‘Bonanza’: How Hoss Actor Dan Blocker Earned a Purple Heart

by Craig Garrett

For 13 seasons Dan Blocker played Hoss on classic tv western Bonanza, but before that, he saw serious action in the Korean War. At 6’4 and 320 pounds, Dan Blocker was always a kindhearted giant. He was a star football player while attending college in Texas. Blocker was drafted into the Army after completing a master’s degree in drama in 1950. He was serving in the Korean War the next year.

He was a member of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division. By Christmas Day, 1951, Dan Blocker was on the front lines, according to military.com. Blocker and the 179th Infantry Regiment were engaged in heavy combat for 209 days. During this time, he was wounded in action while rushing to the aid of his fellow troops. It might remind some Bonanza fans of something the big-hearted Hoss Cartwright would do. He attained the rank of sergeant.

Gordon Abts received a Silver Star Medal for gallantry on May 7, 1952. He said he served under Sgt. Blocker in Korea. He told the La Crosse Tribune newspaper in Wisconsin, that the Chinese would usually attack at night. That meant the U.S. soldiers slept during the day. “[Dan Blocker] was a great guy,” Abts said at the time. “He was very strong. He could take a beer can between two fingers and crush it. {Blocker] was very athletic.” Abts went on to describe Blocker in a way that echoes his Hoss character. “He was loud, but very friendly and got along with everybody. He was a great leader.”

Dan Blocker goes from Sarge to Hoss

The 179th was taken off the line in July 1952, and Blocker was transferred to a hospital to recover from his injuries. His unit then went into reserves. By August, he had a Purple Heart and was on his way back home.

Dan Blocker didn’t plan to be an actor after returning to the United States. However, moving to Los Angeles was part of his strategy. He studied for a doctorate at UCLA and one day, acting found him when he was standing in a phone booth dressed as the big Texan that he was. A talent scout noticed him in the unusually dressed Texan in the phone booth and thought he would be perfect for tv westerns.

Dan Blocker landed his role in Bonanza in 1959. He played the middle of three brothers in a Nevada ranching family. Hoss frequently rescued his youngest brother, Little Joe, played by Michael Landon. Hoss was a popular character on the long-running show, which aired for 14 seasons.

Unfortunately, Blocker was only able to participate in 13 seasons. Following a gallbladder operation, he died of a pulmonary embolism in 1972. Dan Blocker was only 43.