Hollywood Veterans in Arlington National Cemetery: Dashiell Hammett

Last weekend, filmmaker Brandon Brown and I set out to find six celebrities buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. The venture took four hours and more than five miles of walking. To put that into perspective, we were hunting for six graves out of more than 400,000 people buried in the 26 square mile cemetery with roughly an 8 mile trail running through it. This week, I am highlighting these people who either served in the military or were married to military personnel. 

Author Dashiell Hammett's grave at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica Pickens)

Author Dashiell Hammett’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. (Comet Over Hollywood/Jessica Pickens)

The man who invented Nick and Nora Charles in the 1934 book “The Thin Man,” is a United States Army veteran of World War I and II.

Author Samuel Dashiell Hammett, one of the most influential authors of hard-boiled detective novels, is famous for writing “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Thin Man” and “The Glass Key.”

He also wrote the screen plays for “Watch On the Rhine” (1943), “After the Thin Man” (1936), “The Glass Key” (1942) and “Shadow of the Thin Man” (1941)

But before his detective novel days, Hammett was a soldier.

Enlisting in the Army in 1918, Hammett was a sergeant in the Motor Ambulance Corp. While serving, he contracted tuberculosis; a disease that affected him for the rest of his life, according to the PBS American Masters series.

However, Hammett never got overseas during World War I. Frequent hospitals visits due to the flu and tuberculosis kept him stateside before he was discharged in May 1919, according to “Gentlemen Volunteers: The Story of the American Ambulance Drivers” in the Great War by Arlen J. Hansen.

Staff of the Adak Newspaper that Hammett edited. (Photo Courtesy of Anchorage Museum)

Staff of the Adak Newspaper that Hammett edited. (Photo Courtesy of Anchorage Museum)

But in World War II, Hammett’s military duties were more active. Hammett,48, picked up his military career in 1941, at the height of his fame. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Army as a private and was honorably discharged as a sergeant three year later.

Hammett fought against the Japanese in Battle of Attu, islands located off of Alaska, which was part of the Aleutian Islands Campaign. This is the only World War II battle fought on incorporated United States territory. The battle lasted more than two weeks of hand-to-hand combat in arctic conditions.

Hammett during World War II.

Hammett during World War II.

“Modern armies had never fought before in any field that was like the Aleutians,” Hammett was quoted in “The Capture of Attu: A World War II Battle as Told by the Men who Fought There,” by Robert J. Mitchell, Sewell Tappan Tyng and Nelson L. Drummond. “We could borrow no knowledge from the past. We would have to learn as we went along, how to live and fight and win this land; the least known part of our America.”

Hammett also edited a post newspaper while serving on the Alaskan base, according to a 2009 article from the Alaska Dispatch News.

In between his service in the World Wars, Hammett established himself writing detective novels, creating detective character Sam Spade. Many of his novels were turned into popular Hollywood films, most notably “The Thin Man,” which became a series starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, and “The Maltese Falcon,” starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and marking the screen debut of Sydney Greenstreet.

Hammett passed away in New York in 1961 but was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with military honors.

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4 thoughts on “Hollywood Veterans in Arlington National Cemetery: Dashiell Hammett

  1. I was not familiar with his military experience, thank you for this post. His history with the Pinkerton Detective Agency and especially his assignment in Butte, MT are very interesting. This was his basis for his novel The Red Harvest.

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