Harold John Russell was a Canadian-American World War II veteran who became one of only two non-professional actors to win an Academy Award for acting. Russell also holds the unique honor of being the only person to receive two Academy Awards for the same role.
Harold Russell was born in North Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada and moved to Massachusetts with his family in 1933. In 1941, he was so profoundly affected by the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor that he enlisted in the Army on the following day, December 8.
While an Army instructor, and training with the U.S. 13th Airborne Division stateside in 1944, a defective fuse detonated an explosive he was handling while making a training film. As a result, he lost both hands and was given two hooks to serve as hands. After his recovery, and while attending Boston University as a full-time student, Russell was featured in an Army film called Diary of a Sergeant about rehabilitating war veterans.
When film director William Wyler saw the film on Russell, he cast him in the film The Best Years of Our Lives with Fredric March and Dana Andrews. Russell played the role of Homer Parrish, a sailor who lost both hands during the War.