From the Front Lines to Signing Autographs: Famous Veterans

When it comes to celebrities, we hear all the drama and gossip surrounding them, but we might not hear about which of these famous faces served their country. Some actors, particularly the ones that were around in the Golden Age of Hollywood, served in World War I or World War II. However, that doesn’t mean stars today haven’t spent time on the front lines.

MC Hammer / Gal Gadot / Elvis Presley

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Some countries, like Israel, require all citizens to join the army. In other countries, people choose to go in voluntarily. It’s no secret that joining the army or military requires bravery, commitment, hard work, and determination. These skills stick with veterans for life, which is why it doesn’t come as a surprise that many soldiers made it in the cutthroat entertainment industry. From Jimi Hendrix to Gal Gadot, check out these stars you probably didn’t know are veterans.

James Doohan

James Doohan is mostly recognized for his role as Scotty from Star Trek, but at the beginning of World War II, Dahoon enrolled in the Royal Canadian Artillery. He even led troops on D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy.

James Doohan in uniform / James Doohan in Star Trek II

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Once his unit secured their position for the night, the actor was crossing between command posts, and when a panicked Canadian gunman saw him, mistook him for the enemy and shot him six times. Dahoon got four gunshots to the leg and lost half of his middle finger. He nearly got shot in the chest, but it hit the silver cigarette case his brother gave him. Phew! That was a close one.

Ice-T

You probably recognize Ice-T as the loveable cop from the hit TV show Law & Order: SVU. But before he was gracing our screens, he was in the US Army and served four years in the 25th infantry. He and some friends were charged with stealing a rug, and he disappeared while waiting for the hearing.

Ice-T

Photo by Jason Alden / Shutterstock

Eventually, the rug was recovered, and Ice-T came back. Upon return, he received non-judicial punishment. During his time serving, he earned enough money to afford some musical equipment. That’s how he was able to embark on a rap career. Eventually, he became a Hollywood superstar as a record producer and actor.

Don Knotts

There is a strange urban legend that the lovable, charming actor was once a Marine Corps Drill Instructor. Although that’s just a myth, Knotts was drafted into the US Army in 1943, but not into combat. Because of his talent as a ventriloquist, he was selected for special services to entertain troops.

Bob Hope and Don Knotts performing for the troops

Bob Hope and Don Knotts entertaining during soldiers during the Vietnam war era. Photo by Greag Mathieson / Shutterstock

After that, he started to entertain the rest of the world. He started acting in the ‘50s and, ironically, the first film he was in is called No Time For Sergeants. The actor/comedian is best known for his role on the hit ‘60s sitcom The Andy Griffith Show, where he played Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife. The hit show earned Knotts a whopping five Emmy Awards.

Bob Ross

Before he was a famous TV painter, Bob Ross was in the US Air Force for two decades and retired with a Master Sergeant rank. The host of Joy and Painting that we all know and love explained to the Orlando Sentinel, “I was the guy who makes the scrub the latrine, the guy who makes your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work.”

Bob Ross as a soldier / Bob Ross painting

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He went on to say, “The job required you to be a mean, tough person. And I was fed up with it.” I would have never expected this from such a soft-spoken man. I guess he left the soldier’s attitude in the past.

Buster Keaton

During the First World War, the silent film comedian was drafted into the army. The sleeping conditions in France were not ideal at the time. In his book, My Wonderful World of Slapstick, he recalled, “we slept in circular tents.” He continued, “Our feet in the center and out heads close to the drafts from the great outdoors.”

Buster Keaton in uniform / Buster Keaton in The Cameraman 1928

Source: Wikimedia Commons, military museum / Photo by Mgm, Kobal, Shutterstock

Keaton revealed that he quickly “developed a cold which imperiled my hearing.” For the rest of his life, he remained deaf in one ear. Luckily, it didn’t affect his Hollywood career as an actor, director, comedian, producer, screenwriter, and stunt performer. He surely left a legacy in the industry before he passed in 1996.

Prince Harry

Prince Harry and the stunning Meghan Markle caused a media frenzy when they announced that they would be settling down and getting married. It was like a real-life fairy tale for Markle, so naturally, the press was all over these two. Well, before sweeping the actress off her feet, Prince Harry served in the British Army just like his brother Prince William.

Prince Harry in uniform / Prince Harry

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He finished his officer training at the British Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 2006. He was then deployed to Iraq. However, they decided it was too dangerous for a Royal to be there, and Prince Harry would have been a huge target. He was later deployed to Afghanistan and officially left the military in 2015.

Morgan Freeman

In 1955, Morgan Freeman gave up a partial drama scholarship so that he could join the Air Force. The actor served four years as a radar technician until he completed his service in 1959. He told Interview Magazine, “I took to it immediately.”

Morgan Freeman as a radar technician / Morgan Freeman in the film Red

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He went on to explain, “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.” Eventually, he made an extremely successful career for himself in Hollywood as an acclaimed actor and beloved film narrator. In 2005, he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Million Dollar Baby.

Dr. Ruth

Known as Dr. Ruth, Ruth Westheimer is a famous sex therapist and media personality. Her career in the industry started in 1980 with her radio show called Sexually Speaking. It was so popular and went on until 1990. But before everyone knew her name, Dr. Ruth spent time serving in the military.

Ruth Westheimer in the army / Dr. Ruth wearing a fuzzy vest at New York Fashion Week 2019

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Dr. Ruth grew up in Israel and trained as a sniper. She made quite the career change and told The New Yorker that she never put her abilities to use: “I have no idea what the experience would be if I had to show it. But I was a very good sniper.” It should be noted that in Israel, it’s mandatory to join the army at age 18.

Ted Williams

During World War II, Ted Williams took time off of his blossoming baseball career to join the Navy. Eventually, he became an impressive fighter pilot in the Marines. While speaking about his service, the athlete told MLB, “I was no hero.” I think many of us would beg to differ. Anyone who protects the country is a hero in my mind.

Ted Williams photographed with a fighter plane during his time with the Marine Corps during WWII / Ted Williams swinging the bat in a baseball uniform

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The humble man went on to explain, “There were maybe 75 pilots in our two squadrons, and 99 percent of them did a better job than I did.” He landed the nickname Teddy Ballgame and, although his career was interrupted by his military service, he continued to play until 1960.

Don Rickles

After Don Rickles’s high school graduation in Queens, he took a train to Grand Central and signed up for the Navy. He was really hoping to get enlisted as an entertainer but, he didn’t get it. Instead, he served as a Seaman First Class on the USS Cyrene for two years.

Don Rickles in a Navy uniform / Don Rickles

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These days, he is known as an actor and a hilarious comedian. During an interview with The New York Times, he was asked if he cried at the end of Toy Story 3, and his answer was: “I cried when they took me in the Navy. That’s the last time I cried. Did I cry? Give me a break.”

MC Hammer

Believe it or not, MC Hammer’s career could have gone in a completely different direction. Stanley Kirk Burrell wanted to be a professional baseball player. However, when his athletic career didn’t take off, he joined the Navy. The rapper served as a Storekeeper for three years.

MC Hammer performing

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Once he left the army, he decided to pursue other passions. He had dreams of becoming a great rapper, and his impressive career proves that he achieved his goal. He gained popularity and success in the ‘80s and ‘90s and is still working in the industry today. These days he is also a record producer and entrepreneur. Can you picture him as a baseball player?

Jimmy Stewart

During World War II, Jimmy Stewart was drafted into the army but was initially rejected for being underweight. After he packed on a few pounds and enlisted in the Army Air Corps, he was accepted. Because of his fame, Stewart was initially put in several “behind the lines” jobs until he appealed to his commanding officer, and he was assigned to an overseas unit.

Jimmy Stewart in his army uniform / Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life

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It didn’t take him long to rise in the ranks, and, in 1943, he flew lead in a bombardment squadron. Eventually, while in the Army Reserves, he part took in a bombing mission in the Vietnam War. He stayed in the army for a while and officially retired in 1968 after he was promoted to a Two-Star General.

Mel Brooks

These days, he is mostly known as an actor and comedian, but he is also a director, producer, and composer. Although he is a well-known Hollywood man now, he had guns and uniforms before glitz and glamour. That’s right. Mel Brooks joined the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II.

Mel Brooks in the army / Mel Brooks

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His duties included deactivating enemy land mines. He occasionally saw combat while serving in the infantry. Legend has it that when the Germans were blasting Axis propaganda after the Battle of the Bulge, Brooks’s response was setting up speakers and giving his own version of Al Jolson’s Toot, Toot, Tootsie.

Charles Bronson

Charles Bronson enrolled in the Army Air Corps in 1943, where he served as a tail gunner on B-29. When he was discharged from the Army, he earned a purple heart for dealing with an injury. He received money from the GI Bill and used it to study acting, and the rest is history. It’s crazy to think that Bronson may have never been an actor if it wasn’t for his injury.

Charles Bronson in uniform / Charles Bronson 1974

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Naturally, Bronson was often typecast as a gunfighter or police officer. The actor often collaborated with movie directors J. Lee Thompson and Michael Winner. He and his second wife, Jill Ireland, appeared in a whopping 15 films together.

Jimi Hendrix

Back in 1961, a young and rebellious James Marshall (Jimi Hendrix) got busted for driving a stolen car. He had a choice between serving time behind bars and serving time in the US Army. Since he didn’t want to go to prison, he enlisted in the Army and served in the 101st Airborne Division.

Jimmy Hendrix jamming in his uniform with another soldier / Jimmy Hendrix performing in 1967

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He was meant to serve three years, but due to an ankle injury, he received an honorable discharge after only one year. After the army, he returned to his “bad boy” lifestyle as a rock guitarist. He was extremely talented and is considered one of the most influential guitarists ever. Sadly, his career (and life) was short-lived when he died at the age of 27, making him part of the infamous 27 Club.

Hugh Hefner

Playboy founder Hugh Hefner enlisted in the army in 1944, serving as an infantry clerk. He earned a badge for sharpshooter and even completed Killer College, where troops did drills while throwing grenades. As a preview of his future, Hefner shared cartoons with an Army newsletter while he was serving.

Hugh Hefner in the army / Hugh Hefner in 2008

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So before this guy was surrounded by beautiful Playboy Bunnies, he was surrounded by grenades. Once he was released, he founded the incredibly popular magazine targeted towards men. The first-ever issue of Playboy came out in December 1953 and featured the timeless beauty, Marilyn Monroe. After that, the infamous magazine became a pop-culture staple.

Drew Carey

Comedian Drew Carey enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve back in 1981. While he was serving, he began working on stand-up comedy. “While in the Marine Reserves, I was looking for a way to make some more money, and it was suggested that I try using my jokes,” he expressed to Military.com.

Drew Carey in the army / Drew Carey hosting the Price is Right

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Needless to say, it worked. Once he got out of the army, he continued to make money by telling jokes, only this time it was in the entertainment industry. The acclaimed comedian made a name for himself in Hollywood as an actor, game show host, sports executive, and voice actor.

Adam Driver

Before he was known for his incredible role in the show Girls, Adam Driver was in the Marines. He was drafted to join the armed forces after the 9/11 tragedy took place. However, after he broke his sternum on a mountain bike, he was medically discharged.

Adam Driver in uniform / Adam Driver sitting on a small set of steps leading up to a front door

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The actor told GQ, “To not get to go with that group of people I had been training with was… painful.” In 2010, Driver made his Broadway debut in Mrs. Warren’s Profession and in 2011’s Man and Boy. His talent as a performer was evident, and it didn’t take him long to start landing appearances in various movies and TV shows.

Bea Arthur

This may come as a surprise, but comedian Bea Arthur served as a typist and truck driver in the Marine Corps for 30 months. In a note included in her Marine file, Arthur explained why she joined at age 21: she heard that “enlistments for women in the Marines were open, so decided the only thing to do was join.”

Bea Arthur in uniform / Bea Arthur in the Golden Girls

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That’s the definition of women’s empowerment, and she proved it by being a badass* Marine. After her service, the talented lady embarked on a different career path. In 1947, she made her on-stage debut and made her way to Broadway by 1954. That’s pretty impressive if you ask me.

Chuck Norris

In 1958, Charles Ray Norris joined the United States Air Force, where he was enlisted as an Air Policeman in South Korea. That’s where he also learned many other crafts. In The Official Chuck Norris Fact Book, the martial artist revealed that he had a black belt in Tang Soo Do and a brown belt in judo by the time he completed his service.

Chuck Norris in the Air Force / Chuck Norris 1976

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Considering he is famous for his contribution to martial arts and winning various championships, it’s interesting to think that his life could have gone in a completely different direction if it weren’t for his time in the military. After his service, he founded Chin Kuk do- a hybrid martial arts style. He then ventured into acting as “Chuck” Norris.

Elvis Presley

In December 1957, two years after becoming the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley was drafted into the US Army. He was initially stationed in Fort Hood, Texas, and then moved to 1st Medium Tank Battalion, 32d Armor in Friedberg, Germany. That’s actually where he met his future wife, Priscilla Beaulieu.

Elvis Presley in his army uniform / Elvis Presley and other soldiers reading a map sitting on their truck while deployed

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In 1960, the singer was free. Although he released his first single in 1956, he jumped right back in where he left off. Other than being the King of Rock and Roll, Presley was also a sex symbol. Let’s be honest here; he was an attractive looking man. Plus, his dance moves added to his sex appeal.

Sean Connery

We all know Sean Connery as the iconic Scottish actor who played James Bond. Even though he is retired now, the former actor won an Academy Award, two BAFTA Awards, and three Golden Globes. But before he was gracing us with his presence on screen, he was protecting his country.

Sean Connery in his Navy uniform / Sean Connery

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Connery joined the Royal Navy when he was only a teenager, 16 years old, to be exact. He served three years before leaving due to health conditions. He had a stomach ulcer that needed special care and attention. In 1953, Connery launched his career during a bodybuilding competition in London.

Montel Williams

In 1974, Montel Williams joined the US Marine Corps. After he graduated from the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, he served as a midshipman in the Navy. After that, he served as a cryptologic officer for naval intelligence in Guam. He was then transferred to the National Security Agency in Maryland in 1983.

Montel Williams in the army / Montel Wiliams on the red carpet in 2017

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That’s where Williams started helping families by counseling them. After completing his service, he was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, and the Navy Commendation for all his amazing work. He then moved into the entertainment industry as a television host and motivational speaker.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

In 1965, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was just 18 years old, he joined the Austrian Army. Similarly to the Israeli Army, Austrian men were required to serve. The stud left camp for a week so that he could participate in the Junior Mr. Europe contest. Even though he won, he got sent to military prison for a couple of days as punishment for leaving.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in uniform / Arnold Schwarzenegger

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After his stint in the Army, Schwarzenegger went on to have an impressive career as an actor, businessman, politician, and professional bodybuilder. If that’s not enough, the talented star also served as the 38th governor of California (from 2003 to 2011). He is also the most recent Republican governor of California.

Sidney Poitier

When Sidney Poitier left the Bahamas for New York, it was difficult for him to find a job, so he decided to just join the US Army. He was only 16 in November 1943 when he enrolled, so he lied about his age and got away with it. He worked as a medical attendant at a mental hospital in New York.

Sidney Poitier in To Sir with Love 1966

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Sidney has since become a Hollywood star and won an Academy Award for Best Actor, making him the first Black man and Afro-Bahamian actor to take home that award. He was then nominated for a second time. These days he is 93 years old; he has lived a very impressive life and had a successful career.

Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood is another famous Hollywood star who was drafted into the US Army. He joined during the Korean War and served as a swim instructor and lifeguard at Ford Ord in California. He stayed there until 1953 when he was discharged. After that, he embarked on an acting career.

Clint Eastwood in uniform / Clint Eastwood 2015

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Eastwood gained international fame thanks to his role as the Man with No Name in Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns in the 1960s. Eastwood broadened his horizons and started to work as a director. It seems like he made the right choice considering he won Best Director and Best Picture for Unforgiven (1992), his Western film, and for Million Dollar Baby (2004), his sports drama.

Pat Sajak

In 1968, Sajak joined the US Army, and, for 18 months, he served as a disc jockey on the Armed Forces Radio. He was actually on The Military Channel’s An Officer and a Movie. In fact, he even messed up President Nixon’s Christmas broadcast to the troops back in 1969 because he accidentally cut it off too early. Oops.

Pat Sajak as a soldier / Pat Sajak 2001

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It was a great way for him to get his foot in the door and begin his career. It didn’t take him long to become a talk show host and television personality; he was even a weatherman at one point. However, he really became a household name for hosting the TV game show Wheel of Fortune.

Gal Gadot

It may not come as a surprise that the incredible Wonder Woman served in the army. She was born and raised in Israel, and as we mentioned, the army is required in Israel, even for women. A true superhero, she served two years as a combat trainer. I wouldn’t expect anything less.

Gal Gadot in uniform / Gal Gadot on the red carpet 2016

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In 2004, Gal won “Miss Israel” (which is surprising to nobody), and then at age 20, she joined the army. During an interview, the actress said that training wasn’t that bad. She explained that it prepared her for Hollywood. I guess it makes sense, after serving in the army, making your way around Hollywood should be a piece of cake.

Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye is known for his music. His voice and style certainly influenced the Motown genre. He is a huge name in the music industry today, and it’s difficult to imagine Gaye doing anything but play music. But, before he was singing to crowds, he was serving the country.

Marvin Gaye performing in 1983

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When Marvin Gaye was a 17-year-old youngster, he dropped out of high school so that he could enlist in the United States Air Force. He worked as a basic airman and pretty much hated it. He wanted to get the heck out of there. He was eventually discharged after faking a mental illness. Then, he found his true passion- playing music.

J.R.R. Tolkien

The world of hobbits and Mordor wouldn’t exist without J.R.R Tolkien. This brilliant fantasy author tried to stall getting drafted by the British for as long as he possibly could. Eventually, he was drafted for World War I and send to France. He dealt with many issues during the war, and, at one point, he contracted “trench fever.”

J.R.R. Tolkien in uniform / A portrait of J.R.R. Tolkien later on in life

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Thankfully, he was eventually taken off the front lines. After his time serving, the author began doing what he truly loved, writing. He eventually passed away in 1992, but he will live on through his stories forever. Most notably, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Harrison Ford

One of the many things Harrison Ford is known for is being a dreamy actor. We saw him grace the screen on films such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and he never failed to capture the hearts of all the ladies. Even guys think he is cool. Surprisingly, he wasn’t directly in the military, but he still helped the country.

Harrison Ford in a plane

Source: Twitter

Despite not serving in the military, he has helped with many rescue missions at the request of local authorities. Ford has a pilot’s license and frequently lends his help with rescue missions. He pilots helicopters and small planes, and often times helps locate lost hikers. What a hero!

Harvey Keitel

Harvey Keitel has had a pretty long career in Hollywood. He is mainly known as The Wolf from Pulp Fiction, but did you know this guy spent time serving our country? When he was as young as 16, he joined the US Marine Corps and served in active combat. I wouldn’t expect anything less.

Harvey Keitel in uniform / Harvey Keitel

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He was even shipped off to Lebanon to participate in Operation Blue Bat. After his service, his movie career exploded. He landed roles in major films, including Taxi Driver, Thelma & Louise, Reservoir Dogs, and, most memorably, Pulp Fiction. At age 81, Keitel is still actively killing it in the entertainment industry. His most recent film role was as Meyer Lansky in Lansky.

James Earl Jones

James Earl Jones had a way of commanding your ear drums’ attention. He has a beautiful voice as smooth as velvet, and it’s evident as soon as he opens his mouth. He played the sinister voice of Darth Vader as well as the iconic Mufasa. But, before his acting career took off, he spent time in the Reserve Officer Training Corps during the Korean War.

James Earl Jones in uniform / James Earl Jones

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It should be noted that he never actually fought in Korea. But he did serve in the US from 1953 to 1955. Jones and his men were in charge of cold weather training command in Colorado. Eventually, he was promoted to First Left Lieutenant. Very impressive.

Steve McQueen

If we’re speaking about Hollywood legends, Steve McQueen comes pretty high on the list. I mean, not many people earn the nickname, “The King of Cool.” In 1947, before starring in a long string of movies, the talented actor joined the Marine Corps. Naturally, the future Hollywood heartthrob was known for being a bit of a rebel and was demoted seven times!

Steve McQueen in a military uniform / Steve McQueen standing by a race car circa 1960

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By the end, he was responsible for saving the lives of five other Marines during an Arctic exercise. He was eventually honorably discharged. Then, he embarked on an impressive acting career and starred in films such as The Cincinnati Kid, The Thomas Crowne Affair, Bullitt, The Getaway, and Papillion.