On this Memorial Day, millions of Americans across the country are honoring our military heroes, observing, and reflected on those who made the ultimate sacrifice. This list highlights some of the actors, directors, singers, producers, and entertainers who’ve served in the U.S. military.
From Hollywood’s earliest days, artists have served in the U.S. armed forces. Some had broader experiences than others in service to the country And many Hollywood greats served in World War II.
James Stewart not only joined the US Air Force in 1941, he ended his service in 1968 as a Brigadier General in the USAF Reserves. Stewart’s service was not for show, either. He flew many bombing missions over Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe.
The famed movie tough guy joined the US Navy in 1941 and served as a communications officer in anti-submarine warfare. He received a medical discharge thanks to war injuries in 1944.
Though he was already a veritable old man in soldier years, Gable joined the U.S. Army Air Corp at 43 and few five combat missions as an observer-gunner. Gable joined after his wife, Carol Lombard, died in a plane crash while flying home after a tour to promote war bonds.
Maj. Audie Murphy went into the Army as a private and won many battle field promotions. He is one of the most widely decorated actors in Hollywood history. He is the only actor/celebrity to be awarded the Congressional Medal Of Honor. In addition, he was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, a Legion of Merit with Combat V, and two Bronze Stars with Combat V. He also received several foreign awards were especially impressive. He received the French Forrager, Legion of Honor, and Croix de Guerre with Palm and Silver Star, and the Belgian Croix de Guerre 1940 with Palm.
Other stars of the era who served include Jason Robards (Navy 1941), Paul Newman (Navy, 1943), and Mel Brooks (Army, 1944). Then there was singer and dancer Josephine Baker who was a secret collaborator with the French Resistance to the Nazi invaders and was even awarded the Croix de Guerre as a spy for her work to defeat the Nazis. Several others served in the forces of their native nations including David Niven (Royal Army), Sir Alec Guinness (Royal Navy), and Audrey Hepburn (Dutch Resistance), and Star Trek Actor James Doohan (Royal Canadian Army). Doohan was part of the D-Day invasion forces, was wounded six times losing a finger in the process, and later joined the Canadian Air Force as a pilot.
Our 40th president, Ronald Reagan, was already a star when he joined the war effort. He served in the Army Air Force during World War II, enlisting in the Army Enlisted Reserve on 29 April 1937 and ordered to active duty on April 19, 1942. Because of his eyesight, he was not assigned to an air crew and instead helped make over 400 training films for the Army Air Force.
Sidney Poitier, the first black American to win an Academy Award, enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II in November of 1943. He served as a physiotherapist for almost a year, even though he lied about his age, as he was only 16 when he joined.
B.B. King, one of the greatest blues guitarists, was inducted into the U.S. Army in 1944, but was quickly released back into civilian life following boot camp because the government deemed his original profession — a tractor-trailer driver — to be vital to the war economy.
Later to be known as the swinger editor of Playboy Magazine, Hugh Hefner joined the U.S. Army in 1944 after graduating high school. Hef didn’t see any acton, though, and was discharged in 1946 after serving as an Amy newspaperman and infantry clerk.
Tony Bennett, the legendary “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” crooner, was drafted during World War II in 1944 and assigned to the 63rd Infantry Division, or “Blood and Fire” division, fighting in France and Germany. Being a “replacement” was not an easy job as the war was winding down in Europe. About half these soldiers died in the months after basic training in 1944 and the end of the war in Europe in Sept. of 1945.
After the big war, many others continued the tradition, of course.
The actor, who won an Academy Award for Best Actor in The French Connection, enlisted in the Marine Corps the year after World War Two ended in1946. He lied about his age to get accepted, as he was only 16 when he enlisted.
The Always On My Mind singer volunteered for the U.S. Army in 1950. However, he only served nine months and was given a medical discharge due to severe back problems.
Johnny “The Man In Black” Cash enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1950. After basic training at Lackland Air Force Base and technical training at Brooks Air Force Base, both in San Antonio, Texas, he was assigned to the 12th Radio Squadron Mobile of the U.S. Air Force Security Service at Landsberg, West Germany. He mustered out in 1954.
Clint Eastwood was drafted in 1951 for service during the Korean War. Eastwood saw no action, though, and spent his service at Ft. Ord in California, where he was appointed as a lifeguard and projectionist of training films.
Perhaps best known as the man on the lam in the 60s TV series, The Fugitive, Janssen didn’t escape the U.S. Army having served from 1952 to 1954 at Fort Ord, California. He saw no action during the Korean War as he served in the entertainment division during his two-year stint.
Like his army pals Clint Eastwood and David Janssen, Adam 12 star Martin Milner served a two-year stint in the Army and was based at Fort Ord, California. Also like his buddies Eastwood and Janssen, there he worked in the entertainment sector. He mustered out in 1954 and went right into TV and film work in Hollywood.
Robert Duvall enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduating from Principia College in 1953. Duvall has disputed early biographies that claimed he fought during the Korean War, though. He has joked that he “barely qualified” with his M-1 rifle in basic training. He served two years, and never got past the rank of private first class.
Later to become famous as Star Trek’s half human, half alien Mr Spock, Leonard Nimoy enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve at Fort McPherson, Georgia. He served for 18 months between 1953 and 1955. Nimoy also worked in the Army’s Special Services narrating plays and performing in training films.
James Earl Jones
The voice of Star Wars villain Darth Vader, a man who has been referred to as “one of the greatest actors in American history,” served in the Army during the Korean War, rising to the rank of first lieutenant. Jones missed the war, though, as he started his service in 1953 just as the war was coming to a close.
Best known for playing an Army surgeon in the TV series M.A.S.H., Alda did serve in the actual military when he volunteered after finishing his studies at Fordham University. He served as a gunnery officer during a six-month tour of duty in the Korean War.
Morgan Freeman turned down a scholarship for acting and instead joined the Air Force in which he served from 1955 to 1959. He served as a radar technician and mustered out as an Airman 1st Class. Freeman has said that he enjoyed his service experience until, that is, he was being scouted to be trained as a jet pilot. He said the reality that war means killing dawned on him at that time and he began to look for the exit door to get back to life as an actor.
Elvis Presley’s drafting in 1957 was huge news and the media followed him throughout his years of service. Elvis honorably served his term and mustered out as a sergeant in 1960.
Famed martial artist Chuck Norris joined the U.S. Air Force in 1958 and served his full term, being discharged in 1962. He was ultimately assigned to Osan Air Base in South Korea where he began to develop his signature martial arts style, Chun Kuk Do.
Jimi Hendrix had a bit less gratifying service having been forced into the Army or face jail time for car theft in 1961. He served only one year before being discharged for an ankle injury. Some researchers suggest that the injury was just the Army’s excuse to be rid of the troublesome rocker.
Singer-songwriter John Fogerty joined up in 1966 when his draft number neared. He signed up for the United States Army Reserve as a supply clerk. However, he was switched to active duty for six months, anyway, but saw no service under fire. He was discharged honorably in 1968.
Tom Selleck was already an actor when he was drafted during the Vietnam War in 1967. He served six years in the the 160th infantry regiment of the California National Guard.
The famed director of Platoon served during the Vietnam War from 1967 to 1968 and was wounded twice. He earned the The Bronze Star with V’device and a Purple Heart with one Oak Leaf Cluster.
Pat Sajak volunteered for the U.S. Army in 1968. While he saw no battlefield action in Vietnam, Sajak did serve as an Army Radio disc jockey and ended up in country, anyway, when he was assigned to host a radio program on Armed Force Radio broadcasting in Saigon.
R. Lee Ernmey
Everyone knows R. Lee Ermey as the intense drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket, but some may not know that he served in the Marines for a decade, was a real Drill Instructor, and saw service in Vietnam in 1968. He started out as a Repair Shop Mechanic and went on to earn the Good Conduct Medal (x2); the National Defense Service Medal; the Vietnam Service Medal with Bronze Star; the Vietnam Campaign Medal with Device; the Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Unit; Meritorious Unit; the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; and a Meritorious Unit Citation.
Musician, songwriter, and rapper Tracy Lauren Marrow — better known in the music scene as Ice-T and also for his long-running starring role on TV’s Law & Order SVU — joined the U.S. Army in 1979 after graduating high school. He served the 25th Infantry Division for four years.
TV funny man and game show host Drew Carey served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves starting in 1980. He was honorably discharged in 1986 and he says that he adopted the Marines crew cut and horn-rimmed glasses as his trademark look due to his service.
Adam Driver, who found fame as Kylo Ren in the Star Wars series, joined the U.S. Marines shortly after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He was briefly assigned to the Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, before being medically discharged due to an injury.
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