Walt Disney
Animator and business magnate Walt Disney shaking hands with AFS Participants Roberto Segura-Jouineau (Spain-USA 1962-1963) and Daniel Bettens (Switzerland-USA 1962-1963), circa 1962-1963. Autographed photograph. Photograph by Norman Hoyt Photography, Kansas City, Missouri. Courtesy of the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs (AFS Archives.) This image cannot be reproduced outside the guidelines of United States Fair Use (17 U.S.C., Section 107) without advance permission from the AFS Archives.

Fifty years ago on September 14, 1964, Walt Disney received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian recognition. He received this award because his achievements had “made freedom stronger for all us,” according to United States President Lyndon B. Johnson. Disney is famous for his career as a business magnate, animator, and director, but not everybody knows that he participated in World War I.

In 1917 he was rejected by the U. S. Navy for being underage. He instead decided to join the American Red Cross Ambulance Corps, an organization that only required volunteers to be seventeen years old. After a period of training in Chicago, Disney sailed to France to aid in the occupation after the armistice was signed. He mostly worked as an errand boy for the canteen that served the troops passing through Neufchâteau by train on the way to Germany, and he drove the canteen car.

Although he was never an AFS Driver, as he joined the war effort only after AFS had been absorbed into the U.S. military and ceased to exist as an independent organization, Walt Disney shared their spirit of volunteerism. In the picture above, he is shaking hands with AFS Winter Program Participants Roberto Segura-Jouineau (Spain-USA 1962-1963) and Daniel Bettens (Switzerland-USA 1962-1963)who both spent their AFS program year in Kansas. This photograph was probably taken in Kansas City, Missouri, where Walt Disney lived during his childhood and teenage years. Disney also autographed the photograph with his famous signature.