Famous Actors Who Served in the US Military

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Folks from all walks of life join the military. Even some of the biggest actors of all time have spent time in the armed forces, and you might be surprised at who some of them were.  

There’s no shortage of reasons why people enlist. Some join out of a simple desire to serve their country. Others join to feel a sense of purpose, to get physically fit, or to gain valuable life experience – while others, frankly, have more practical reasons, like being able to pay for college through the GI Bill, or gaining practical knowledge in some technical field that might translate into post-service job opportunities. At certain periods of our history, too, some people just get drafted.  

During World War II, making movies whose storylines supported the Allied war effort was considered important enough that some Hollywood stars could easily have avoided service – but many joined up anyway, feeling that they’d rather be real soldiers or sailors than simply playing them on screen (Henry Fonda famously said “I don’t want to be in a fake war in a studio”), and some displayed some true bravery: Jimmy Stewart, for example, flew 20 missions on a B-24 Liberator bomber over Nazi-occupied Europe during the war, and retired as a brigadier general from the Air Force in 1968. (These are the best military movies of all time.)

To compile a list of famous actors who have joined the military – either voluntarily or because they were drafted – 24/7 Tempo reviewed military-related sites such as the United Service Organizations (USO) and the National WWII Museum, as well as features written for the U.S. Department of Defense. The military experience listed below is only partial in most cases. 

We excluded some celebrities who served their country in wartime but were not actually in the armed forces – for instance, Betty White, who in 1941 joined the American Women’s Voluntary Services, a volunteer support organization and not part of the military. We have also omitted people who became actors after their military service – most notably Western movie star Audie Murphy, who was one of America’s most decorated soldiers in WWII, but who didn’t start acting until after the war, in 1948.

It may be hard to envision such well-known performers as Mel Brooks, Alan Alda, and Kris Kristofferson in full military dress, but they, too, served – and are just a few of the celebrities who have donned a uniform. (Many future Chief Executives of the United States were in the armed forces, as well. These are the presidents who served in the military.)

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