A 17-year-old Tony Curtis was inspired to join the Navy after seeing it glamorized on the silver screen.
“As a youth, I remember seeing Cary Grant in ‘Destination Tokyo’ and Tyrone Powers in ‘Crash Drive.’ I knew right then and there that I wanted to be a submariner,” Curtis once said.
Choosing to serve after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Curtis was stationed aboard the USS Proteus, a submarine tender as part of a submarine relief crew. Thus, he didn’t actually serve aboard a submarine before he was discharged as he had hoped.
“I wanted to qualify submarines so badly,” the star of classic films like “Some Like It Hot” and “The Defiant Ones” said, “but it was the only thing I didn’t get to do. I wish I could’ve done that.”
On Sept. 2, 1945, he witnessed the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay from his ship’s signal bridge about mile away. He looked back on that event, saying “That was one of the greatest moments in my life. To be 18, almost 19, standing on the signal bridge and watching the signing of that document. I felt so proud to be part of the service at that time.”
Following his discharge, Curtis studied acting at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York under the GI Bill. He was on his way to the acting career for which he would become famous. In fact, one and a half years to the day after leaving the Navy, he got his first starring role. During his career, he was even able to work with Grant and Powers, the men who had inspired him to join the Navy.
As with so many celebrities who served, Curtis gave back to the Navy after being discharged. He was involved with the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation, was a co-host at the first Lone Sailor Dinner (and, later, won the Lone Sailor Award), and was a guest speaker at the Navy Memorial. In addition, he served as narrator during the U.S. Navy Band’s 226th birthday concert. It was at another birthday celebration, the 1998 Submarine Birthday celebration, at which Curtis was presented with a pair of submariners “silver dolphins” and was given the title of “submariner” for his support of the Navy and the Submarine Service.
Finally, after all of those years, Curtis was given the rank and recognition he had long sought.