11 Hollywood icons who served their country
While we honor all of the men and women who have served the United States in uniform, here are a few famous faces who also defended the red, white, and blue.
Many actors from the golden era of Hollywood even served during World War II. The Vietnam War was also a popular era for actors who were in the military, and some of them went on to ironically star in war films of the era too. A number of famous American military veterans went on to have illustrious careers in the movie entertainment industry. Did you know that the poster-child of Westerns, Clint Eastwood, served in the US Army during the Korean War and almost died when he was involved in a plane crash?Some surprising celebs also served in the military, including musicians and rocks stars like Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia and country legend Johnny Cash, but we’re keeping this list limited to Hollywood icons.
1. Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood's Army stint might very well be the reason he ended up in Hollywood. Eastwood was drafted into the Army in 1950 during the Korean War, stationed at Fort Ord in California. An Army friend, Chuck Hill, had contacts in Hollywood and thought that he might do well in the movies, and boy was he right!
While in the army, Eastwood narrowly escaped death when a military plane he was flying in crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He managed to use an inflatable raft to swim to the shore and testifying at a hearing about the incident prevented him from serving overseas in Korea.
2. Chuck Norris
Before he was Walker Texas Ranger, before he could kill two birds with one stone, the legendary Chuck Norris was an Airman First Class in the Air Force. Judging by his picture, Norris seemed pretty happy to be there too!
After his military career ended, Norris went on to become a famous marital arts artist and when his path crossed that of Hollywood, it was love at first punch! But when North Korea found out that Chuck Norris was in the army, this was their reaction:
3. Sgt. Elvis Presley
Back when conscription was still a thing, Elvis was drafted for a two-year stint on December 20, 1957, completed basic training on September 17, 1958, and then served in Friedberg, Germany (where he met Colin Powell) from October 1, 1958, through March 2, 1960.
He was eligible for the "Special Services," which basically would have allowed him to receive a few privileges. Well, this is the Kind we’re talking about here. But according to the fellow soldiers that served with him, 'he just wanted to be one of the guys' and wanted no special treatment. He was honorably discharged as Sergeant Elvis Presley.
4. Kirk Douglas
The man who would later appear in Kubrick’s anti-war epic Paths of Glory was in the Navy during World War II. Kirk Douglas was with an anti-submarine patrol in the Pacific but was injured in 1944 and subsequently discharged. In fact, Douglas grew up as Izzy Demsky and legally changed his name to Kirk Douglas just before the war.
Of course, almost immediately after being discharged, he got a big break in his acting career that would make him one of the best-known stars of that generation.
5. Walt Disney
Technically, Walt Disney didn’t serve in the army, although he tried. In mid-1918, Disney attempted to join the United States Army to fight against the Germans, but he was rejected for being too young. After forging the date of birth on his birth certificate, he joined the Red Cross in September 1918 as an ambulance driver. He was shipped to France but arrived in November, after the armistice.
What’s interesting is that he drew cartoons on the side of his ambulance for decoration, what could be traced as the beginning of his impressive career as an illustrator, animator, and innovator. Some of his work was also published in the army newspaper Stars and Stripes at the time. This was about 10 years before Mickey Mouse.
6. Hugh Hefner
Before becoming a publishing titan and the big daddy of the Playboy Mansion, Hefner enlisted in the Army in 1944 as a writer for the military newspaper. He was stationed at Camp Adair in Salem, Oregon, and Camp Pickett in Virginia, where Hefner would draw comics for the Army newspaper (don't you wonder what kind of comics they were?). It wasn't all desk work for Hef either—during his two-year tour, Hefner won a sharpshooter badge in basic training.
7. Charlton Heston
Before Charlton Heston was chariot racing on the big screen in full Roman outfits, he served primarily as a radio operator and aerial gunner on a B-25 Mitchell during World War II in 1941. He was stationed in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands as part of the Eleventh Air Force, and never saw combat.
His eventual stardom in Hollywood led the military to ask him to narrate classified films designed to instruct servicemembers and employees of the Department of Energy about nuclear weapons. This work required Heston to hold the nation's highest clearance level at the time termed Q clearance. So maybe that’s where the love of guns comes from - he was president of the NRA for the longest time remember?
8. Mr. T
It is not surprising that Mr. T was in the Military Police Corps. He was pretty much made for the job with his bulging muscles and super serious demeanor. He served during the 1970s and he quickly rose up through the ranks to become the leader of his squad. There’s a hilarious story about Mr. T from his army days.
A platoon sergeant once punished him by giving him the detail of chopping down trees during training camp at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin but did not tell him how many trees. So Mr. T went about his task and ended up single-handedly chopping down over 70 trees in less than 4 hours! When a shocked major stumbled upon him, he superseded the sergeant's orders and asked him to stop before the forests started to look like his haircut! After his honorable discharge, Mr. T started his career as a movie star with his appearances in blockbuster hit films like Rocky III and The A-Team.
9. George Carlin
One of the most influential stand up comics of all time, George Carlin, once called "the dean of counterculture comedians”, dropped out of high school in 1954 and joined the Air Force. He was stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and became a radar technician. Carlin later used the GI Bill to cover the cost of broadcasting school and the returns on that investment speak for themselves. In an illustrious career that spanned over 50 years, Carlin established his own unique cynical and nihilistic style of black comedy, covering politics, the English language, psychology, religion, and various taboo subjects.
10. Adam Driver
Before Adam Driver was learning to channelize the dark side of the Force as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and now Star Wars: The Last Jedi, he enlisted to serve his country. After the devastating attacks on September 11th, Driver felt compelled to enlist in the Marines and defend his country. He was meant to deploy to Iraq during the war but he was ultimately discharged after he broke his sternum in an accident.
11. Leonard Nimoy
Yes, that’s right! Spock was once in the army! Leonard Nimoy, everybody’s favorite Vulcan from the Star Trek, served the country before getting into the geeks and nerds' hall of fame! Before his acting career began, Nimoy was in the Army Reserve from 1953 until 1955. By the time he left the Army, he had the rank of sergeant.
Nimoy's talents were evident even during his time in the Army as he wrote theatre productions and narrated them as well for his fellow soldiers. During that period, he also directed and starred in A Streetcar Named Desire, with the Atlanta Theater Guild. Nimoy passed away in 2015. May his soul ‘Live long and Prosper’.
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