This ‘Gilligan’s Island’ Star Was a Decorated WWII Bombardier Before the Classic Series

by Samantha Whidden

Before taking on a role as Professor Roy Hinkley on the classic TV series “Gilligan’s Island,” Russell Johnson was a decorated World War II Bombardier.  

Snopes confirmed that the “Gilligan’s Island” star, who passed away in January 2014 at the age of 89, served as a bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He had notably flown 44 combat missions in the Pacific Theater during World War II. 

It was also revealed by the Associated Press that the actor served as a B-24 bombardier on missions over the Pacific war zone. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also disclose that Johnson served in the 100th Bombardment Squadron, 42nd Bombardment Group, and 13th Air Force. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in January 1944. 

He actually ended up breaking his ankles in 1945 when his plane was shot down over the Philippine Island of Mindanao. Johnson was then discharged as a first lieutenant in November 1945 and earned a Purple Heart among other medals. These medals are  a Bronze Star; an Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster; a good conduct medal; an Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three service stars; a Philippine Liberation Ribbon with one service star; and a World War II Victory Medal with Honorable Service Lapel Button 

‘Gilligan’s Island’ Star Russell Johnson Said He ‘Desperately’ Wanted to Join the Military After Graduating

During a 2007 interview with the Times Leader, “Gilligan’s Island” star Russell Johnson stated that after graduating from Girard College in 1942, he was desperately wanting to enlist in the military. This was to fulfill his dream to perform his patriotic duty. However, he had to wait until he was 18th birthday that year.

“The world was at war,” the “Gilligan’s Island” star stated, “This country was 100 percent committed to the war. It was a completely different world.”

Johnson then said that when people weren’t being drafted for war, they were signing up to enlist. He recalled his plane being shot down by Japanese aircraft. “We ended up in the ocean. We were shot up a bit. Our radio operator was killed.”

Also speaking about his injuries, Johnson stated that they were just part of a normal day’s work. “We were just like everybody else – just doing our job. We are just fortunate enough to be here today.”

 Meanwhile, Johnson spoke about his “Gilligan’s Island” character. He stated that he initially thought the Professor was just another character to play when he was first cast for the role in the early 1960s. “I’ve had many people say their interest in science was sparked by the show,” Johnson said. “Whether they be doctors or scientists. It is always a wonderful thing to hear.”

“Gilligan’s Island” ran for three seasons from 1964 to 1967.