was awarded a scholarship, he was too young at 16 to attend college until the following year.
The U.S. was still involved in the Korean War at that time, and when it was his turn to report for a draft physical, Dunagan’s career with the United States Marine Corps began, with a question from a tall Marine recruiter, who asked “…Son, haven’t I seen you play football? You know, the Marines have a football team…” and so, 25 years later, from private to Major, Dunagan called the Corps his home.
A Medal of Honor nominee, with the Navy Cross, three Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars and the Navy commendation Medal, are among his achievements for valor.