Today, Saturday, Nov. 11, marks the 69th observed Veterans Day, the federal holiday that celebrates the men and women who served in the United States military.
It is well-known that hundreds of Hollywood’s biggest names served or fought with our armed services. From WWII vets like Mel Brooks to specially trained martial arts air policemen like Chuck Norris, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most famous stars who once donned a uniform.
In 1951, 21-year-old Clint Eastwood was drafted into the Korean War. The now-notorious actor and director did his training at Fort Ord in California, where he served as a swimming instructor.
Eastwood’s swimming skills eventually saved his life while he was working on a Navy AD-1Q torpedo bomber off the California coast. Due to engine issues, the vessel crashed and left him stranded near Point Reyes. He and the pilot swam two miles through near-freezing water to get to land.
Clint Eastwood was honorably discharged in 1953. His G.I. Bill paid his way through acting school at Los Angeles City College.
Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman turned down a partial scholarship from Jackson State University, where he had intended to study drama, to enlist in the Air Force at 18. The actor began serving in 1955 as a radar technician and eventually rose to the rank of Airman 1st Class before ending his military career in 1959.
Singer Tony Bennett was drafted into World War II in November 1944 at 18. He went to train with the Army and became an infantry rifleman at Fort Robinson, Arkansas. In March 1945, Bennett went to the from line in Germany with the 63rd Infantry Division.
Bennett was with a group that was replacing casualties lost during the Battle of the Bulge. In his Memoir, The Good Life, he recalled the day he learned he was shipping out. At 4 am, Gen. George S. Patton woke him and his fellow soldiers by yelling, “Now listen up! Forget your mothers and everything else you’ve ever known! You’re going up to the line.”
Bennett described his time on the front line as a “front-row seat in hell,” but it was through the Army that he eventually met Bob Hope, who inspired his award-winning career. Bennett was honorably discharged in 1946.
Veterans Day Hero Chuck Norris Learned His Martial Arts Skills While Stationed in South Korea
Before becoming Magnum P.I. Tom Selleck served in the the California Army National Guard after getting draft orders during the Vietnam War. The now-actor served six months of active duty during his tenure that spanned from 1967 to 1973.
While speaking to military.com, he admitted, “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.”
Today, Tom Selleck is a celebrity spokesperson for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
Mel Brooks is another entertainer who served in World War II. The legendary comedic director fought as a corporal combat engineer with the Army’s 1104 Engineer Combat Division and defused land mines. Brooks also fought at The Battle of the Bulge.
Brooks has made it a point to bring levity to his wartime stories as a way of handling the traumas, but he once admitted to his son that surviving WWII was an experience that most could never understand.
“You thought about how you were going to stay warm that night, how you were going to get from one hedgerow to another without some German sniper taking you out. You didn’t worry about tomorrow,” he shared, per military.com.
Chuck Norris learned his famous Chun Kuk Do martial arts moves while serving in the U.S. Air Force as an air policeman. The Walker Texas Ranger star voluntarily joined the branch in 1958 and was stationed in South Korea. He left the Air Force in 1962 with the rank of airman first class
The actor once admitted that his desire to serve in the military came when he was a child. He traveled cross-country with his 7-month pregnant mother to reunite with his father. A group of Navy sailors noticed his mother was struggling and helped the two make it to their destination safely.
“They were good guys, and I was in awe of them,” said Norris, per military.com. “My respect for the U.S. military had its beginnings right there on that train.”
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