Bridey Heing
July 31, 2015 8:34 am

If you’ve never listened to StoryCorps, now is a great time to start. The radio series tells extraordinary stories about everyday people, and their latest is a total tearjerker. StoryCorps recently ran an interview with Donnie Dunagan, a former Marine who broke Marine Corps records and served in Vietnam. But you may know him for something entirely unexpected: Dunagan was the voice of Bambi.

As a child actor, Dunagan was chosen by Disney to voice the titular deer in the beloved animated film. But Dunagan didn’t tell anyone about the iconic role, not even his wife. His fear was that given his role in the military, his fellow Marines wouldn’t take him seriously if they knew about his role in a kid’s film. So, he kept it secret.

“No chance!” Dunagan tells his wife, Dana. “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.”

But after several years working under one General, his past was found out. When asked to do an audit, Dunagan confronted a moment he’d feared for years.

“He looked at me, pulled his glasses down like some kind of college professor. There’s a big, red, top-secret folder that he got out of some safe somewhere that had my name on it. He pats this folder, looks me in the eye and says, ‘You will audit the auditors. Won’t you, Major Bambi?’ ”

Dunagan has since come to terms with and embraced his childhood moment in the spotlight, though.

“I have some holes in my body that God didn’t put there. I got shot through my left knee. Got an award or two for saving lives over time,” he says. “But I think I could have been appointed as the aide de camp in the White House, it wouldn’t make any difference. It’s Bambi that’s so dear to people.”

Dunagan, now 80, has come to treasure his once secret past.

“. . .I love it now — when people realize, ‘This old jerk, he’s still alive and was Bambi.’ And I wouldn’t take anything for it, not a darn thing for it.”

Listen to the whole story at NPR, and get the tissues ready.

(Image via Disney)

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