For his performance as Homer Parrish, Harold Russell became the only actor to win two Academy Awards for the same role. The Academy Board of Governors thought he was a long shot to win, so they gave him an honorary award "for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance." Later that ceremony he won for Best Supporting Actor.
William Wyler, who served as a major in the Army Air Force during World War II, incorporated his own wartime experiences into the film. Just as Fred Derry did in the movie, Wyler flew in B-17s in combat over Germany, although rather than being a bombardier, as Derry was, Wyler shot footage for documentary films (his hearing was permanently damaged when an anti-aircraft shell exploded near his plane while on a bombing raid). Additionally, he modeled the reunion of Al and Milly, in which they first see each other at opposite ends of a long hallway, on his own homecoming to his wife, Margaret Tallichet.
The airplane graveyard where Dana Andrews' characters finds his old bomber was a real graveyard for thousands of B-17 and B-25 bombers, along with numerous fighter planes. The crew washed down Andrews' bomber then hit it with dust to make it stick on the forward turret for a grittier look. Though the salvage crew scene was part of the movie, in real life such work crews did dismantle the old planes to make housing for returning veterans.
Virginia Mayo had read the novel "Glory for Me" and envisioned herself as Marie Derry. When producer Samuel Goldwyn refused to give her the part, she had pictures taken of herself at a local bar. That convinced Goldwyn, who was simultaneously working on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), to give her the part over the objections of director William Wyler. Mayo filmed both of the above movies simultaneously -- sometimes shooting scenes from both on the same day.
According to his biographer A. Scott Berg, producer Samuel Goldwyn re-released the film in a modified format to play on wide screens. It opened with all the hoopla of a new picture, including a gala premiere in Washington, DC, on February 3, 1954, with Sherman Adams, five Supreme Court justices, two cabinet members and 24 senators in attendance. There was a $250,000 campaign advertising it as "The Most Honored Picture of All Time". The film grossed another $1 million.
The first film recorded in stereo using the Westrex Recording system. The stereophonic version exists in the form of studio acetate masters but they were never married to the picture. Only a handful of theaters were equipped for multi-channel sound at the time of its original release.
Was remade in 1975 as a TV movie called Returning Home (1975) with Dabney Coleman, Tom Selleck and James R. Miller as the returning soldiers and Whitney Blake, Joan Goodfellow, Sherry Jackson,and Laurie Walters as the wives and sweethearts. Miller like Harold Russell was chosen to play Homer because Miller lost his hands fighting in Viet Nam.
The scene where Fred Derry punches a loudmouth and loses his job for it was inspired by an incident that happened to director William Wyler during the war. Wyler punched a doorman at the Statler Hotel for referring to someone with an anti-Semitic slur, and Wyler received an official reprimand for it.
The character played by Ray Teal (the actor that Harold Russell attacks at the soda fountain) is listed in the credits as "Mr. Mollett". However, the character's name is never mentioned or otherwise alluded to. It may be that Mr. Mollett is named in the book on which the film was based, "Glory for Me," by MacKinlay Kantor.
Director William Wyler was almost deaf from flying in a B-25 during the war. During filming, he sat beneath the camera with a large set of headphones that were connected to an amplifier so that he could hear the actors.
After Fred and Peggy's lunch, the waiter says it was 85 cents (each) plus tax for a total of $1.76. This means the meals were $1.70 and the tax 6 cents or about 3.5%. $1.70 in 1946 had the same buying power as $20.66 in 2015, and for states that have a combined sales tax, rates ranged from 4.35 percent to 9.45 percent.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
During the wedding scene at the end, Harold Russell fluffed his lines during his vows. Rather than calling cut and ordering a re-take, William Wyler liked how natural it sounded and this was the take used.