CHARLES DURNING was not only one of Hollywood’s most prolific character actors but also a decorated military veteran who took his World War II secrets to the grave when he passed away on Christmas Eve.

The Oscar nominee made a name for himself with memorable roles in TV and films including “The Sting,” “Dog Day Afternoon”, “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” and “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” But most of Durning’s fans knew little about his heroic actions during WWII.

Durning who was 89 when he passed away at his New York City home, was among the first wave of U.S. soldiers to land at Normandy during the D-Day invasion in 1944.

Although he rarely discussed it, in 2004, Durning spoke exclusively to The ENQUIRER about the horror of combat and why he never starred in a war film.

He said that when he arrived at Omaha Beach, “I bent down to tie my shoe – and the guys in front of me and behind me were killed instantly in a Nazi machine gun ambush. I was the only one to survive.

"In order to get out alive, I had to kill seven German gunners.

“For years afterward, I wondered why my life was spared while they died. I have empathy for any man who fights a war and survives.

“That’s why I never starred in any war films. I have lived through the tragedy and heartache – I don’t need to pretend on-camera or act like a hero.”

Durning was later awarded the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts.

“Charles was a very proud soldier,” a source close to the actor noted. “But he said he would rather be remembered for entertaining people than for the wartime horrors he experienced.”