Getting to know some of the most iconic men and women in Hollywood is no easy feat. Many celebrities have a past that we are not aware of, while others make it very easy to find out. The men and women on this list have one thing in common other than being famous – they all served in the military in one form or another. As is expected (yet not encouraged), most of the people on this list are men. While there are many women in the United States military, there are many more men still.
We have decorated war heroes on this list, soldiers who risked their lives to save others and fought to protect the land they call home. Men like James Earl Jones, Johnny Cash, Mel Brooks, Willie Nelson, and Gene Wilder are just a few names of the men on this list, while women like Bea Arthur and Zulay Haneo are some of the women on the list. The United States has fought in many wars; from World War I and II to the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. Many of the famous faces on this list enlisted prior to being famous and used their time in the military as inspiration for their later works in life, as well as had it shape their personality.
We tend to forget that although famous, celebrities are just like us. When they hear about a catastrophe that involves their own people, they act. A perfect example of that is actor Adam Driver, who you may know from Star Wars and the show Girls. He enlisted into the Marines as a result of September 11th, just like a large number of other men and women who were shocked, saddened and angered by the events of that day. Check out the list of men and women who are much more than famous, they were soldiers.
Elvis Presley served in the United States Army from 1958 through 1960. Upon enlisting, Presley was offered to be a part of the Special Services, but he turned down the offer due to wanting to serve in a fighting unit. It was after his time in the military that Presley shot to fame as the King of Rock and Roll, later marrying Priscilla and welcoming Lisa Marie.
Actor Morgan Freeman served in the United States Air Force when he was younger. These days he owns his own plane but the passion for flying came when he was a young boy. What started as a love of planes propelled him (pun intended) to join the Air Force and later purchase his own plane when he was good and famous. Freeman is one of Hollywood’s iconic actors and has been in films like Driving Miss Daisy and The Shawshank Redemption.
Prior to the years when Jimi was known for his incredibly impressive guitar skills, he was a United States paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division back in 1961. After serving for a brief period of time, in 1962 Jimi went all in to his music. Jimi is known for his short yet influential time in music, being labeled “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.” The Jimi Hendrix Experience brought him international fame and success.
The Cosby Show star (and now infamous actor) was in the United States Navy for the course of four years back in 1956 when he enlisted. Although he is not very liked today due to some serious allegations by women who worked with him, Cosby was a beloved Hollywood television actor for many years. He was a producer as well as an actor, producing shows like A Different World, and starring in Cosby and hosting the show Kids Say the Darnedest Things.
Back in 1943, Johnny Carson joined the united States Navy. It was at the height of World War II and Johnny felt a pull towards being a part of the American front in the war. He was a member of the crew on the USS Pennsylvania. Johnny later returned from war and went on to be the host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson from 1962 through 1992! He won six Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award, not to mention a plethora of other honors.
Obviously Mr. T was in the military, just look at him! In all seriousness, the actor was in the Military Police Corps during his service in the 1970s. He rose to the position of squad leader and was honorably discharged thereafter. After his time in the military, Mr. T rose to fame with his starring role in the show The A-Team, as well as his appearance in the 1982 film Rocky III.
It’s hard to imagine the funny and delicate Mel Brooks in the military, but alas he was a corporal in the 1104 Engineer Combat Battalion, whose job it was to defuse land mines during World War II. After his time in the military, Brooks came back and starting paving his way to legendary status. Mel Brooks is known for creating, producing, composing and acting in his films. Examples of some of his great works include Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Spaceballs, and The Producers.
John Coltrane served in the United States Navy during World War II. He enlisted in the Navy in order to avoid being enlisted into the Army. The date of his enlistment was August 6, 1945, the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was shipped off to Pearl Harbor and stationed at Manana Barracks. His time in the Navy was spent as part of the Melody Masters, the base swing band.
Can you recognize this woman? In case you can’t, it’s the almighty Wonder Woman Gal Gadot. The Israeli-born top model and actress who charmed millions of fans across the globe served as a fitness instructor during her mandatory service in the Israeli army. Gadot later revealed that she was grateful for the chance to serve her country, and said that her military service prepared her well for a career in show business.
Bob Barker, known for his hosting job on the show The Price is Right, was a part of the United States Navy before rising to fame. Barker was a fighter pilot in the Navy, although he never made it out to sea as by the time he was ready for combat, the war had ended. Bob was the host of The Price is Right from 1972 to 2007. The show was the longest-running daytime game show in American history.
Johnny Cash enlisted in the United States Air Force in July of 1950. He was assigned to the 12th Radio Squadron Mobile of the United States Air Force Security Service in Germany in the position of Morse Code operator in charge of intercepting Soviet Army transmissions. He was in the Air Force until July of 1953 when he was honorably discharged. The singer-songwriter later became one of the best-selling musicians of all time, having sold over 90 million albums internationally.
Prior to his reggae hits, such as songs like It Wasn’t Me, Angel, and Boombastic, Shaggy was a part of the 10th Marine Regiment in the United States Marine Corps. He was on duty during The Gulf War in the early 1990s. It was in the mid 1990s and the early 2000s that Shaggy was at the height of his musical career. In recent years, Shaggy has slowly tried to make a musical comeback thanks to a featured track with other well-known artists.
While we may know his now as Detective Odafin Tutuola on Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit, Ice-T was first are foremost a soldier and then a rapper. Ice was in the 25th Infanty Division on the United States Army for four years. It was during his time in the Army that lead Ice to do a little more thieving and introduced him to the man who would teach him how to pimp in Hawaii where he was stationed. Ice was honorably discharged despite a record due to the fact that he was a single father.
Sammy Davis Jr.
Sammy David Jr. joined the United States Army during World War II. It was in the Army the he came across strong racial prejudice. Sammy was in a Special Services unit where he would find himself performing in order to keep the prejudice at bay. He said, “My talent was the weapon, the power, the way for me to fight. It was the one way I might hope to affect a man’s thinking.”
The legendary Steve McQueen wasn’t always the incredible actor he was known for. Before his time in the spotlight, McQueen was a member of the united States Marine Corps. McQueen was in the military from 1947 and lucky he was there as he saved the lives of five Marines during an expedition in the arctic. McQueen was famous for his roles in films like The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and The Towering Inferno.
Did you know that MC Hammer was in the United States Navy? Don’t feel bad, we didn’t either. Hammer was in the Navy for three years in order to straighten up his life and not be tempted to go down the path of the drug trade. He was in the rank of Petty Officer during his three years in the Navy. After his time as a soldier, Hammer went into the music business, revolutionizing rap. He has since become more of a music producer than a performer but has success in all that he does.
Ernest Hemingway was one of the most well-known authors of the 20th century. Ernest was an ambulance driver during World War I in Italy. It was there that he responded to an explosion in a munitions factory where he and other Red Cross recruits would have to pull out the bodies of the women who worked there. It was this incident that he based his non-fiction book Death in the Afternoon about. He wrote, “I remember that after we searched quite thoroughly for the complete dead we collected fragments”.
Heartbreaker and stunner Paul Newman was in the United States Navy during World War II in the Pacific theater. He initially wanted to be a fighter pilot but could not complete the training due to his color blindness. He eventually qualified in torpedo bombers in 1944, Newman was an Aviation Radioman Third Class and was dispatched to Barbers Point, Hawaii. He was later assigned to fly as a turret gunner in an Avenger torpedo bomber. Newman’s military career was a fascinating one, almost as fascinating as his movie career.
Comedian icon Richard Pryor was in the military before he got his shot at stardom. From 1958 through 1960, Pryor was in the United States Army. He spent almost the entire duration behind military bars, though. He was put in military prison following the stabbing of a white male on his base in Germany who was said to have been a little too enthusiastic about the racial comments in the film Imitation of Life.
Nate Dogg served three years as an ammunitions specialist in the United States Marine Corps. Nate was 17 years old when he enlisted in the military. After his time in the Marines, Nate went on to become a well-known rapper, singer and actor. He is best known for being one of the founders of West Coast hip hop, as well as his collaborations with other top hip hop artists such as Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Tupac Shakur.
Vincent Pastore, known for his roles as one of the fearsome gangsters in The Sopranos, was formerly a sailor in the United States Navy. He was in the Navy right as he finished high school, from 1964 through 1967. In addition to being an actor, Pastore is a savvy businessman and has been a part of the club scene ownership for over 30 years. Pastore has also been on several television shows over the last 10 years to keep himself relevant in Hollywood.
James Earl Jones
James Earl Jones is known for his acting and his voice. His deep vocal chords got him many memorable parts in films like The Lion King, and monologues such as Shakespeare’s Othello at the White House Evening of Poetry. Jones, however, was not always known for his skills, but was on the course to be a Ranger. Jones ended up reporting to Camp Hale in order to establish a cold weather training command. His battalion trained in the Rocky Mountains. He was promoted to first lieutenant before being honorably discharged. Jones then went to New York City to begin his acting career.
Montel Williams was in the United States military for over 15 years. The talk show host started his military career right out of high school in 1974 when he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He spent three years working on submarines before moving on to supervising cryptologic officer with the Naval Security Fleet Support Division. It was there that he discovered his love and talent for public speaking that ended up pulling him towards his future career. Montel worked with parents, businesses, and educators to assist the problem with youth today once he was out of the military. It was his work with them that lead him to the Montel William Show.
William Sanderson, known for his roles in films like Blade Runner, and shows like Deadwood and True Blood, was in the United States Army as an Army medic in Vietnam. After his two years of service, Sanderson returned home to attend college, after which landed his longstanding role in the series Newhart. Sanderson has also been on shows like The X-Files, Married with Children, ER, Walker Texas Ranger, and Coach.
Jesse has kind of done it all. He was an actor, a wrestler and the Governor of Minnesota there for a while. Before his time in front of the camera and political light, Jesse was in the Navy for six year. He was a Special Warfare Operator during the Vietnam War. Little known fact about Jesse: he was a bodyguard for The Rolling Stones for a while; this was before he made it to the professional league with his wrestling.
Don Rickles enlisted in the United States Navy at 18 years old, right out of high school. He served during World War II on the USS Cyrene as a seaman first class. He was honorably discharged in 1946. After his time in the military, Don got noticed for his comedic chops, landing roles in films like Run Silent, Run Deep, Kelly’s Heroes, and the television show C.P.O Sharkey. Don passed away in April 2017 at the age of 90.
Actor Charlton Heston was in the United States Air Force from 1944 to 1946. During his time in the military, Heston was a gunner who ranked as a Staff Sergeant. After completing his military career, Heston shot to fame in films like The Ten Commandments, Touch of Evil, El Cid, The Greatest Show on Earth, and The Big Country. Heston was a politically inclined man who considered himself a conservative Republican. He was the president of the National Rifle Association from 1998 through 2003 at which time he resigned due to an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis.
The head of the Douglas dynasty, Kirk Douglas, was a member of the armed forces before he launched his movie career. Kirk enlisted in the United states Navy during World War II and to this day states how much that time meant to him. After his time in the Navy, Douglas went on to star in films like The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Champion, Young Man with a Horn, and The Bad and the Beautiful.
Hard to imagine comedian and gentle soul Drew Carey in the military. However, Carey was in the United States Marine Corps from 1980 through 1986 in the position of Corporal. After his time in the military, Carey started his stand up career, followed by his big name titles as host of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, The Price Is Right, Power of 10, and Drew Carey’s Improv-A-Ganza.
The Golden Girls actress was in the Unites States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve during World War II. She held the position of truck driver and typist during her time off duty. She was honorably discharged in September of 1945. Following her time in the military, Bea went on to star in shows like Maude, All in the Family, and be a part of the original production of Mame, on Broadway.
Now we can absolutely believe that Randy was in the military – just look at the guy! Randy was in the United states Army from 1982 through 1988, ascending the military totem pole to the rank of Sergeant in the 101st Airborne, which is where he started wrestling and boxing around for fun. After his honorable discharge from the Army, Randy went on to become a martial artist and an actor. He has been in films like The Expendables film series, The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior, and Setup.
Sean Connery, famous for being the very first James Bond, did a lot of his own stunts when he was in the Royal Navy. Connery joined the Royal Navy for a few years before being discharged due to medical reasons. After his time serving, Connery went on to star in films like The Untouchables, The Name of the rose, The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, to name a few.
Actor Michael Caine was called up to the British national service in 1952 and served the British Army’s Royal Fusiliers until 1954. Caine was on active service for the Royal Army during the Korean War and had gone into Korea. It was in Korea that Caine experienced a near death experience, saying, “The rest of my life I have lived every bloody moment from the moment I wake up until the time I go to sleep.” Caine went on to star in films like Get Carter, The Man Who Would Be King, and A Bridge Too Far.
Henry Fonda, unlike many of the other men and women on this list, joined the military service AFTER he already made a name for himself. Fonda joined the United States Navy during World War II. He stated that he didn’t want to act in a movie about a war when a real one was actually happening outside the borders of his country. Like the real man he is, he enlisted and went to fight the real battle.
The late great Leonard Nimoy, famous for his role as Spock in the Star Trek franchise, was in the United States Army Reserve for a total of 18 months, from 1953 to 1955. He left his time in the Army with the rank of sergeant. During his time in the army, Nimoy wrote and narrated his own productions for the troops. It was also during this time that he directed and starred in the film A Streetcar Named Desire.
George Carlin was in the United States Air Force in the early part of the 1950s. He enlisted after he dropped out of high school. Carlin served as a radar technician on a the military base in Louisiana. Carlin is known for his comedy stand up, writing, acting and for being quite a social critic at times. He has been in shows on Comedy Central, and has hosted The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live several times.
Dennis Franz is known for his role in the crime drama NYPD Blue. Prior to his time on television, Franz was drafted into the United States Army. He served almost a year with the 82nd Airborne Division as well as 101st Division in Vietnam. Franz later starred in shows like Hill Street Blues, and Beverly Hills Buntz, all before the 1993 debut of NYPD Blue.
The youngest individual on this list, actor Adam Driver, famous for his roles in the television show Girls, as well as films like Lincoln, While We’re Young, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, was first a United States Marine. He enlisted in the Marines shortly after the events of September 11th. He was in the Weapons Company and was set to deploy to Iraq for the Iraq War but was medically discharged due to breaking his sternum during a mountain biking accident.
We may know him now as flighty and happy-go-lucky today, but Willie Nelson wasn’t always like that. Nelson joined the United States Air Force in 1950 and spent the next nine months on a military base. He returned in 1952 and proceeded to marry and study. Nelson is famous for his musical skills as well as his activism. Nelson’s hit albums include Shotgun Willie, Red Headed Stranger, and Stardust.
Prior to portraying Willie Wonka in the beloved film, actor Gene Wilder was in the United States Army. His position in the military structure was that of a paramedic in a local Pennsylvania base. After Wilder’s time in the military, he launched his successful acting career with productions such as The Play of the Week, Bonnie and Clyde, and The Producers. Wilder passed away in 2016 at the age of 83 due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Actress Zulay Henao, known for her roles in films like Fighting, Takers, Boy Wonder, Hostel: Part III, and The Single Moms Club, is also a former military woman. Henao served three years int he United States Army once she graduated from high school. After her time in the military, Henao enrolled at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. Her most recent project is in the film Grow House, as well as a television appearance on MacGyver.
Duck Dynasty’s Si Robertson sure isn’t fooling anyone that he didn’t serve in the United States Army. Si was not only a member of the armed forces but was deployed and fought in the Vietnam War. Robertson retired from the US Army in 1993, ranked as Sergeant First Class. After his time in the military, Si made a surprising turn and became a television personality through his show about hunting and outdoor living. The show is on the A&E Network and has had a spinoff of the show, called Going Si-Ral, emerge.
The former lead singer of the band Limp Bizkit, Fred Durst, was a member of the United States Navy. He joined the Navy upon graduating from high school and served for two years before being discharged at the age of 20. After his time in the military, Durst went on to pursue his singing career and achieve moderate levels of success in the 90s and early 2000s.
Charles Bronson, known for playing a soldier on the hit television show The Dirty Dozen, was a soldier in real life as well. Bronson joined the United States Air Force during World War II as a gunner. Bronson flew over 25 missions in his military career and earned a Purple Heart for his wounds which he received in battle. Bronson is known for his roles in Once Upon the time in the West, The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and Rider on the Rain.
Robin Quivers is a radio personality, actress, author and news anchor. She is best known for her co-hosting position on The Howard Stern Show. Before she gained mainstream success, Quivers joined the United States Air Force in July of 1975 where she was at the Maryland Shock Trauma facility for the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services System. She retired from the Air force in 1990 with the rank of Captain.
Actor Alan Alda enlisted in the United States Army Reserve when he graduated from college. He did a tour in Korea during his time in the reserves. After his time in the Army, Alda married his wife Arlene and went on to have a stellar film and television career. Some of the super successful shows include MASH, The West Wing, as well as films like Crimes and Misdemeanors, and the Aviator.
There are not very many women on this list but Darva is one of the few. Conger, a reality television show winner of Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire, served in the United States Air Force as a nurse. After her time in the military, Darva continued her nursing work in a hospital in Northern California where she lives today with her son, Cassius.
Arnold may have not been in the American military but he was in the Austrian one. Schwarzenegger joined the Austrian Army in 1965 and served for a year as that was the required amount of time according to Austrian law. As we all know, Arnold would make his way to the United States and proceed to have an epic film career and a warm political career as the Governor of California.
Oliver Stone, iconic Hollywood director, was in the United States military during the Vietnam War. He served there for a time and found the inspiration there for his later film Platoon. Stone is known for award-winning films such as World Trade Center, Snowden, Nixon, Wall Street, and Born on the Fourth of July. Many of Stone’s films have to do with the political climate in the United States, which for him are statements found within his movies.
Marvin Gaye was in the United States Air Force when he was a young man. However, it was once he was in the service that he realized that it wasn’t to his liking and faked a mental illness in order to get discharged. After his time in the military, Gaye went on to become one of the most famous musicians and composers. Sadly, Gaye died from a gunshot wound inflicted by his father during a conflict in his home.
Prior to the many years that Mickey Rooney made us laugh, he was in the United States military. It was during World War II that Rooney was a part of the Armed Forces. Rooney was familiar with acting before being a soldier but felt that it was a calling he needed to go forward with due to the size of the war. Upon his return, Rooney starred in films like The Fox and the Hound, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Night at the Museum.
Jamie Farr, known for his role in MASH, served in the United States Army when he was a young man, serving in both Korea and Japan during his two-year stint in the military. Jamie wore his real dog tags during the filming of MASH. After Farr was in the Army, he wen to be a part of productions such as The Greatest Story Ever Told, confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and appearing on The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Sidney Poitier was in the United States Army from 1943 to 1944, also known as the height of World War II. Sidney has had a long and very successful career in Hollywood as well as is known for his diplomatic services as an ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan. His film highlights include The Defiant Ones, Lilies of the Field, A Patch of Blue, In the Head of the Night, and Duel at Diablo.
Renowned actor Humphrey Bogart was a young man when he joined the United States Navy. Bogart enlisted in 1918 due to feeling like he had no other prospects. Bogart’s superiors stated that he was a model sailor and that he spent most of his time at sea on the ferry that was bringing troops home from Europe. After the war and his service, Bogart became a household name with hit roles in Casablanca, The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon.
Robert Duvall is known for his incredible acting skills, but he is also a United States Army vet who served in the Korean War. After his time in the Army, Duvall made a name for himself as a man to watch in Hollywood. His starring roles in The Godfather, Deep Impact, To Kill and Mockingbird, Lonesome Dove and Falling Down, are just some of the projects to get his name out there.
Before a time when everyone knew Gene Hackman for his many accolades and roles in hit films, he was in the United States Marine Corps. He enlisted when he was 16 years old, lying about his age order to enlist. He served for four and a half years in the position of field radio operator. He was stationed in China, followed by Hawaii and Japan. After his time in the Marines, Hackman made a name for himself in films like Enemy of the State, The Firm, The French Connection, and Bonnie and Clyde.
Renowned author Kurt Vonnegut is well known for being a soldier prior to his time as a writer because of his writing about his military experience. Vonnegut was deployed to fight in Europe during World War II but was captured by German forces during the Battle of the Bulge. It was his time as a POW that was the inspiration for his novel Slaughterhouse Five. When the allies were bombing Germany, and the camp he was in in Dresden, he hid in a meat locker inside a slaughterhouse.
Harry Belafonte served in the United States Navy during World War II right out of high school. Harry said that it was his time in the Navy that taught him to appreciate life and live it to its fullest. Harry is known for his acting, singing, and songwriting. His film starring roles that he is most known for is in Carmen Jones, Island in the Sun and Odds Against Tomorrow.
James ‘Jimmy’ Stewart was an honorable man before he entered the acting world. Stewart was in the United States military during World War II AND Vietnam. He is a decorated war hero who left the military with the rank of Brigadier General. Stewart is the highest ranked actor to ever be a part of the military services. He was a pilot during his active duty career. It was in 1968 that Stewart retired from the Air Force. During his time as a soldier, he was already making waves as an actor. He won an Academy Award for his role in The Philadelphia Story, as well as nominated for an Academy Award for It’s a Wonderful Life.
Chuck Norris, who we know and love from Walker Texas Ranger, started out in the United States Air Force. He ranked as an Airman First Class and as you can see by this photo, he seems pretty pleased with himself about the position. He later went on to be one of the most well known martial artists in Hollywood, as well as infomercial star and political voice.
Tom Selleck without his signature mustache is almost like another person! Alas, when he was in California’s National Guard’s 160th infantry regiment, he was not allowed to keep his look. Here we see him in full uniform, clean shaven and ready to work. He left the post with the rank of sergeant and continued to rise in the world, all the way up to Magnum P.I.
His most famous role on the silver screen was as The Dude in The Big Lebowski, but this chilled out actor was once in the United States Coast Guard. He went into the service at the age of 18, and went on to serve for a full seven years before being discharged. Despite having a really tough and grueling service, Bridges says that he really enjoyed his time in the military, and says that the hardship shaped him into the man he is today.
Legendary director, actor and filmmaker Clint Eastwood was drafted into the United States Army during the Korean War in 1951. While it sounds like he was in the thick of it, Eastwood was actually a lifeguard on base during the entire ordeal. Once out of the military, Eastwood continued with his life and made the name and movies we know and love today.
The longtime Wheel of Fortune host, Pat Sajak, also served in the United States Army back in 1968. During his time in the military, he was deployed to Vietnam. He spent 18 months as an Army DJ while he was on base – an interesting position the military found him! Pat has been the host of Wheel of Fortune since 1981. To this day you will find him directing the beautiful Vanna White to turn a certain letter a contestant got right.
Prior to becoming the head of Playboy Enterprises, Hugh Hefner joined the United States Army during World War II. He served as a writer for a military newspaper and held that position from 1944 through 1946. After he returned from duty, Hefner went on to be the Editor-in-Chief of Playboy magazine, Chief Creative Officer of Playboy Enterprises, and a reality show star thanks to the show The Girl’s Next Door.