The Signal Regiment has commissioned a fair amount of outstanding officers throughout their 156 years of existence, including five recipients of the Medal of Honor. However, few are probably aware that a well renowned Hollywood director graced the ranks as a signal officer during World War II.
Frank Russell Capra, best known for directing motion pictures “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, “Meet John Doe” and the infamous World War II series “Why We Fight”, was recently honored as a Distinguished Member of the Regiment at the 2016 Signal Ball in Springfield, Va., Mar. 11. His grandson Tony Capra, a television producer and correspondent, accepted the award on Frank’s behalf.
“Accepting the Distinguished Member of the Regiment award for my grandfather…show more content… Shortly thereafter, he was medically discharged and returned home where he struggled to remain employed despite having a college education. In his early 20’s, Frank got into directing documentary films but wasn’t able to find success right away.
It wasn’t until sound films hit the scene in the 1930’s that Frank found his niche in directing. Because of his engineering education, he adapted more easily to the new sound technologies than most other directors of that time. He found immense success in 1934 with a film called “It Happened One Night” which became the first film to win all five top Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay). A few years later, Frank directed a couple popular films that landed him in some controversy due to their political expressions during a sensitive time of war.
Four days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Frank quit his career as a successful director in Hollywood and received his promotion to Major in the Army. He also gave up his presidency of the Screen Directors Guild. Frank was immediately assigned to work directly under Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, the most senior officer in command of the Army at that time. Frank’s job was to head a special morale section to help explain to Soldiers why they are serving in the war. Thus, the “Why We Fight” series was…show more content… Army staff found them to be powerful messages of why it was necessary for the U.S. to fight in the war. The series is widely considered a masterpiece of war documentaries and won its own Academy Award in 1942 for best documentary feature.
“In the politically charged world we live in now, the terms and images in the ‘Why We Fight’ series make for great discussion, but it was a different time back then”, said Tony.
Frank’s career continued after the war and he went on to do several more memorable films including a popular feature film titled “It’s a Wonderful Life”. However, even with all his Hollywood success, Frank regards the “Why We Fight” series as his most important works. He ended his time in the military as a colonel and received the Legion of Merit and Distinguished Service Medal. And now, he is honored as a Distinguished Member of the Regiment at the Signal Corps Ball.
“His legacy is everywhere,” Tony said who credits his father and Frank as his inspiration to pursue a career in film. “When your grandfather is Frank Capra, he is part of you every day. I try to live up to his honesty, integrity and