Hollywood is full of famous celebrities, each bringing their own gift to the silver screen. But behind these celebrities are figures who didn’t don the uniform of war for entertainment alone; they fought in some of the most important battles of our time.
We all know Bob Barker from “The Price is Right”, but before he made his fame he was actually a pilot in the U.S. Navy. Although he didn’t actually get to fight in the Second World War, his assignment was to fly airplanes from an aircraft carrier. The war ended before he made it onto a carrier.
For most celebrities, their Hollywood fame came after their service in the army, but not for Henry Fonda. He was already known on the screen from his film, “Grapes of Wrath”. Fonda chose to enlist in the Navy but didn’t want to see battle face-to-face. He served for three years as a quartermaster 3rd class on the destroyer USS Satterlee.
“George Jefferson” as most of us lovingly knew him was a star throughout the 1970’s and 80’s. Believe it or not he dropped out of school in order to join the U.S. Air Force. He served in Japan and in Korea and after he completed his four-year service he returned back home to Philadelphia where he worked as a mailman. The world of celebrities would follow.
John Coltrane enlisted in the Navy on August 6th, 1945. Not that he knew it, but it turned out to be a historical day as it was the day that America dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He then moved to Pearl Harbor with his unit and became a member of the swing band called the “Melody Masters”. Sadly he died when he was just 40 years old and until this day is considered one of the most significant saxophonists in music history.
Do you remember “Coronation Street”? Do you remember a certain Fred Gee? Well before Fred ever came into the picture there was a man by the name of Fred Feast. The English acting star was a sergeant in the British parachute regiment. He also served as a physical training instructor too.
The Tonight Show wasn’t Johnny Carson’s first impressive influence in the world of communications. Carson became an officer at Columbia University after joining the Navy in 1943. He served in the Pacific aboard the USS Pennsylvania where he was responsible for decoding encrypted messages. Many people are also oblivious to the fact that Carson was an amateur boxer with an unbeaten 10-0 record.
Many artists draw on their personal experiences in order to inspire new works with a touch of their own personality. J.R.R. Tolkien suffered through the trenches of the First World War and many people believe that the experiences he lived through there, came through in his works, like in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
American actor and film director, Paul Newman enrolled in the Navy V-12 Pilot program during the Second World War but dropped out due to his color-blindness. Although he could not be a pilot, he did succeed in becoming a turret gunner aboard an Avenger torpedo bomber. During the Battle of Okinawa, he was supposed to be aboard the USS Bunker Hill but couldn’t make it because his pilot suffered an ear infection. Not long after, the vessel was attacked by a kamikaze attack that killed many of his friends.
Clint Eastwood was drafted into the army during the Korean War but only served as a lifeguard on an army base. Although this may surprise you, Clint Eastwood has still seen some action. When he was once on board an airplane that ran out of fuel and crashed into the ocean, he and the pilot swam more than 2 miles to safety.
Celebrities usually keep a distinct image of themselves that helps fans identify them in a certain light. Drew Carey is one shining example. While many of us picture him with his thick-rimmed glasses and chubby frame, we would find it difficult to believe that he was once actually a marine. He served in the Marine Corps between the 70’s and 80’s.
Despite being the first African-American to win the Best Actor award at the Oscars, Sidney Poitier actually served in the military during the Second World War. The truth is that he actually lied about his age in order to enlist, since he was only 16 years old. He then faked insanity in order to get discharged just the following year.
His first claim to fame might be that he is Jamie Lee Curtis’ dad, but that might actually be hers. Tony served as a submarine tender after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. He personally wintessed the Japanese surrender at Tokyo Bay.
Catcher in the Rye will probably pop into most people’s minds when they hear his name. But what won’t is the thought of J.D. Salinger serving in the army. One of the greatest writers of the last century, he served in the counter-intelligence division where he worked his way up to the rank of staff sergeant. He spent most of his service in Europe during the Second World War.
We can’t help but smile when we see a picture of Han Solo or Indiana Jones – your choice. But did you know that he is an aviation enthusiast? So much so that he spends time aiding local authorities as a rescue helicopter pilot rescuing missing or hurt hikers.
Most people knew him as Barney Fife from the Andy Griffith Show and Mr. Furley in Three’s Company. This was a man who was passionate about acting from a very young age. He pursued his love for acting in every aspect of his life. When enlisted in the army at the outbreak of the Second World war, he felt it was his duty to entertain the other soldiers. Throughout his military tour of the Pacific islands, his comedy group called, “Stars and Stripes”, lightened the burden of war through their humor.
Even though Jimi Hendrix started to play guitar at the age of 15, the god of guitar didn’t just excel in music. This legend also served as a paratrooper in the famous 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. It is believed that Hendrix received a medical discharge from the Army when he broke his ankle during his 26th parachute jump.
Gene Roddenberry is synonymous with Star Trek and for good reason, he created it. It didn’t take him long to decide what he wanted to do when he graduated from Los Angeles City College in 1942. He enlisted in the army and was quickly shipped off to serve in the 394th Bomb Squadron of the Air Force.
Most people know that WWE is simulated wrestling, meaning it isn’t real but rather a show. But when it comes to WWE star, Jesse Ventura, there is nothing fake about him. Before he made his way into the ring, he was a hardcore Navy SEAL who served in the Philippines during the Vietnam War.
Limp Bizkit‘s star, Fred Durst wasn’t always the rocker we know today. He had a tough upbringing, one that was riddled with poverty and other restraints, but it didn’t stop this legend from becoming the man he is today. He served in the Navy for two years.
Sam Elliott initially moved to California to pursue his dreams of becoming an actor. To pay the bills, he decided to join the California Air National Guard. He was a member of the 163rd Airlift Wing out of the Channel Islands, off of the coast of France. Soon after serving in the military, he landed his first role in the Sundance Kid. Sam sure has acted in movies with military themes, and we bet his real-life experience helped him play the parts so well.
“I think we’re going to need a bigger boat”, was coined by Roy Scheider. He didn’t say that when he was on a real boat in the Navy, though. The period he served during just happened to be quiet. It is not widespread knowledge that Scheider was an amateur boxer who won 12 out of 13 of the fights he entered.
Even though he hosted his own show where he interviewed celebrities and others, he is best known as the host of Wheel of Fortune. In 1968 he was deployed to Vietnam. He took on an interesting role there. He became what was called an “army DJ” and for 18 months, that was his job.
Born in Kingsland, Arkansas, Johnny Cash didn’t know that he would become a famous country and blues songwriter and performer. He also didn’t know that he would serve in the U.S. Air Force. His assignment brought him to Germany where he functioned as a Morse code operator, intercepting Soviet military transmissions. He served from 1950 to 1953.
Now John Dillinger is not really listed as one of our celebrities, but he definitely was famous – or infamous, rather. No-one would have guessed that this American gangster who was known for pulling off daring bank robberies and leading gangs during the Great Depression would have served in the U.S. Navy. He served his time in the fire brigade unit of the Navy.
Once when silent films were the only films (and the best), Buster Keaton was taking the era by storm, especially with his film called The General. This great man actually took part in the First World War in the 40th Infantry Division. Along with his brigade, he shipped across to France to fight in the Great War, only to come back with his hearing damaged forever.
James Avery was not only the voice of Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, he was also a hero who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1969. He made it out without any harm and went on to become one of our most beloved celebrities.
Unlike some other celebrities, Montel Williams didn’t keep his time in the Marine Corps quiet, especially on his own talk show during the 90’s and 2000’s. He spent more than 10 years in the military and has some very impressive decorations to prove it. He was honorably discharged from the Navy with the rank of Midshipman.
Glenn Miller wanted to join the Navy, but when he made it there, they refused to accept him because he was too old at age 38. He approached the Army and asked to lead the army band to which they replied in the affirmative. He spent his service travelling across the States playing music on different bases. Miller disappeared when the plane he was flying on between England and France vanished. To this day, his mission status is MIA.
Before Jack Kerouac made his fame by being an acclaimed writer, he was a cadet in the Merchant Marines, back in 1942. When he signed up for the US Navy in 1943 he couldn’t handle what it entailed and wrote himself on the “sick list”. It had only been 8 days since he joined but according to the medical reports, he was suffering from schizoid personality and they promptly discharged him.
Sammy Davis Jr.
Born in New York City in 1926, Sammy Davis Jr. was blessed with a voice that could sing to the heart. He was famous for being a part of the famous “Rat Pack” which was led by Frank Sinatra. What isn’t so common to the public is that he served in the U.S. Army as part of a special forces unit during the Second World War. Although he was faced with racism during his military service, he endured by saying, “My talent was the weapon, the power, the way for me to fight. It was the one way I might hope to affect a man’s thinking.”
We all know him for his heroic role in “The Great Escape”, but what we don’t know about, is his real-life heroic achievements. McQueen joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1947, and although he was always late to return to base after free weekends, he was a man who looked out for his comrades. He saved the lives of five other marines during an exercise in the Arctic when he rescued them from a tank that broke through the ice and was seconds away from sinking into the sea. McQueen apparently reported that he enjoyed the time he served in the USMC.
Hemingway served as an ambulance driver in Italy during the First World War. After an explosion tore apart a munitions factory, he responded to the scene and helped to pull the bodies of women who had worked there, from the rubble. This had an everlasting effect on him and he used this experience in his book called, “Death in the Afternoon”.
Robert Duvall was born to a military dad who moved their family around quite a bit. This didn’t deter Duvall from wanting to pursue a similar career to his father’s. He joined the U.S. Army in the early 1950’s where he realized that he wanted to become an actor.
James Garner made great waves when he starred in the hit movie, “The Great Escape”. This wasn’t his first exposure to a war-related reality. In fact nearing the end of the Second World War, at the young age of 16, Garner joined the Merchant Marines. Some years later he joined the National Guard and served in the Korean War. How many celebrities can claim that they’ve done that?
Almost as though his name would suggest it, this actor would influence the world in more ways than one. In 1954 he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served there for 3 years. After discharging, he created the Negro Ensemble Company. He was a figurehead in the turning point for African-Americans in show business.
This is not exactly the glamorous story of celebrities or the heroic story of soldiers, but this star did have his own story. Ice T’s early life was rough and involved crimes. When he had his first daughter, he decided to turn his life around and joined the U.S. Army. He spent four years serving in the 25th infantry division.
Although Captain B.J. Hunnicutt from M.A.S.H. didn’t really hold the rank of captain in real life, we loved it on the screen. Mike Farrell served his time in the U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa. He received an honorable discharge and went on to pursue his acting career.
Known among other celebrities and his large fan-base, Robert Montgomery was no small name in showbiz. Montgomery joined the U.S. Navy at the start of the Second World War on board the USS Barton. It just happened to turn out that the ship he was assigned to played a big part in the D-Day invasion of 1944. He retired from the army with the rank of lieutenant commander.
James Stewart wanted to follow in his heroic father’s footsteps – who had fought in WW1 – and become a fighter pilot. He was already a licensed pilot and during the Second World War he flew dozens of missions and even took part in films that aimed to recruit new soldiers.
Neville Brand seemed to have always wielded a gun from what we knew of him as Al Capone in “The Untouchables”. But before he made his Hollywood impression on us, he was actually a WW2 soldier who served as a platoon leader at the rank of sergeant. During the war he was wounded and almost bled to death, but by the end of the war he was awarded six different medals, one of which was the “purple heart.”
Most of us will recognize John Amos from “Roots” when he played Toby, or from “Norman Lear’s Good Times”. But aside from acting for the camera, he was also an active member of the New Jersey National Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard. He honorably served his country.
Spencer Tracy married the talented Katherine Hepburn both on film and in real life, making him a major hit. He was a star actor that left the world in tears in 1967 when he passed away. He was just a training recruit at the age of 18 when the First World War ended, meaning he didn’t have to take part in the Great War.
The first thing we can say, is that Fred Gwynne’s role during the Second World War was far from unnecessary. When German ‘U’ boats were surreptitiously hunting American naval ships in the Atlantic, he was out hunting the German submarines. He was not only a “submarine chaser”, he was also a radioman for the Navy.
Rock Hudson had eyes glued to the screen in his many movies, like “Send Me No Flowers”, “Giant” and “Pillow Talk”. But he was not only a very talented actor who proved his hard work on the screen. He served during World War 2 in the aviation arena after graduating from high school. After the war ended he was sent to the Philippines and later returned to become the actor we know.
A man who was once an NFL hero, later became known as a fallen American war hero. Pat Tillman had a promising football future, but after the tragedy of “9/11”, he felt it was his duty to serve his country out in the field; the battlefield. In 2004 he was killed by friendly-fire, originally thought to be enemy fire.
Jackie Robinson is all kinds of hero to Americans. He was the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball and even though he was constantly pestered with racism, he held on and made incredible success until his retirement 10 years later. When WW2 came around, he put baseball on the back-burner and went to serve his country. A racism incident on a bus prevented him from ever seeing the theater of war.
Most people will argue over who the “real” James Bond is, and more often than not, the answer will be “Sean Connery”. 007 was only half of what this acting legend did for us. He spent time in the Royal Navy and went through basic training, but he was discharged due to a medical issue.
Who hasn’t heard of Joe DiMaggio? Only anyone who hasn’t ever heard of baseball because he is one of the greatest players of all time. The legend who married Marilyn Monroe also spent time in the Army during WW2. But he didn’t enter the battle ground at all, he spent his service time on bases around America where he was an athletics instructor.
Yogi Berra certainly isn’t the only baseball player on this list, but he is one of the few that saw combat during World War Two. Aboard the USS Bayfield, he saw war up-close and personal since their ship went straight into the battle at sea. He was a gunner’s mate in the Navy, and although many guns fired on him and his crew during the war, he was never harmed.
Harry Dean Stanton
Harry Dean Stanton has featured in many of our favorite films over the years, from “The Godfather” to “Alien”, from “Red Dawn” to “The Green Mile”, but few know that he also served in the Second World War. Now how exactly he served might be different from what you think – he was a cook aboard a ship during the Battle of Okinawa.
The comedian, actor and voice actor Larry Storch wasn’t always just about fun and games. During WW2, he served alongside Tony Curtis in the US Navy aboard the USS Proteus which was a submarine tender. After the war ended, he received a Distinguished Service Medal for his service during the war.
Clifton James wasn’t just Sheriff J.W. Pepper in “Live and Let Die” and “The Man With The Golden Gun”, he was also a soldier during WW2. But he was no ordinary soldier; he was an infantry platoon sergeant, and we’re sure he had his fair share of shouting moments. His role took him around Southeast Asia and Australia for over 40 months during the war.
The quirky and very talented Fred Williams has played a great role in our love for pop culture and television. There is a side of him that is not publicized, and that concerns his military service. Back in the 1960’s, he was a soldier in the army, and although the Vietnam War was running rampant, he wasn’t deployed – was it his choice or not? We don’t know.
“Gene Hackman” – this is a name that is just too great to be excluded from any list of great films from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. His acting skills weren’t limited to movies though, after WW2 he went to the recruitment office and lied to the officers there, telling them that he was older than his actual age of 16. He successfully joined the Marine Corps.
George C. Scott
George C. Scott was noted for his incredible acting skills, as well as his composure during the most hilarious and most dramatic movie scenes. In 1945 he decided to join the Marine Corps and used his talents in a unique role that would touch the lives of hundreds. He was recruited as an honor guard during funerals of fallen soldiers.
In 1958, when political unrest was overwhelming Lebanon, Harvey Keitel was a soldier in the Marine Corps who was sent to the region to help ground a pro-Western government as a part of “Operation Blue Bat”. It was only after his service that he made his way to Hollywood to dazzle us with movies like “Mean Streets”, “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction”.
How could anyone forget Peter Boyle in “Young Frankenstein”? How about in “Everybody Loves Raymond” as the always-cranky dad? Many people will not remember him as the young ensign in the Navy during the 1950’s. The poor seaman didn’t make it very far on the water after he suffered from a nervous breakdown and was discharged.
“Some Like It Hot” and “The Apartment” were two of the many greats that Jack Lemmon took part in. Another great he took part in was as a Navy ensign during the Second World War. He took to the seas to serve his country, come hell or high water.
Born on 20 March, 1937, Jerry Reed was too young to have ever served during WW2, but he did take time off from his personal success during the early 1960’s to serve in the US Army for a good two-year service. Once he was released, he made his way to Nashville to become the wonder he was.
If you didn’t cry from laughter during “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” then I’m not sure what you missed. The brilliant Richard Pryor wasn’t always just the hilarious comedian we knew him as. He was once a soldier between the years 1958 and 1960, but soon found himself in military prison after he stabbed another soldier who had been making extreme racist remarks.
You would never recognize this great actor if we showed you a picture of him during his time as a sailor in the US Navy. Most people only know him as Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero in “The Sopranos”. Surprisingly, Pastore only took to the acting stage when he was in his forties.
James Earl Jones
His voice blows us away every time we hear it. Mufasa from “The Lion King” was once an important figure in the US Army after he drafted at the height of the Korean War. After he attended infantry officer’s course, he was sent to become a Ranger, which he did without hesitation. Later on he became part of a unit that helped train soldiers for rugged terrains, and eventually finished his service as a First Lieutenant.
Sinbad had all ages laughing during his hilarious movies like, “Good Burger” and “Jingle All The Way”. But his creative success wasn’t limited to the movies that he made or to the circumstances he found himself in. He took to the stage of comedy way before he was famous; when he was a soldier serving in Kansas on a US Air Force base, he would sneak off base to entertain at local bars and comedy clubs.
Here is a man we can always look up to, not because of his height alone, though. Selleck served in the U.S. Army infantry and National Guard during the controversial Vietnam War. His service took him all the way to the rank of sergeant and brought him several medals over the course of 6 years. When asked how he felt about his service, he replied, “I am a veteran, I’m proud of it.” Talk about adding more respect to a man we already greatly respect.
The woman we all know from “The Golden girls” and “Maude” was by no means an actress during the Second World War. She enlisted into the US Marine Corps Women’s Reserve and took up work as a typist during the war. If you think that she was confined to a desk during this time, then you’re wrong – she was also a truck driver.
When war breaks, most people have to leave their day jobs and contribute toward the war effort, but there are some people whose day job can actually help during wartime. One such person was Walt Disney, and he brought his A game to the Second World War. It was part of his duty to create instructional videos for soldiers as well as propaganda cartoons. His special unit was called the “Walt Disney Training Films Unit”.
Lee Van Cleef
The eyes of Lee Van Cleef are his most prominent feature, and we couldn’t keep our eyes off them while watching “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. Before he made his great appearances on the Western scene in the 1950’s and 1960’s, he was actually a serviceman in the US Navy during WW2. Now, an impressive set of eyes like his needed to be put to good use,so he was assigned as a submarine chaser. He also needed a good pair of b… ears, since he was also assigned as a minesweeper.
Since the king of rock ‘n roll was already famous by the time he drafted into the Army in 1958, it was no surprise that his drafting into the military was a well-known event. Just moments before he was due for his mandatory buzz-cut, he remarked, “Hair today, gone tomorrow.” He would later turn down the offer to join the “Special Services” unit because he wanted to serve in a fighting unit. He was honorably discharged in 1960 after having served in West Germany.
Before he was fighting on the screen of “Planet of the Apes”, he was battling a different kind of adversary during WW2. He drafted into the Army in 1944 and spent two years on a base in Alaska as an aerial gunner and radio operator. By the end of his service he was a staff sergeant.
The chilling impact this art collector, writer and poet had during WW2 is enough to keep you up at night. The Jewish American Gertrude Stein felt allegiance towards Hitler and the Nazis. Rumors speculate that, aside from translating for the Nazis, she assisted in sending Jews to concentration camps. Not exactly a war heroine.
The iconic Mr. T from the “A-Team” didn’t always sport his African Mandinka haircut. Once his hair was completely shaved off, and that’s because he was a soldier in the Military Police Corps. He eventually became a squad leader and then honorably discharged before he transferred his tough guy persona to the big screen.
Probably our last association with Hugh Hefner would be that of a fighter; he was a lover, no? Well during WW2 he didn’t actually fight in any battles, he was a writer for the US Army newspaper which he had had a passion for since he was in high school with a magazine he started called “School Daze”. His service ran from 1944 until 1946, and then he took his services elsewhere.
Member of the “Rat Pack” and the legendary Mr. Potato Head from Toy Story, Don Rickles has left an impression on most of us. He left an impression elsewhere when he joined the US Navy after graduating from high school at the age of 18. During the Second World War, he served aboard the US Cyrene and worked his way up to the rank of seaman first class. In 1946, almost a year after the war ended, Rickles was honorably discharged from the Navy.
A classic figure to see on the silver screen was also Mel Brooks. He had us splitting at the sides with performances in “Robin Hood: Men In tights”, “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein”. During WW2 he was placed in a combat engineering role which meant that he had to defuse landmines – not exactly for the feint-hearted.
Morgan Freeman is god. Or rather, he was god in the movie “Bruce Almighty” with Jim Carrey. He has made impressions on all of us in movies like, “The Shawshank Redemption” and the “Dark Knight Trilogy”. He was always passionate about aviation and in 1955 joined the US Air Force in hopes of becoming a pilot. However, he was recruited as a radar technician. But that didn’t stop him from flying. Today he owns four planes and is certified to fly each one of them.
Wonder Woman Gal Gadot, is not just a bad-ass on the silver screen, she is also a qualified butt kicker in real life. Gal Gadot served her mandatory two years of service in the Israeli Defense Forces from the age of 18. Her position was a combat trainer where she helped train combat soldiers for battle.
It’s tough being a teenager, especially when you don’t know what you want to do with yourself. It doesn’t make it any simpler when a war is going on, or does it? Humphrey Bogart was eighteen when he enlisted in the Navy in 1919, and was sent to France. The First World War had already ended but that didn’t stop him from seeing some action, kind of. He reported that the food was good and the women beautiful.
It’s a surprise for most people to know that “Spock” from the original Star Trek movie was in the US army at a point in his life. He spent a great part of the 1950’s in the Army Reserves, but not without doing what he loved. He would write and direct shows for other soldiers. Sometimes he would even perform, himself.
Bill Cosby won our hearts in many of the TV shows he hosted and appeared on. A personal favorite was “Kids Say The Darndest Things” when he brought kids on stage and questioned them for their naive and hilarious insights of the world. In 1956, Cosby enlisted in the Navy and served for four years before being honorably discharged. He spent a great amount of his time assisting injured soldiers during the Korean War.
Blake Clark impressed us with his comic talent in lots of 90’s movies like “Boy Meets World”, “Home Improvement” and even in “Toy Story” when he voiced the character of Slinky. He spent a great number of his military service as a platoon leader of the 5th infantry division in the 1960’s during the Vietnam War.
The famous Corporal Klinger from M.A.S.H. actually held real rank once. Although in real life he didn’t dress up as a woman, like he did in the show, to get out of his military service. During the Korean War, Jamie Farr was stationed both in Japan and Korea and believe it or not, he even wore his real dog tags during the show.
Only Chuck Norris can strangle someone with a cordless phone. Only Chuck Norris can do a wheelie on a unicycle. The list of Chuck Norris jokes goes on and on – he is the toughest guy out there, and we might know where it all started. It could be his black belt martial arts background, but we believe that it’s his military background that did it. In 1958, Norris joined the US Air Force and served in Korea during the war. Later he was promoted to become an Air Policeman.
The story of Clark Gable is one of heroism, bravery and the quest for bitter revenge. Gable was already a hotshot when the Second World War started, and his wife, Carole Lombard was considered the most beautiful actress in Hollywood at the time. When Lombard’s plane crashed while trying to raise money for the war effort, Gable was extremely depressed and eventually decided that he wanted to help put an end to the war. He joined the Air Force, despite efforts to dissuade him, and served as a gunner on several flight missions.
Charles Bronson has one of those cool Hollywood looks that instantly makes people look up to him. But when you hear what he did during the Second World War it really makes you appreciate this actor. In 1943 he enlisted in the Air Force and served in the 760th Flexible Gunnery Training Squadron. He was awarded the “Purple Heart” for wounds he received during the 25 success battle missions he flew.