James Garner's Nose Saved His Life While Fighting In The Korean War

Army Pvt. James S. Bumgarner hated onions but could at least stomach them. He was so sensitive to garlic, on the other hand, that he'd get sick to his stomach at the faintest whiff. "I can taste tiny amounts of it, like when they've cooked another dish with garlic before and don't wash the pan," he recalled years later in "The Garner Files: A Memoir," after he'd changed his name to James Garner. By then, he had become a famous actor best known for the 1960s television show "Maverick," "The Rockford Files," from a decade later, and such films as "The Great Escape."

Garner served with the U.S. Army Infantry as part of the Fifth Regimental Combat Team of the Twenty-Fourth Division of Korea during the Korean War, per "James Garner: A Biography." In his nine months of combat, he was wounded twice and awarded the Purple Heart. The first incident took place on his second day in Korea when shrapnel from an enemy mortar hit him in the hand and face, per "The Garner Files." He was wounded again by friendly fire a few months later. Garner's intense aversion to garlic may have prevented him from being more severely wounded or even killed on another occasion.

James Garner served in two wars 

James Garner, born James Scott Bumgarner in Norman, Oklahoma, on April 7, 1928, joined the Merchant Marine towards the end of World War II. He was only 16, had just dropped out of high school, and lied about his age in order to enlist, according to Biography. He later served in the Oklahoma National Guard where he injured a knee earning him a medical discharge, per "The Garner Files."

By 1950, Garner, a bit of a drifter in his youth, was in Los Angeles for a second time and living with his father who'd been there since the 1930s. Garner was modeling when the U.S. entered the Korean War. He was still officially a resident of Oklahoma and became the first person from the state to be drafted, per "James Garner: A Biography." "When the fighting heated up, the 5th was rushed to Korea," Garner recalled in "The Garner Files." "They needed fodder to stuff up the gap, and we were in the first group of replacements."

Fish heads, rice, and garlic 

One night, while on guard duty, James Garner caught a faint smell of garlic on the wind. The North Korean and Chinese troops had a diet heavy on his least favorite food item. The enemy, he later recalled in "The Garner Files" subsisted on "fish heads, rice, and garlic." Along with the smell of garlic, Garner suddenly heard voices and knew an enemy patrol was heading their way.

"They were just the other side of a rise when I passed the word down the line," he recalled in his memoir. "We were ready for them and stopped them in their tracks." After being honorably discharged, Garner returned to Los Angeles, and by 1957 he was on his way to a decades-long show business career when he landed the role of Bret Maverick in the television western "Maverick." He would star in more than 50 films before his death in 2014 at age 86, according to The New York Times. He avoided garlic to the very end.