Saluting Celebrities Who Served

Elvis Presley poses for the camera during his military service at a US base in Germany.
Vittoriano Rastelli/Corbis via Getty Images

In honor of Veterans Day, we rounded up some of the most memorable celebrities that served.

James ArnessArmy

During World War II, Arness fought in the Battle of Anzio, where his leg was badly injured. After many surgeries, he was honorably discharged on Jan. 29, 1945. He received numerous medals, but was never able to shake the pain from his injury.

Bea ArthurMarine Corps

Bea Arthur military photo public domain

In a World War II wartime effort to get more women to enlist, Arthur joined the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve on Feb. 18, 1943. Arthur worked as a truck driver and dispatcher at Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, North Carolina, between 1944 and 1945, and was honorably discharged at the rank of staff sergeant in September 1945.

Tom BosleyNavy

Joining the Navy in late 1944, Bosley went to training at Naval Training Center Great Lakes outside of his hometown Chicago. He was placed in radioman’s school at the Naval Training Center in Gulfport, Mississippi. The war had ended at this point, so he was moved to the 11th Naval District in San Diego, where he was phased out due to military reduction at the end of World War II.

Johnny CashAir Force

Cash joined the Air Force after he graduated high school in 1950, while the Korean War was going on. After his training, he was sent to Germany, where he served as a morse intercept operator for three years. He was believed to be the first to hear communication from the Soviets that Stalin had died. He was honorably discharged at the rank of staff sergeant after his fourth year of service.

Henry FondaNavy

Lt. Henry Fonda (1905 - 1982) during his military service on board the USS Bearss, summer 1945.

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Fonda interrupted his already budding acting career to enlist in the Navy, where he served for three years, initially as a quartermaster 3rd class and later lieutenant junior grade in Air Combat Intelligence in the Central Pacific. He was instrumental in helping plan and execute air operations to neutralize hostile installations. It led him to get a bronze star, as this was helpful with the strategic bombings in Japan. He left active duty in 1945, but went on to Reserves until he resigned in 1948.

Clark GableArmy Air Forces

7th June 1943: US film actor Clark Gable (1901 - 1960) (right), who is serving as a gunnery instructor with the US Army Air Force 'somewhere in England', manning a weapon aboard an aircraft.

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Gable also left Hollywood to serve after he lost his wife Carol Lombard, who died in an airplane accident after returning from a war bonds tour in 1942. At the age of 40, he was too old to enlist, but insisted he wasn’t doing enough, so he joined the officers’ candidate school and upon graduating he entered aerial gunnery school. Due to his Hollywood stature, he was commissioned to film a recruitment film called Combat America, where he flew on air combat missions and filmed them. He was relieved from active duty in 1944.

Sherman Hemsley Air Force

The actor mostly known as George Jefferson from The Jeffersons had a rough upbringing in South Philly. Hemsley dropped out of high school to join the Air Force, where he served for four years from 1954-58. It wasn’t until his military career ended that he decided to pursue acting.

Glenn MillerArmy Air Forces

circa 1940: American musician, Glenn Miller (1904 - 1944) wearing an American military uniform.

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The well-known big-band leader disbanded his orchestra in 1942 to join the Air Force, where he toured with a new band, Maj. Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band, to bring a little bit of “home” and entertainment to the troops during World War II in England. In 1944, Miller was going to move the band to France. Anxious to get there after his initial flight was canceled due to bad weather, he took a commercial flight and was never seen again.

Elvis PresleyArmy

17th December 1958: US rock 'n' roll singer Elvis Presley (1935 - 1977) in military uniform during his stint as a US serviceman at the Grafenwoehr exercise camp, Germany.

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Already known as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Presley was drafted on Dec. 16, 1957, but due to prior commitments and his filming schedule with King Creole, the army didn’t induct him till March 24, 1958. While he could have done Special Services, Elvis decided to join as a regular soldier. During his training, his mother had taken ill, and he threatened to go AWOL until he was granted permission to be with her. After she passed, he finished basic training and was sent to Germany (of course, this is where he met a young 14-year-old Priscilla). He was honorably discharged from active duty on March 5, 1960.

Cesar RomeroCoast Guard

Years before he became the Joker on Batman, Romero, also an already-established actor, voluntarily joined the Coast Guard in 1942. In November 1943, he boarded the Coast Guard-manned assault transport USS Cavalier and saw action at Tinian and Saipan. During his service, he demanded no special treatment, and when time permitted, he would hold variety shows for his fellow soldiers. He received an honorable discharge at the end of the war.

James StewartArmy Air Forces

American actor Jimmy Stewart (1908 -1997) in his U.S. Air Force Officer's uniform during World War II, 1940s.

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Coming from a long line of military service (both grandfathers were in the Civil War and his father in the Spanish-American War and World War I), Stewart aspired to be a naval aviator. His father insisted on him getting a proper education, so he went to Princeton. After graduation, Stewart moved to Hollywood to pursue acting. Around this time he was also logging flight hours. Already doing some of his most well-known movies — Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and The Philadelphia Story — he enlisted in World War II before the United States ever even entered it, but was initially rejected by the Army for being underweight. With the help of a studio trainer to bulk up, he was inducted in 1941.

Although his celebrity status led him to appear in a military recruitment film, Stewart was actually keen to take part in more active duty as well. While the Army would often rely on him to be a flying instructor and bombardier trainer, Stewart’s insistence on being part of actual combat squadrons eventually led him to participate in numerous bombing missions in Germany and in other Nazi-occupied areas throughout Europe.

Stewart would rarely speak of his World War II service, but his enthusiasm and patriotism remained strong and steadfast. He continued his military duties long after the war ended, and long after he returned to Hollywood in 1945 to revive his acting career. Having risen to the position of colonel, and having received a number of awards for his military service, Stewart remained part of the U.S. Air Force Reserve, eventually being promoted to the position of brigadier general in 1959.

Stewart’s military dedication continued into the 1960s and even included a flight as a non-duty observer on a bombing mission during the Vietnam War. He eventually retired from the Air Force in 1968, putting an end to a remarkable 27 years of patriotic service to his country.

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