SERVING THEIR COUNTRY,
In times of national crisis, most Americans volunteer themselves in defense of their country. While all citizens across economic and social levels do their part, the perception is that those of privilege rarely put their lives on the line. This is an accusation that is often directed toward people in the entertainment field - and especially in Hollywood. We thought we would look into this to find examples of these people who risked their lives for the nation. Of course, some of them did their service before becoming famous.
During WWII, Newman wasn’t accepted for Navy pilot training because he was color-blind, so he trained as an enlisted radioman/gunner for torpedobombers. As a rear-seat gunner assigned to the Pacific Fleet’s USS Bunker Hill; he flew off of that carrier during the Battle of Okinawa. All of the other gunners in his detail were killed in action.
Eddie Albert (U.S. Navy) - actor
Prior to WWII, Albert worked for Army Intelligence photographing German U-boats in Mexican ports. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions during the invasion of Tarawa (11/42) when, as a pilot of a landing craft, he rescued 47 Marines who were stranded in the water under heavy enemy machine gun fire; he also supervised the rescue of 30 others.
Clark Cable (U.S. Army Air Corps) - actor
He joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 to be an enlisted gunner on an air crew. Later, he was assigned to Officer’s Candidate School and commissioned as a Lieutenant. He spent most of the war in the UK, and flew combat missions over Germany in a B-17 earning the Distinguished Flying Cross. On one raid, a piece of flak went through his boot and another barely missed his head. He eventually became a major.
Robert Altman (U.S. Army Air Corps) - director
In 1943, Robert Altman joined the Army Air Force at age 18. He flew over 50 bombing missions in a B-24 Liberator over Borneo and the Dutch East Indies with the 307th Bomb Group.
James Arness (U.S. Army) - actor
Arness wanted to be a fighter pilot but was too tall (6’ 7”); he served in the 3rd Infantry Division instead. During the invasion of Italy, because of his height, he was the first man ordered off his landing craft to determine the depth of the water. He was severely wounded in the leg in combat near Anzio, Italy. His division fought in Italy, France, Germany, and Austria. Arness was awarded several medals including the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
Tony Bennett (U.S. Army) - singer
Bennett was an infantryman in the 63rd Division in France. His unit suffered heavy losses during the Battle of the Bulge (12/44). He also fought in combat in Germany narrowly escaping death. As his division crossed the Rhine, it fought the enemy house-to-house eventually reaching the city of Landsberg where they participated in liberating a Nazi concentration camp.
Henry Fonda (U.S. Navy) - actor
Frustrated with only appearing in war films, Fonda enlisted in the navy in 1942, serving three years. Initially a quartermaster on a destroyer, he was promoted to Lieutenant JG and served in Air Combat Intelligence in the Central Pacific, receiving a Presidential Unit Citation and a Bronze Star.
John Ford (U.S. Navy) - director
Ford was a commander in the Navy and led the photographic wing of the OSS. While that may seem like a behind-the-scenes assignment, it wasn’t. He was cited by his superiors for bravery on several occasions. Ford was a veteran of the Battle of Midway, where he was wounded by shrapnel, and was present on Omaha Beach on D-Day.
Lee Marvin (U.S. Marine Corps) - actor
He left school to join the Marines and served with the 4th Marine Division in the Pacific. In an assault on Mount Tapochau, during the Battle of Saipan, Marvin was wounded by machine gun fire; most of his company was killed. The bullets severed his sciatic nerve which affected him the rest of his life. He received the Purple Heart.
Ed McMahon (U.S. Marine Corps) - entertainer
After Pearl Harbor was attacked, he applied for Marine flight training. McMahon earned his qualification as a carrier landing pilot and was assigned to the Pacific Fleet in 1945. During the Korean War, he was recalled to duty and flew as an artillery spotter for Marine ground batteries. He flew 85 combat missions and earned six Air Medals. McMahon retired as a colonel (later being promoted to Brigadier General in the National Guard).
Audie Murphy (U.S. Army) - actor
An infantryman with the 3rd Division in WWII, the 5’ 5”, 110 lbs. Murphy fought in Italy, France, Germany, and Austria. He was wounded three times and killed an estimated 240 enemy soldiers. He became the most decorated soldier in the history of the U.S. Army, and was given the Congressional Medal of Honor - all before turning 20 years old. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Gene Roddenberry (U.S. Army Air Corps) - writer, producer
In 1941, he joined the Army Air Corps. He flew combat missions as a pilot in the Pacific for the 394th Bomb Squadron. In 1943, he was piloting a B-17 which crashed; Roddenberry survived. In total, he flew 89 missions for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
He enlisted in the army the day after high school graduation in 1943. Trained as a paratrooper and sent to the Pacific Theatre, he was reassigned to a demolition unit or “death squad” (due to its high fatality rate). Serling was wounded twice in combat in the Philippines, and earned the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
Jimmy Stewart (U.S. Army Air Corps) - actor
Stewart was a highly experienced pilot prior to WWII. He was drafted in 1940 but was initially rejected as a pilot, failing to meet minimum height and weight requirements and for being too old. Later, he was accepted. In 1943, he was assigned as the commander of the 445th Bombardment Group, and led numerous bombing missions over Germany including Berlin. He received two Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Croix de Guerre in 1944. He reached the rank of Major General in the U.S. Air Force Reserve after the war.
Oliver Stone (U.S. Army) - writer, director
In 1967, Stone enlisted in the U.S. Army and requested combat duty in Vietnam. He fought with the 25th Infantry Division, then with the First Air Cavalry Division. He earned a Bronze Star, an Army Commendation Medal for heroism, and a Purple Heart for his wounds, all in the space of 15 months.
Here are some others in the entertainment field that offered honorable service:
U.S. Army: Alan Alda, Mel Brooks, Art Carney (wounded at Normandy), Tim Conway, Robert Duvall, Dennis Franz (82nd Airborne in Vietnam), Buddy Hackett, James Earl Jones (Army Ranger), Sidney Poitier, Tony Randall, Mickey Rooney, Telly Savalas.
U.S. Army Air Corps/U.S. Air Force: Charles Bronson (B-29 gunner), Red Buttons, Peter Graves, Walter Matthau (B-24 gunner), Jack Palance (bailed out of a B-24), Chuck Norris, Ronald Reagan, Dick Van Dyke.
U.S. Marine Corps: Steve McQueen (guarded President Truman’s yacht)
U.S. Navy: Harry Belafonte, Humphrey Bogart, Ernest Borgnine, Johnny Carson, Jackie Cooper (Navy Captain), Roger Corman, Bill Cosby, Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson, Jack Lemmon, Robert Stack.