Although we tend to think of celebrities as leading luxurious and even opulent lifestyles, some of them have backgrounds that include the not-so-glamorous but highly honorable duty of military service. While there are a few celebrities who have well-publicized links to the military, there are many others whose service is not so well-known. Read on for a list of celebrities who have been involved in military service in some regard. Some of the names here will be immediately recognizable as Veterans, and others might surprise you!
Chuck Norris Was An Air Policeman In The Air Force
Actor, director, and martial artist Chuck Norris enlisted in the United States Air Force as an Air Policeman in 1958. Then known by his given name Carlos, he received the nickname Chuck during his service and it stuck.
Norris was sent to Osan Air Base, South Korea, where he began his martial arts training. After returning to the United States, Norris continued to serve as an Air Policeman at March Air Force Base in California. He's now one of the most recognizable actors and martial artists in the world.
Leonard Nimoy: From The Army To The Star Fleet
Long before he dressed in the Star Fleet costume in the Star Trek franchise, actor Leonard Nimoy proudly wore an Army uniform. He was a soldier with the United States Army from 1953 to 1955, during which time he was stationed in Fort Ord, California, Fort Benning, Georgia, and Fort McPherson, Georgia.
Already an actor by the time he enlisted in the military, Nimoy worked with the Army Special Services, where he wrote, narrated, and hosted shows for the troops. On Veterans Day 2013, Nimoy posted a photo of himself in uniform to Twitter. He passed away in 2015.
Morgan Freeman Turned Down A Scholarship To Enlist
By the time he was in high school, Morgan Freeman was already showing promise as an actor. He appeared in many school plays and even won awards for his talents. But a love of war films, especially those about fighter pilots, led him to join the Air Force after he graduated instead of pursuing an acting career. He even turned down a dramatic scholarship from Jackson State University to enlist.
Freeman's dream of flying jets was short-lived. The moment he actually sat in a cockpit, he recalls, he had a "distinct feeling [he] was sitting in the nose of a bomb. I had this very clear epiphany. You are not in love with this; you are in love with the idea of this." He left the service in 1959.
Jimmy Stewart Is The Highest-Ranking Actor In U.S. Military History
James "Jimmy" Stewart is one of the most iconic and beloved actors in the history of Hollywood. And as most of his fans know, he is also the highest-ranking actor to serve in the United States military. Stewart, who won five Academy Awards for his acting, was inducted into the Army on March 22, 1941.
At the end of WWII, Stewart had flown a total of 20 combat missions and stayed in the USAF Reserve after the war. He was promoted to Brigadier General on July 23, 1959, and in 1985 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan.
Tom Selleck Was Dropped From His Fox Contract After Serving
Best known for his work on the 1980s television series Magnum, P.I., Tom Selleck served in the military before he became a household name. He was already involved in acting, even scoring a contract with Twentieth Century Fox, before he was issued draft orders during the Vietnam War. He joined the California National Guard, serving from 1967 to 1973. He even appeared in recruiting posters.
Of his military service, Selleck says, "I am a Veteran, I'm proud of it. I was a sergeant in the U.S. Army infantry, National Guard, Vietnam era. We're all brothers and sisters in that sense." Fox dropped Selleck's contract during his time serving. But as we know, he made it in show business anyway!
Rob Riggle Frequently Mentioned His Service On The Daily Show
After getting his pilot's license in 1990, actor and comedian Rob Riggle joined the Marines with the hopes of becoming a Naval Aviator. Although he opted to leave flight school in order to pursue comedy, he was a member of the United States Marine Corps Reserve. Riggle went on to attain the rank of lieutenant colonel and received numerous awards for his service.
During his time on The Daily Show, Riggle frequently talked about his military service and even joked that he could kill anyone on the show. Following 23 years of service, he retired from the Marine Corps Reserve in January of 2013.
Elvis Was Already A Superstar When He Joined The Army
The story of Elvis Presley's time in the military is pretty well-known. He was already one of the most famous people in the world when he was drafted in March 1958. Although he was offered special deals by the Army and the Navy, Presley opted not to take them for fear of angering people with a "celebrity wimp-out".
"The army can do anything it wants with me. Millions of other guys have been drafted, and I don't want to be different from anyone else," he stated publicly. His fans called his induction day, March 24, 1958, "black Monday." News crews from around the world were present to watch the superstar taken away by bus after passing his physical exam.
Drew Carey Started Doing Comedy In The Marine Corps Reserve
Comedian Drew Carey, the current host of The Price is Right, served in the United States Marine Corps Reserve for six years beginning in 1981. He says that he began doing stand-up comedy during his time in the military. "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 recalls.
Although he was paid about $10 per joke back then, his comedic chops led to a career in showbiz. Today, Carey frequently performs for troops stationed at military bases overseas with the USO.
Dr. Seuss Designed Posters For The Treasury Department During WWII
Many people are unaware that the children's author Dr. Seuss, real name Theodore Geisel, served in the military. Famous for titles like Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat In The Hat, Geisel joined the Army in 1943 and served the country in a unique capacity. He was a commander of the Animation Department of the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Forces.
In this role, Geisel had artistic duties such as designing posters, illustrations, and other materials to promote enlistment and the purchasing of war bonds.
Hugh Hefner Traded In His Uniform For A Velvet Bathrobe
The iconic founder of Playboy magazine, Hugh Hefner, didn't spend his early years lounging poolside in his trademark bathrobes. A young Hef enlisted in the Army as an infantry clerk in 1944, after graduating from high school. During his time in the service, he was a rifleman, a typist, and a contributor for Army newspapers.
One of Hefner's biographers believed that the mogul's Army service helped pave the way for the media empire he later founded. "Without that time in the military to sit behind a desk and spend time working on creative things, his life would've been different," Susan Gunelius told The Washington Post.
Ice-T Served For Four Years
Gangster rapper-turned-actor Ice-T, born Tracy Lauren Marrow, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1979. His reason for joining the service was a practical one, as he was struggling to support his girlfriend and their child in South Los Angeles at the time.
He served for four years in the 25th Infantry Division and received Advanced Infantry Training. Ice-T was a squad leader at Schofield Barracks while deployed in Hawaii. Of his decision to enlist, he's said, "When I had my daughter I was like, man, I'm going to go to jail, I got to do something, and I went to an enlistment office. Next thing you know, I'm in the military, four years infantry."
Willie Nelson's Service Might Come As A Surprise To Some
As a musician and marijuana legalization proponent with long braided hair, Willie Nelson might not seem like a typical military man. But in 1950, when he was just 17 years old, Nelson enlisted in the Air Force. He was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio until being discharged due to a back injury nine months later.
Of his time in the service, Nelson has had this to say: "I was in the Air Force a while and they had what they call "policing the area." That's where you looked around and if there's anything wrong here, there, anywhere, you took care of your own area. And I think that's a pretty good thing to go by."
The "King Of Cool" Saved Five Marines' Lives
The film actor Steve McQueen, known to many by the nickname "The King of Cool," served in the United States Marine Corps from 1947 to 1950. Although his penchant for rebelliousness led to him being demoted to private on seven separate occasions, he was eventually promoted to private first class after getting his act together.
During an Arctic exercise in which a transport ship struck a sandbank and several tanks and their members were tossed into the freezing water, McQueen pulled five Marines to safety. He was honorably discharged from the service in 1950.
Humphrey Bogart Joined The Navy After Leaving School
After being expelled from school, Humphrey Bogart opted to join the service rather than look for a civilian job. He enlisted in the United States Navy in the spring of 1918, during World War I. He later recalled, "At eighteen, war was great stuff. Paris! Sexy French girls! Hot damn!"
Reportedly a model sailor, Bogart spent much of his military career ferrying troops between Europe and the United States. He was honorably discharged in 1919 with the rank of seaman second class, and turned to acting after returning home. He's now considered one of the most celebrated actors of Hollywood's golden era.
Before Wheel of Fortune, Pat Sajak Was A DJ In The Army
Game show host Pat Sajak served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. In his own words: "Before I was Pat Sajak of 'Wheel of Fortune,' I was Pat Sajak Vietnam DJ - I was an Army Spc. 5th class who had joined the service, been trained as a clerk typist, was sent to Vietnam as a finance clerk."
It paid off. "After repeated attempts, I had been transferred to Saigon to be a disc jockey, as I had been in civilian life," Sajak continued. "The Army can work in mysterious ways." As an early-morning DJ with the American Forces Vietnam Network, Sajak used the phrase "Good morning Vietnam!" as he greeted his audience each day.
Jimi Hendrix Completed One Year Of Service
In 1961, James "Jimi" Marshall Hendrix was caught riding in a stolen car (for the second time) and given the choice to go to prison or join the Army. He chose the latter, and was stationed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, with the 101st Airborne Division. As might be expected, his rebellious attitude was not a fit for military service.
Hendrix was constantly in trouble with his commanding officers and was frequently found playing his guitar at night, keeping the other soldiers awake. One commanding officer reported that "his mind apparently cannot function while performing duties and thinking about his guitar." After just a year of service, Hendrix was granted an honorable discharge in 1962, by a superior who was fed up with his misbehavior.
Adam Driver Joined After 9/11
Star Wars actor Adam Driver was inspired to enlist with the United States Marine Corp after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. He served as an 81mm mortar man with the Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines until a broken breastbone led to a medical discharge. He had reached the rank of Lance Corporal.
In 2006, Driver and his wife Joanne Tucker founded a non-profit called Arts in the Armed Forces. The organization provides arts programming to active-duty service members, Veterans, support staff, and military families.
Paul Newman Had To Drop Out Of The Navy
The Slapshot actor enrolled in the Navy V-12 pilot training program at Yale University. However, he had to drop out due to being colorblind. Boot camp followed, where he trained as a radioman and rear gunner.
He was subsequently assigned to Pacific-based replacement torpedo squadrons VT-98, VT-99, and VT-100, where he was responsible primarily for training replacement combat pilots and aircrewmen, with particular emphasis on carrier landings. After the war, Newman completed his Bachelor of Arts in drama and economics at Kenyon College.
Johnny Cash Formed His First Band While In The Service
Johnny Cash, the guitarist and singer-songwriter known to fans as "the Man in Black," enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1950 when he was 19 years old. He received basic and technical training in San Antonio before being sent to Landsberg, Germany, where he intercepted Soviet Army messages as a Morse code operator.
While in Germany, Cash formed his first band which he called "The Landsberg Barbarians." It's also said that he wrote the lyrics for the iconic song "Folsom Prison Blues" during his time overseas.
Ted Williams Served Then Returned A Champion
Ted Williams entered active duty with the Navy in 1943, a year after winning the AL Triple Crown. Williams would serve three years and was certified as a Naval Aviator in 1944. Upon returning to baseball in 1946, the two-time AL MVP won his first MVP title and played in his only World Series.
The iconic Red Sox was called back to active military duty in 1952 to serve as a Marine combat aviator in the Korean War. Williams retired from baseball in 1960, becoming a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush presented the outfielder with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award by the United States Government.
George Carlin Enlisted To Pay For Broadcasting School
The groundbreaking and controversial comedian George Carlin joined the Air Force after high school in 1954 so the GI Bill would cover the costs for broadcasting school. During his service, where he was trained as a radar technician, he worked as a DJ for a local radio station. This set the stage for his future entertainment career.
Carlin later had this to say about the military: "So I do have this ambivalence. Obviously I'm against militaries, because of what militaries do. In many ways though, the Air Force was unmilitary-like. They dropped bombs on people, but...they had a golf course." Carlin also said he was proud to have been generally, instead of dishonorably, discharged.
Ernest Hemingway Witnessed A Lot During World War I
The author of The Old Man and the Sea had quite the experience during his time in the military. Interestingly enough, his time in the war would serve as an inspiration for many of his published novels.
Hemingway was part of the Italian Red Cross where he served as an ambulance driver. There was also a point where he operated a mobile canteen which provided chocolates and cigarettes for soldiers nearby.
Jack Dempsey Was There For The Invasion At Okinawa
"The Manassa Mauler" became a famous boxer in the 1920s. After the United States entered World War II, Dempsey enlisted in New York State Guard. He was commissioned as a first lieutenant, before ultimately resigning and taking his talents to Coast Guard Reserve.
Additionally, Dempsey was part of the USS Arthur Middleton crew during the invasion of Okinawa and was honorably discharged in 1962. He was an inaugural 1954 inductee to The Ring magazine's Boxing Hall of Fame.
Gene Hackman Didn't Enjoy His Time In The US Marines
The original Lex Luthor actor wasn't too happy joining the US Marines. His father had left home while his mother battled with alcohol addiction. Hackman was insistent on leaving home, which is why he lied about his age to get into the Marines.
In 1947, the Bonnie and Clyde star was sent to China. He mostly served as a radio operator but was later sent to Hawaii. He had issues compromising with authority and discipline.
Yogi Berra Took Part In D-Day
Not every baseball Hall of Famer can say they fought in D-Day. Yankee great Yogi Berra served in the US Navy as he was aboard the USS Bayfield. He was also deployed at Utah Beach as well.
Luckily for the baseball catcher, he returned home to the United States and was reunited with his family. Following his service, Berra made his major league debut in 1946, winning 13 World Series titles as an 18-time All-Star.
Charleton Heston Worked As A Radio Operator
The Ten Commandments actor had a career which lasted for about six decades. In the forties, Heston had been with the U.S. Air Force. He started out as a radio operator but he would transition into an aerial gunner. Heston would eventually reach the rank of staff sergeant.
After his rise to fame in acting, Heston narrated for highly classified military and Department Energy Instructional films, particularly topics relating to nuclear weapons. This photo was taken on the set of The Pigeon That Took Rome, not during his actual military service.
Sidney Poitier Lied About His Age
When he was younger, he joined the U.S. Army during the Second World War. He even lied about his age too, something most people did at the time. However, he was only an attendant for the mental hospital.
Afterward, he found success in the acting world. Thanks to his superb performance in the movie Lilies of the Field, more doors would open for him. This photo was taken on the set of All the Young Men.
Before James Bond Films, Clifton James Was An Infantry Platoon Sergeant
This actor was in a handful of movies including the James Bond films Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun, but long before he even got into acting, he enjoyed a stint in the U.S. Army. A big reason why he enjoyed his time is that he was a well-decorated infantry platoon sergeant during the Second World War.
He served for forty-two months in the South Pacific from 1942 until 1945. His decorations include the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and two Purple Hearts.
Alan Alda Was In The United States Army Reserve
It's not much of a surprise to see a cast member of M*A*S*H on this list. After graduating from college, the actor would serve for a year at Fort Benning. Then, six months later, he was on duty in Korea with the United States Army Reserve.
Soon after, became one of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps. Alda began his acting career in the 1950s as a member of the Compass Players, an inspirational comedy revue. Pictured here is a scene from M*A*S*H.
Sam Elliott Was A Military Man Before Becoming A Cowboy
Before Elliott was a beloved cowboy of the Wild West, he had a stint in the California Army National Guard. He served in the 163rd Airlift Wing and was based on the Channel Islands.
Eventually, he would return to California in an attempt to become an actor. However, to keep his financial stability afloat, he did work in construction, then joined the military. Soon after, his first role came in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Joe Louis Was Assigned To Entertain The Troops
Boxer Joe Louis voluntarily enlisted in the Army while in the middle of his 140-month reign as World Heavyweight Champion. Despite being assigned to a cavalry unity, eventually, the Army placed him in the Special Services Division. Louis would go on a celebrity tour along with fellow boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson.
They would stage boxing exhibitions around the world for his fellow soldiers. For his time of service, the iconic boxer was awarded the rare Legion of Merit in 1945, qualifying him for immediate release from the military. The Joe Louis Arena, the former home of the Detroit Red Wings, was named in his honor
Carl Reiner Was Drafted Into The Air Force
He would serve in WWII and achieving the rank of corporal. He initially trained to be a radio operator, but wound up spending three months in the hospital recovering from pneumonia. During language training, he had his first experience as a director, putting on a Moliere play entirely in French.
After completing his language training, he was sent to Hawaii to work as a teleprinter operator. The night before he was to ship out for an unknown assignment, he attended a production of Hamlet.
Charles Bronson Completed More Than 20 Missions In The Army
Before building an impressive acting record, Charles Bronson was actually serving the US in the Second World War. He served in the 760th Flexible Gunnery Training Squadron, and in 1945 as a Boeing B-29 Superfortress aerial gunner.
He flew in over 20 missions and would earn a Purple Heart for wounds he received while in battle. After the end of the war, Bronson worked many odd jobs for money until he joined a theatrical group in Philadelphia. This image is from the set of the 1975 film Breakout.
Robert Duvall Was In The Army For A Year
Robert Duvall's family had many members who served in the Army, while his father was a Rear Admiral. Duvall thought about taking his shot at military service, so he joined the US Army in 1953.
He took part in the Korean war, though his fighting experience was fairly minimal. In 1954, Duvall would leave as a Private First Class. Interestingly enough, Duvall was another actor who had some film experience before serving. This photo was taken during filming of The Great Santini.
Mel Brooks Was Drafted In 1944
He was placed in the Army Specialized Training Program and was sent to the Virginia Military Institute. He served in the United States Army as a corporal in the 1104 Engineer Combat Battalion.
He was sent to Germany, where his main task was to diffuse land mines in order for the troops to advance towards Nazi targets. As soon as WWII ended, Brooks took part in organizing shows for Germans and American Soldiers.
Mickey Rooney Was Already An Actor When He Served In The Military
Mickey Rooney was a part of the Special Services who were entertaining the American troops. Rooney spent part of the time as a radio personality on the American Forces Network. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for entertaining troops in combat zones.
After his military career, Rooney's career slumped after his return to civilian life. He could no longer play the role of a teenager, but he also lacked the stature of most leading men.
Ernest Borgnine Joined The Navy After His High School Graduation
Ernest Borgnine, pictured here in a scene from McHale's Navy, served aboard the destroyer/minesweeper USS Lamberton. He was enlisted in the Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. During WWII, he patrolled the Atlantic Coast on an antisubmarine warfare ship. In September 1945, he was honorably discharged from the Navy.
He served a total of almost ten years in the Navy and obtained the grade of gunner's mate 1st class. His military awards include the Good Conduct Medal and the American Defensive Service Medal.
Montel Williams Joined The Marines
The TV talk show host joined the US Marines in 1974. Montel Williams went through extensive training, and he was the first African American to complete his training, both in the Naval Academy Prep School and in Annapolis.
Williams left the Marines as a Lieutenant Commander rank, and his decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, and the Navy Achievement Medal. His efforts as a counselor for young troops led to the Montell Williams Show.
Bud Moore Went Beyond The Track To Serve His Country
Bud Moore (in blue) was a machine gunner as a member of the United States Army during World War II. The South Carolina native participated in the Normandy landings and also went on to fight in the Battle of Bugle. He ended his military service as a sergeant.
When Moore returned from the war, he began a career in stock car racing as a crew chief. Eventually, the Hall of Famer would open Bud Moore Engineering, a team that went on to win three NASCAR Grand National Series championships.