31 Famous People You Didn’t Know Were Veterans
Before they became stars, these folks proudly served our country.
Thank you for your service
There are not enough ways to thank the countless men and women who have served and continue to serve the United States in the armed forces. But you might be a little surprised to find out that some very familiar faces are among these generous souls. Find out which celebrities have worked hard to protect our freedom, past and present. Want to say thanks to a veteran? Here’s how to help them through acts of kindness.
Rapper and Law & Order: SVU star Ice-T (born Tracy Marrow) served four years in the United States Army’s 25th Infantry, according to the Hollywood Reporter. He enlisted in 1979 after graduating from high school in Los Angeles. After those years of service, he left on an honorable discharge. Find out 10 of the best movies about the military to watch on Veterans Day.
Best known for iconic films like Dirty Harry and Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood was drafted into the army for the Korean war before he ever graced the big screen. During his time of service, he was a swim instructor at Fort Ord in California. He was involved in a plane crash at Point Reyes which culminated in the lifeguard servicemen swimming to shore. Don’t miss 13 of Clint Eastwood’s wisest quotes.
The Thomas Crown Affair star served in the United States Marine Corps from 1947 to 1950, according to Together We Served. Apparently, Steve McQueen wasn’t exactly the best role model for his fellow Marines. “I was busted back down to private about seven times,” he is quoted as saying in the book Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel. “The only way I could have been made corporal was if all the other privates in the Marines dropped dead.” These are simple ways to support our veterans.
Remember that part earlier where we mentioned that these celebs served our country before they became stars? Elvis Presley is an exception. At the height of his career, Presley was drafted into the Army in 1957. According to the Washington Post, there was much to do about how “The King” should best serve the country. Though given many cushy options, he chose to serve as a regular soldier. “People were expecting me to mess up, to goof up in one way or another,” he said in an interview. “They thought I couldn’t take it and so forth, and I was determined to go to any limits to prove otherwise.” Don’t miss these rarely seen photos of the King, including one of him in uniform.
In 1955, Morgan Freeman joined the United States Air Force as a radar technician, a role he had lofty dreams about. Of the experience, the movie star told AARP Magazine: “I joined the Air Force. I took to it immediately when I arrived there. I did three years, eight months, and ten days in all, but it took me a year and a half to get disabused of my romantic notions about it.” Read about veterans who continue to help each other after war.
Stationed in Barksdale, Louisiana as a member of the Air Force, comedian George Carlin was trained in aviation electronics. After three years of service, he was discharged for poor conduct, according to Soldiers for the Cause. It was after his military stint that Carlin pursued his comedy dreams.
Not simply a debonair leading man on the silver screen, Humphrey Bogart enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He was wounded during his service in World War I. Despite that experience, rumors persist that the star tried to enlist again to fight in WW II, however Military Hub says he was rejected because of his age (he was in his 40s) at the time. Selfishly, we’re glad, because otherwise, he might never have starred in Casablanca, one of the 10 best romantic movies of all time.
We pity the fool who didn’t know Mr. T served in our military. Born Laurence Tureaud but widely known as tough-talking Mr. T, he enlisted in the Army in the 1970s, serving in the Military Police Corps, according to Military.com. He was even elected Top Trainee of the Cycle in a cycle of 6,000 troops, earning the title of Squad Leader. If these celebrity veterans are a surprise, read about which words and phrases actually originated in the military.
We know Chuck Norris for his impressive martial arts skills and film work, but those moves were first learned while serving in the United States military. Norris joined the Air Force in 1958 and was stationed in South Korea. It was there he learned martial arts. Later he returned to the States to serve at March Air Force Base before being discharged in 1962. Check out these military cartoons about the armed forces.
Johnny Cash, born Sam Phillips, was a member of the U.S. Air Force and found himself stationed in Germany (incidentally, this is where he purchased his first guitar, according to Biography). So we suppose you could say his time spent in the armed forces helped shape his future music career. His boyhood home in Arkansas is arguably the most famous in the state.
It’s hard to picture musician Jim Hendrix as anything other than the rock god that he was, but he too was once a member of the Army. He enlisted in 1961 and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. Stationed at Kentucky’s Fort Campbell, Hendrix served for just a year when he was discharged because of an injury. He went on to play an iconic rendition of the National Anthem at Woodstock, one of the 50 things you likely didn’t know about the 1969 music fest.
Musician and actor Kris Kristofferson served in the Army from 1960 to 1964, with his last rank as Captain. A member of the 8th Infantry Division, he served as a helicopter pilot in Germany. Though offered a teaching position at West Point, Kristofferson turned down the opportunity to focus on his music career. Discover the four military innovations that will change the way we live.
Thank you for being a friend, and for your service, Bea Arthur. The Golden Girls star served in the Marine Corps. as a truck driver. Military.com reports she was one of the first members of the Women’s Reserve and worked as a typist as well. Arthur (real name Bernice Frankel) enlisted in 1943 at the age of 21. Find out about 31 other pioneering women who changed the world.
Price is Right host Drew Carey is known for cracking jokes and overall funny business, but he took his six years in the Marine Corps Reserve very seriously. Carey looks back on those days fondly, quoted as saying in an interview with Time, “It instilled a great sense of disciple that I can call on when I need to.” If you want a chuckle, these military jokes for every branch are a must-read.
Paul Newman served in the Navy for three years, from 1943 to 1946. Interestingly, he learned he was colorblind when he entered the Navy’s V-12 pilot training program. Because of this he went to basic training instead and then was stationed at Barber’s Point in Hawaii. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Newman was in a torpedo bomber squadron the Navy formed to train replacement pilots. People aren’t the only ones serving in the armed forces, learn about heroic military cats.
Celebrated artist and television personality Bob Ross was a First Sergeant of the U.S. Air Force Clinic at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. According to We Are the Mighty, it was his view from the base (with nothing to see but miles and miles of nature) that inspired Ross to begin drawing. Find out why he always made three copies of his paintings.
At the age of 17, Mel Brooks enlisted in Army (the year was 1944). He ranked high in intelligence testing, says the official website of the U.S. Army, and because of this was enrolled in the elite Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP). Not long after Brooks shipped off to Europe, assigned to the 1104th Engineer Combat Group he served in the Battle of the Bulge. He was discharged as a corporal and then went on to work as a comedy writer.
The late-night talk show king enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the start of WWII. Though he wanted to train to be a pilot Johnny Carson instead received midshipman training at Columbia University. Stationed to the USS Pennsylvania, he was actually on his way to combat when the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war. You’ll laugh out loud when you find out these hilarious military code names that were actually used.
Before she became a Food Network personality, The Kitchen‘s Sunny Anderson served in the Air Force, working as a radio broadcaster in South Korea and San Antonio, Texas. Having grown up in a military family, she was keenly aware of the different opportunities available to those in the armed forces. “I knew that there were radio stations, television stations, newspapers, and magazines, for the military, by the military, and I wanted to be a part of that,” Anderson told ABC News.
Drafted in 1944, Tony Bennett is a WWII veteran. As a member of the Army, he spent time in the 63rd Infantry Division stationed in France and Germany. According to History.com, his unit was primarily responsible for cleaning up the Battle of the Bulge. Not surprisingly, he also performed with a military band while serving. You’ve got to read about the bravest dogs in history.
Johnny Carson’s late-night sidekick Ed McMahon also enlisted to serve in WWII, however, according to Stars & Stripes, the war ended before he was deployed overseas. When the 1950s rolled around, McMahon served in the Korean War with the Marines. He was an F-9 Panther pilot, flying 85 combat missions. He ended his military career as a colonel. For those interested in veteran’s affairs, here’s how one vet sees life now.
Talkshow host Montel Williams served in both the Marines and the Navy. “In the nearly three decades since I retired from the Navy, I’ve never really taken the uniform off because standing up for those who are serving now and those who have served has been the greatest honor of my professional career,” says Williams, who hosted a show called Military Makeover for Lifetime. These service dogs saved the lives of the veterans they served.
One of the many celebrities on this list who enlisted in 1944, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner joined the Army that year. He served as an infantry clerk and illustrated cartoons for Army newspapers (proving publishing was always in his blood). In 1946 Hefner was honorably discharged. Find out 25 famous people you didn’t know got American citizenship.
Television icon Tom Selleck served with the California National Guard for six years after being drafted for the Vietnam War. After he was discharged the actor continued to appear in recruiting campaigns for the military. In an interview with Impacting Our Future, Selleck advocates for hiring veterans when they return from service. “The responsibility and training our veterans are getting makes them the most employable, the best hire you can possibly have,” he says. Read our 19 favorite kindness quotes.
Before he became Kylo Ren in the latest Star Wars flicks, Adam Driver served our country in the military and today has a charity called Arts in the Armed Forces. Driver even credits his time as a Marine with helping to prepare him for the entertainment industry. “You have that kind of like survival mentality in the military. It gives you a lot of confidence going back out into the world,” he says. To learn more about the personal stories of veterans, read these triumphs and tragedies of military families.
Funnyman Rob Riggle enlisted as a Marine in 1990. In an interview with the website Task & Purpose, he shared a little about what it means to be a veteran. “After 23 years in the service I feel very connected to the military and very connected to veterans,” he says. “I love this country and I still want to continue to serve. I might not be able to wear the uniform anymore, but I can do other things to help be part of something bigger than myself, which is working on veterans’ issues.” Here’s why Veterans Day doesn’t have an apostrophe.
A Navy veteran, Kirk Douglas’s primary unit was the Submarine Chasers, with which he served from 1943 to 1944. According to Together We Served, Douglas (born Izzy Demsky) enlisted just after the start of WWII. He was medically discharged in 1944 after being diagnosed with chronic amoebic dysentery, a condition problematic in areas with subpar sanitation that contaminates food and drinking water.
After he graduated from Fordham University, actor Alan Alda joined the Army Reserve. As one of the stars of M*A*S*H, Alda could draw from the six months he served in the Korean War for his role. The show followed a mobile army surgical hospital unit during that same war. Try one of these 39 free acts of kindness to brighten someone’s day.
Bob Barker’s military career got off to an interesting start. According to Cinema Blend, the game show host enlisted in the Navy in 1942 but finished out his time at Drury College before reporting for active duty. Trained to be an aviator for WW II, Barker was deployed in 1945 just as the Japanese surrendered, thus ending the war. Though fully skilled with his newfound piloting knowledge, he never actually went into battle.
Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak served in the Army during the Vietnam War, working as a dee-jay with Armed Forces Radio. “I used to feel a bit guilty about my relatively soft duty,” he told Military.com. “After all, I was billeted in a hotel and there were plenty of nice restaurants around. But I always felt a little better when I met guys who came into town from the field and thanked us for bringing them a little bit of home. I always thought it strange that they should be thanking me, given what so many of them were going through on a daily basis.” Find out the scientific reason some music gives you the chills.
Hailing from a village in the Bahamas, Sidney Poitier made his way to the United States as an impoverished teen. Without any money, he enlisted in the Army during WWII at the age of 16 after convincing them that he was actually 18 years old. According to Veterans Advantage, the future best actor Academy Award winner served as a physiotherapist for nearly a year before being discharged. Next, find out the 45 things America’s troops want you to know.