"It was very emotional experience for me," Durning told the Associated Press at the time. "I had to stop a couple of times; I couldn't go on."
Durning, who completed high school after the war, once said that he always wanted to act.
"I became enamored of acting the first time I saw [the 1933 movie] 'King Kong,'" he told the Washington Post, adding that when he first saw James Cagney in a movie, "I just went crazy."
A postwar stint studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, however, did not bode well for his future as an actor.
"They told me, 'You're too short, too fat and have no talent,'" Durning said in a 1977 interview with The Times. "I was a dreadfully shy person then and this shook me to the foundations. I thought they knew what they were talking about."
To support himself, he worked a variety of jobs, including taxi driver, construction worker, plumber's helper, elevator operator and night watchman on the New York docks. He also taught ballroom dancing off and on for about five years.
In 1960 he made his professional acting debut as a member of the road company of "The Andersonville Trial."
In 2008, the same year Durning received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Screen Actors Guild's honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award.
Durning, who was married twice, is survived by three children: Michele, Douglas and Jeanine.
His family plans a private memorial service at Arlington National Cemetery.
McLellan is a former Times staff writer.