The actor, who played tough-guy characters on screen, was true to his reel life persona in real life too. He once had to swim in the ocean all night long to save his life, and it left a lasting impact on him.
Actor and director Clint Eastwood is among the few Hollywood stars who are veterans, which gave them tough experiences that are sometimes hard to talk about. He is one "lucky punk" to have survived something so traumatic that it still lingers in him, despite having taken place more than 60 years ago.
In 1950, at the age of 21, he was a draftee in the US Army for the Korean war. He was sent to Ft. Ord in California for basic training and remained there as a swimming instructor. He used to work nights and weekends as a bouncer, according to Military.com. The traumatic event that he escaped from took place during a journey from Seattle to Almeda in a Second World War-era navy bomber. The plane ditched and crashed into the Pacific. The young man, who had his entire life in front of him, found himself swimming ashore for multiple miles in the dark to stay alive.
“I was catching a free ride from Seattle down to Almeda,” he told The Telegraph. “It was stormy and we went down off of Point Reyes, California, in the Pacific. I found myself in the water swimming a few miles towards the shore. I remember thinking, ‘well, 21 is not as long as a person wants to live.’”
He spent many hours fighting for his life as he waded through kelp beds until he could find a cliff he could scramble on to. He finally found a relay tower in Bolinas. The Dirty Harry actor was the only passenger on the Douglas AD torpedo bomber while it flew in tough weather off the coast of Northern California.
The pilot informed him that they would be trying to do an emergency landing off Point Reyes into waters that were shark-infested. "We went down at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon," Eastwood, 86, said. "I could see the Marin County coast from a distance. I don't know how far it was — it seemed like 50 miles, but it was probably a mile or two. Then it got dark. It was quite a way into nightfall before we reached it," he told The Hollywood Reporter.
He eventually left the Army in 1953 and went to L.A. to pursue a career in acting. The incident remained in his heart, even though he survived, and then went on to become one of the most esteemed members of Hollywood. In 2016, he directed the film Sully: Miracle on the Hudson that dealt with a similar topic, and he was called on to open up about his 1950 experience. It seemed like only yesterday that the events unfolded, and he admitted to still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from what happened.
One thing the veteran said about his and Sully's experience might resonate with anybody caught in a difficult situation. “Anybody who keeps their wits about them when things are going wrong, who can negotiate problems without panicking, is someone of superior character, and interesting to watch on film,” he told The Telegraph.