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.
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.
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. He punched a doorman at the Statler Hotel for referring to someone with an anti-Semitic slur, and received an official reprimand for it.
The airplane graveyard where Dana Andrews' character 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.
The base pay for a Captain with three years time in grade in 1945 was $210.00. But, that amount would be before combat pay, flight pay and any other allotments. Officers received flight pay of amount equal to half their monthly rate.
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.
Harold Russell's Oscar winning performance in this film is his only acting Academy Award nomination, but along with it he was awarded an Honorary Oscar for his inspiring performance. He is still the only actor to ever receive two Oscars for the same role.
When Homer is lighting everyone's cigarettes, after the second one he asks if either of the two men are superstitious. They say no and he says that he is, blows out the match and lights up a second. This is actually in reference to a habit amongst ground troops of the first world war. They would light the first soldiers cigarette, even the second, but the third would likely be shot by a sniper.
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.
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% to 9.45%.
In the closing cast credits Fredric March's first name is spelled "Frederic" with two "e's" instead of one. According to research this is a common mistake because when people see the name "Fredric" they get the impression the name is misspelled and will add the second "e".
In the sequence where Homer discloses his stumps to Wilma, Robert Warshaw* attributes that sexual charge to "feminization [following that] he .. has lost his hands - and with them, his power to be sexually aggressive .. every night, his wife will have to put him to bed, and then it will be her hands that must be used in making love. Beneath the pathos of the scene .. feels a current of excitement, in which the sailor's misfortune becomes a kind of wish-fulfillment, as one might actually dream it. He must be passive .. therefore he can be .. without guilt. [and that overall] The asexual relations of the characters form an unusually clear projection of the familiar Hollywood (and American) dream of male passivity. The men are inept, nervous, inarticulate and childishly wilful." [*from 'Anatomy of a Falsehood'; '62.]
The trivia items 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.