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Another Angel Wins His Wings
By Carlton W. Austin
There are hundreds of grateful people who owe their lives directly to his bravery; thousands more of their progeny who owe him as well. Yes, if this courageous naval aviator hadn't shot down that Japanese Zero, the one about to crash into the troop carrier--well, we shudder to think.
We can’t be sure if the aforementioned action took place during the Mariannas Turkey Shoot, the battle of the Coral Sea, Okinawa or elswhere. It was never clearly stated.
We do know he won a Congressional Medal of Honor for this heroic action, as well as the many other "Zekes" he downed during his short but illustrious career as a Navy fighter pilot in the Pacific in World War II. His exploits made all the papers. The president had him and his mom over for tea. His hometown rejoiced.
Still there is this: No matter what the debt owed to him, the debt owed to his big brother, George, is even greater; for he, by saving young Harry from an untimely death in the fast-running, frigid waters of Bedford Falls, saved not just the men on that troop carrier but a whole town as well. Sadly, his selfless act of bravery cost George the hearing in his left ear. But more about him in a moment; this is Harry's story.
Harry, who? Still don't recognize this second-team All-American whose dad started the famous but ill-fated Bailey Savings and Loan?
Why it's Harry Bailey, of course! Little brother to George, who lent Violet the money for her one big shot at the Big Apple and the eager immigrant Mr. Martini the money for this first home; who came to such desperation at the slings and arrows of life’s daily lottery that it was only his daughter Zuzu's flower petals, tucked safely in his tweed trousers, that helped him cling to hope and abort a planned suicide. All this while young Harry flew to victory.
But it was Harry who died today, February 5, 2000. He was, in reality, the actor Todd Karns, age 79. He took his final flight from Ajijic, Mexico, a strange place, indeed, to end a life begun in that bucolic New England neverland of Bedford Falls.
While Karns played in a number of other 40's and 50's films, including Flat Top, Eagle Squadron, Jet Job, Clipped Wings, Battle Zone, Caine Mutiny, My Foolish Heart, China Venture, The Courtship of Andy Hardy, and even Invaders From Mars, where he played Jim, the gas station attendant, his role as Harry Bailey in Frank Capra's Christmas classic It's A Wonderful Life was his defining moment.
Because of the eduring success of this film, he will in all probability be best remembered for this timeless tribute in the final scene: "To my big brother, George, the richest man in town!"
We were all the richer for your talent, Todd Karns.
Wait, my phone is ringing. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what that means. According to Clarence, George's guardian angel, "Every time a bell rings, it means an angel got his wings."
Well, Todd Karns certainly won his. We'll miss you, Todd.
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