33 famous faces who served in the U.S. military

By , Connecting Vets

Before they were famous, some of your favorite stars served in the armed forces.

Memorial Day this year falls on Monday, May 30. To celebrate, we’ve put together this list that looks at the fascinating stories of celebrities who served in the military.

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Morgan Freeman

Morgan Freeman speaks onstage during the 51st NAACP Image Awards, Presented by BET, at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on February 22, 2020 in Pasadena, California
Photo credit Getty Images

Freeman enlisted in the Air Force after turning down a scholarship to attend Jackson State University. He served as a radar technician for almost four years and left the Air Force in 1959.

Bea Arthur

Aside from playing Dorothy Zbornak in "The Golden Girls," Arthur served in the Marine Corps as a typist and truck driver. She enlisted only days after the USMC opened up their ranks to women in 1943.

Jimi Hendrix

jimi hendrix
Photo credit Getty Images

Hendrix was allegedly busted by Seattle cops for riding around in stolen cars and given the choice of jail time or military service.

In 1961, the future guitar god was assigned to the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell, KY. The World War II-era Screaming Eagles had been reactivated for the first time just a few years earlier. While with the 101st, Hendrix earned the Screaming Eagles patch after finishing paratrooper training, though he was later medically discharged following an ankle injury during a jump.

Adam Driver

adam driver
Photo credit Getty Images

The Star Wars actor enlisted in the Armed Forces after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Driver served as an 81mm mortar man assigned to the weapons platoon with 1st Battalion, 1st Marines at Camp Pendleton, California. He was medically separated after three years of duty following a mountain bike accident which caused injuries to his sternum.

Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash joined the Air Force during the beginning of the Korean War and served for four years, much of his time overseas in Germany.

Montel Williams

montel jordan with soldier
Photo credit Cpl. Jesse Johnson

Before becoming a famed talk show host, Montel Williams served in the Marine Corps and Navy.

Hugh Hefner

Hugh Hefner enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1944 and drew comics for a military newspaper.

John Coltrane

American jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane (1926-1967).
Photo credit Getty Images

John Coltrane enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1945 and played in a Navy band, the Melody Masters. The jazz legend was discharged after a year as the military downsized after the war and bands were considered nonessential.

Jackie Robinson

jackie robinson
Photo credit Getty Images

Robinson was drafted into the Army in 1942, where he served in a segregated Army cavalry unit before he applied for Officer Candidate School. Though his application was delayed allegedly because of his race, he was eventually commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1943. The future professional baseball Hall of Famer faced a court-martial for refusing to give up his seat and move to the back of a bus at Camp Hood, TX, but was later cleared. Robinson would later be medically discharged for an ankle issue.

Chuck Norris

chuck norris
Photo credit Getty Images

Norris served as an Air police officer in South Korea during his stint in the Air Force beginning in 1958, where he picked up some additional martial arts skills he would later employ in his action movie career.

Elvis Presley

Photo credit Getty Images

Presley famously left his developing status as the "King of Rock'n'Roll" when he was drafted in 1957. He became an Army private first class in 1958. He served in the 1st Medium Tank Battalion, 32nd Armor, in Friedberg, Germany, where he would later meet his future wife, Priscilla Presley. Before being deployed to Germany, he was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas.

Bob Ross

bob ross
Photo credit Department of Veterans Affairs

The man who coined the phrase "happy little clouds," Bob Ross served 20 years in the Air Force and retired as a master sergeant, where he first began painting his famous landscapes after being stationed in Alaska. He mentioned his time in service a few times on his PBS show, "The Joy of Painting," noting that after years spent barking orders at fellow airmen, he became the much more soft-spoken version of his fame.


Photo credit Getty Images

Rap legend Tracey Lauren Marrow, aka Ice-T, credits the military with helping him escape a potential life of crime in Los Angeles and helping him support his daughter. He served four years in the Army in the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii.

Alan Alda

Photo credit Getty Images

You'll know him best as Hawkeye Pierce from the iconic TV show, "M*A*S*H," but Alda also served off-screen. He was in ROTC in college and enlisted in the Army after graduation, serving a year at Fort Benning, GA, and six months in the Army Reserve in South Korea.

MC Hammer

MC Hammer speaks onstage during Capitol Music Group's 5th annual Capitol Congress Premieres new music and projects for industry and media at Arclight Cinemas Hollywood on August 8, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo credit Getty Images

Stanley Kirk Burrell, also known as rapper MC Hammer, served in the Navy for three years as a store keeper.

James Earl Jones

james earl jones
Photo credit Getty Images

Jones was an ROTC cadet and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1953 at the end of the Korean War. He earned a Ranger Tab at Fort Benning, GA, and was part of a training unit in the Rocky Mountains. Jones was promoted to first lieutenant before leaving service and an eventual legendary career in film.

Steve McQueen

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Photo credit Getty Images

The "King of Cool' enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1947, and during training in the Arctic, saved five fellow Marines from drowning, earning him a place in President Harry Truman's honor guard.

Mr. T

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Photo credit Getty Images

Laurence Tureaud, aka Mr. T, was an Army MP in the 1970s, awarded a letter of recommendation from a drill sergeant, was later elected "Top Trainee" of his cycle of more than 6,000 soldiers, and became a squad leader.

Clint Eastwood

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Photo credit Getty Images

Eastwood was drafted into the Army during the Korean War, but served his time stateside as a lifeguard at Fort Ord, California.

Leonard Nimoy

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Photo credit Getty Images

Long before we was Spock on "Star Trek," Nimoy enlisted in the Army Reserve at Fort McPherson, Georgia in 1953. He served for about 18 months, and was discharged as a sergeant.

Tom Selleck

Tom Selleck
Photo credit Getty Images

Selleck served in the California Army National Guard and was activated as part of the response to the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles.

Sidney Poitier

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Photo credit Getty Images

Poitier, a first-generation American immigrant from the Bahamas, enlisted in the Army in 1943, after allegedly lying about his age -- 16 at the time -- and served at a New York hospital.

Willie Nelson

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Photo credit Getty Images

Nelson was an Airman for a few months short of a full year beginning in 1950, but was medically discharged for back issues.

Gene Wilder

Actor Gene Wilder poses as he signs copies of his autobiography "Kiss Me Like A Stranger", at Waterstone's, Oxford Street on June 7, 2005 in London, England.
Photo credit Getty Images

Wilder was drafted into the Army in 1956 where he served in the medical corps for a year before leaving to pursue his acting career.

Johnny Carson

johnny carson
Photo credit Getty Images

Carson joined the Navy in 1943 where he served as a midshipman for the USS Pennsylvania in the Pacific, and worked in communications decoding encrypted messages.


Photo credit Getty Images

Orville Richard Burrell, aka Shaggy, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1988 as a field artillery cannon crewman. He served with a Field Artillery Battery in the 10th Marine Regiment during the Gulf War and earned the rank of lance corporal.

Pat Sajak

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Photo credit Getty Images

Sajak enlisted in the Army in 1968, serving as a finance clerk in Vietnam and a DJ for Armed Forces Radio.

Tony Bennett

tony bennett
Photo credit Getty Images

Before becoming one of the great singing legends, Bennett was drafted into World War II in 1944. He was assigned to the 63rd Infantry Division where he served in France and Germany until 1946.

Harry Belafonte

harry belafonnte
Photo credit Getty Images

Belafonte joined the Navy during World War II, but was not deployed. He used his GI Bill to attend The New School in. New York City, where he began acting for the first time.

Henry Kissinger

Photo credit Getty Images

Kissinger fled Nazi Germany during World War II. Just a few years later he became a U.S. citizen and was drafted into the Army to fight in Europe. He served as a rifleman in France and as an intelligence officer in Germany.

Bob Barker

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Photo credit Getty Images

The legendary, long time host of "The Price is Right" served in the Navy Reserve during World War II, training as a fighter pilot, and flying at least eight different aircraft.

Mel Brooks

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Photo credit Getty Images

Cpl. Brooks disarmed land mines during World War II and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. None of which sounds anywhere near as funny as the long list of comedy classic movies he would later create and star in.

Drew Carey

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Photo credit Getty Images

A TV sitcom star and current host of "The Price is Right," Carey enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1981, where he served six years and first performed standup comedy.

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