7:30 AM, June 6, 1944–Juno Beach, Normandy, France
Lieutenant James Doohan and his men are part of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division tasked with establishing a beachhead. In broad daylight, under constant fire from enemy machine guns, Doohan leads his men across a beach littered with landmines. Miraculously, none of the mines detonate, and they make their way to higher ground.
Doohan and his men faced two battalions of the German 716th Infantry Division, but were able to secure their positions by noon. Doohan himself took out two German snipers. Canadian troops continued to land on the beach and move inland…so many that by nightfall there was a risk of friendly fire. This is what happened to Doohan. Returning to his post from a smoke break, Doohan was shot six times. The silver cigarette case in his breast pocket deflected the bullet that would have killed him–“the one time that smoking saved my life,” he said later.
Doohan recovered from his wounds and joined the Royal Canadian Artillery, where he learned to fly the highly maneuverable Taylorcraft Auster Mark IV. He earned the nickname “craziest pilot in the Canadian Air Force” after flying between two telephone poles near ground level just to prove it possible. Doohan would eventually become involved in flying a much more interesting craft.
Back home in Canada, Doohan was listening to a radio drama one evening. “The worst drama I had ever heard,” he told an interviewer. “I knew I could do a better job.” So he signed up for drama lessons and eventually gained a scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. Joining CBC radio in 1953, Doohan would eventually do more than 4,000 radio and television shows, earning him a reputation as the most versatile voice actor in the business. In 1966, he auditioned for a new NBC science fiction series that would change his life forever.
Knowing that Doohan was a skilled master of dozens of accents and voices, the show producers asked him to use the one he thought would be best for the role. He told them, “If this character is going to be an engineer, you’d better make him a Scotsman.” So was born Star Trek’s “Scotty”.
Scotty influenced a lot of aspiring engineers. The Milwaukee School of Engineering awarded him an honorary degree after nearly half of the student body reported that they had chosen to study engineering because of Scotty. When he received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2004, astronaut Neil Armstrong made a rare public appearance to declare, “from one old engineer to another, thanks, Scotty.”