Good Laughs And Happy Times: Service In World War II And In Entertainment

Mel Brooks


Mel Brooks was born in 1926 in Brooklyn as Melvin Kaminsky. His father died when he was two, so his mother raised four boys on her own. Mel recalls her singing to him to wake him up, and all the hard work she did to keep the family going. He thought he would end up working in the garment district, but when he was nine, his Uncle Joe took him to see Anything Goes with Ethel Merman, and from that point Mel knew he would be in show business. During World War II, he and his three brothers all served. Irving was a Lieutenant in the Signal Corps and was stationed at Ft. Monmouth developing advanced radar. Bernie was also in the Signal Corps but served in the Pacific. Lenny (Mel describes him as a hero) was a waist gunner on a B-17, completed 25 missions, was shot down, and was a POW for eighteen months. Mel started his training at the Virginia Military Institute, where he enjoyed his experience, and then was drafted and trained at Ft. Sill as a Field Artillery Forward Observer. His voyage to Europe was a torturous three weeks, but he ended up at a chateau in Normandy, where he trained in mine detection techniques and booby traps. As the war was nearing the end, there was little need for forward observers, and he was transferred to the 1104th Engineer Combat Battalion. He remembers probing for land mines, and recalls being grateful that one of his NCOs had excellent techniques for disarming them. As his unit advanced into Germany, he helped build Bailey Bridges over destroyed roads. He spent the day the war ended in the basement of a German school building in Baumholder with his buddy Richard Goldman and a bottle of wine, avoiding getting accidentally shot by celebratory gunfire. He was transferred to Special Services at the end of the war, where he was promoted to Corporal and served as an entertainer, putting together shows that included German musicians. He remembers crying at the sight of the Statue of Liberty when he returned to the United States and was reunited with his brothers and mother. He continued in show business after the war, developing a style of sketch comedy versus the stand-up style of the Borscht Belt comedians. When he became a director, he always incorporated an engine to drive his movies, ensuring that he shared important messages through the comedy. He is most proud of his movie called “The Twelve Chairs” about Russia after the Revolution. In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his service during World War II, and his career in entertainment. He reflects on how blessed he was in his life, starting with a mother who cared and provided for him. He describes his love for his wife Anne Bancroft, sharing all the qualities that made her a wonderful actress and mother. He reflects on his service during World War II, remarking that it was a growing-up period, and he felt like he was part of something important.


conflicts World War II
topics Teamwork Camaraderie Leadership Returning from War Jewish Military Experience Military Techniques
interviewer David Siry
date 12 July 2023


name Mel Brooks
service Field Artillery / Combat Engineer
unit 1104th Combat Engineer Battalion
specialty Field Artillery Forward Observer / Combat Engineer
service dates 1944 1945