Donnie Dunagan is a hard-nosed Marine, a highly decorated veteran of the Vietnam War who served for a quarter-century before retiring as a major. First drafted in the ’50s and subsequently promoted 13 times in 21 years — a Corps record at the time, he recalls — Dunagan found the Marines a perfect fit. That is, so long as he could keep a secret.
A dark reminder of the past Dunagan left behind still lurked unspoken: He was Bambi.
As a kid, Dunagan did a brief stint as a child actor, and he was tapped by Walt Disney to be the voice of the lead in the 1942 Bambi, the now-classic animated film about a young deer learning about life in the forest. And not one of his fellow Marines knew.
“No chance!” Dunagan, now 80, tells his wife, Dana, on a recent visit with StoryCorps in San Angelo, Texas. “I never said a word to anybody about Bambi, even to you. When we first met I never said a word about it. Most of the image in people’s minds of Bambi was a little frail deer, not doing very well, sliding around on the ice on his belly.”
Now, imagine the man who was once Bambi as a commander in a Marine Corps boot camp, responsible for hundreds of recruits. Dunagan didn’t want his recruits drawing any connections, mocking him or calling him “Maj. Bambi.” So, he kept his mouth shut.