All of the men and women who serve in the armed forces deserve our utmost respect, gratitude, and debt. These are the people who fight for something beyond themselves – for country and liberty. These are the selfless men and women who both ensure the freedom of the country for which they fight and protect the peace in other countries. While much criticism has been levelled against U.S. military intervention in recent years, it’s worth noting that the brave souls joining the armed forces aren’t the decision makers – they’re doing as they’re told, as they’re trained to do, and fighting for what they believe to be the good of their country.
As Veteran’s Day is a few weeks away, we’re taking a look and honoring some of the famous people who have served in the military. All of these celebrity stars served their country long before they graced the covers of tabloids the world over, proving that not every celebrity is a self-inflated, entitled egomaniac, as tabloids would have us believe today.
10. Hugh Hefner – Newspaper Writer in the US Army (1944 – 1946)
Hugh Hefner is of course known far and wide as the founder and chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises. Before he became the ultimate playboy, however, he was a copywriter for Esquire. Before that, he enlisted in the US Army as an infantry clerk after graduating high school in 1944. Hefner won a sharpshooter badge in basic training, and was then posted at camp in Oregon, and then Virginia. While stationed in Virginia, he wrote and drew cartoons for Army and military newspapers.
9. Ice-T – 25th Infantry Division in the US Army (1975 – 1979)
Tracy Marrow, better known as Ice-T, is an iconic emcee and hip-hop pioneer, as well as an actor best known for his role as Odafin “Fin” Tutuola in Law & Order: SVU. Before he found great success, Ice-T was destined to a much grimmer fate. He was associated with the Crips during high school in LA (though he wasn’t a gang member himself), and afterwards found himself selling drugs and stealing car stereos to support his girlfriend and daughter.
Eventually he realized that his activities would lead to nothing positive. As he told NPR, “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 officer.” He spent four years as part of the 25th Infantry Division in the US Army, stationed at the Tropic Lightning Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.
8. James Earl Jones – Ranger and First Lieutenant in the US Army (1953 – 1955)
James Earl Jones – the voice of Darth Vader and Mufasa – is one of America’s most distinguished actors. In college he was a pre-med major, but discovered that he wasn’t cut out to be a doctor. He joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps in the early ’50s and found himself enjoying the camaraderie and structure of the military environment. He was part of the Pershing Rifles Drill Team, and the Scabbard and Blade Honor Society.
In 1953, with the Korean War escalating, Jones reported to Fort Benning to attend Infantry Officers Basic Course, and then he attended Ranger School. He has stated that he “washed out” of Ranger training. His unit was sent to establish a cold weather training command at Camp Hale in Colorado. His battalion became a training unit in the rugged terrain of the Rocky Mountains, and he was promoted to First Lieutenant prior to being discharged.
7. Bill Cosby – Hospital Corpsman in the US Navy (1956 – 1960)
The lovable comedian Bill Cosby is well-known for his sense of discipline and morality that he portrays in his TV shows and stand-up performances, and he learned those traits firsthand. He dropped out of high school and joined the Navy in 1956, going on to become a physical therapist, medical aide, and hospital corpsman for seriously injured veterans of the Korean War. He earned his high school diploma while enlisted in the service.
Cosby served at five different marine base hospitals and ships, and in 2011 the Navy ceremoniously designated him as an honorary chief petty officer. At his ceremony, Cosby remarked: “The years I spent in the Navy […] gave me a wake-up call. The Navy showed me obedience, and that’s the thing that pushed me to realize the mistakes I had made in my young life at 19-years-old, and that I could do something with myself and become somebody.”
6. Mel Brooks – Corporal in the US Army (1944 – 1946)
Famed director and writer Mel Brooks is one of few entertainers who has an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards), but few know about his participation in World War II, where he performed some of the deadliest jobs in the armed forces. After spending a year at Brooklyn College, he was drafted into the Army and attended the Army Specialized Training Program at the Virginia Military Institute.
From there, he served in WWII as a Corporal in the 1104 Engineer Combat Battalion, 78th Infantry Division. He was a specialist in defusing land mines, and he also fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
5. Drew Carey – Corporal in the US Marine Corps Reserve (1980 – 1986)
Funnyman Drew Carey is known as the host of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, The Drew Carey Show, and as host of The Price Is Right. Before gaining his fame, Carey entered the US Marine Corps Reserve in 1981, serving for six years. During his service, he honed his comedy chops and first started performing stand-up.
As he has stated, “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.” Since then, Carey has teamed up with the United Services Organization and has visited military bases in Iraq to perform comedy for the troops.
4. Clint Eastwood – Corporal in the US Army (1951- ?)
The Man With No Name, Dirty Harry… the Academy Award winning actor, director, producer, and composer has been a cultural icon of masculinity for decades. Clint Eastwood is one of the few macho men on camera with real-world experience to back up that macho persona. He first served as a lifeguard and swimming instructor at Fort Ord, where he was eventually promoted to corporal.
In October of 1951, however, Eastwood was stationed on a Douglas AD-1 military aircraft en route from Seattle to Sacramento. The plane’s intercommunication system failed and they ran out of gas. The aircraft crashed into the Pacific Ocean, off Port Reyes. Eastwood and the pilot escaped the sinking aircraft and swam three miles to safety. He has said that, “I thought I might [not] live. But then I thought, other people have made it through these things before. I kept my eyes on the lights on shore and kept swimming.”
3. Tom Selleck – California Army National Guard (1967 – 1973)
Tom Selleck is known for his role as Thomas Magnum in the TV series Magnum, P.I., and as NYPD Commissioner Frank Reagan in the drama Blue Bloods. Since Magnum, P.I., Selleck has appeared in over 50 films and TV roles, but before all of his success he served as a soldier in the 160th Infantry Regiment of the California Army National Guard, for six years. This was the same unit that was activated for the Watts riots in LA in 1965. Selleck is now a spokesman for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
2. Chuck Norris – Air Policeman in US Air Force (1958 – 1962)
It only makes sense that the Walker, Texas Ranger star and all-around badass Chuck Norris served as an Air Policeman (AP). He joined the US Air Force in 1958 and served in South Korea. It was here that he first began martial arts, and also where he acquired the nickname Chuck (his real name is Carlos Ray Norris).
He began training in Tang Soo Do, leading to a black belt and the founding of the Chun Kuk Do (“Universal Way”) form. He continued to act as an AP when he returned to the United States and the March Air Force Base in California. Since then, Chuck Norris is a 10th degree black belt in Chun Kuk Do, 9th degree black belt in Tang Soo Do, 8th degree black belt in Taekwondo, and a black belt in both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo.
1. Christopher Lee – Finnish Army (1939) British Home Guard (1940) Royal Air Force (1941 – 1946)
No one on this list served in the military as long as the 92-year-old veteran actor Christopher Lee. He first volunteered to fight for the Finnish Army during the Winter War in 1939. He was posted on guard duty for a fortnight. He then joined the British Home Guard before volunteering for the Royal Air Force.
During a solo flight in WWII, an optic nerve failed him and he was told he would never fly again. He then joined RAF Intelligence. He aided Allies with air support as they advanced from North Africa, Egypt, Libya, and more. Lee was almost killed when Axis forces bombed his squadron’s airfield at the Mareth Line. Lee was almost killed again later when a plane in his squadron crashed on takeoff and he tripped over one of its live bombs.
After the war, Lee was tasked with helping track down Nazi war criminals as part of the Central Registry of War Criminals and Security Suspects. He was attached to the Special Operations Executive and the Long Range Desert Patrol, the precursor of the SAS. He has stated that, “I was attached to the SAS from time to time but we are forbidden – former, present, or future – to discuss any specific operations. Let’s just say I was in Special Forces and leave it at that. People can read in to that what they like.”