Famous Veterans Throughout History
Celeb Elvis Presley was far from the only person of fame to have served in the U.S. military. In fact, several people who are known for their accomplishments in other fields got their start in the armed forces. Meet some of the other well-known veterans throughout history that you may not be aware of:
The Apollo 11 Team
Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins comprised the historic Apollo 11 Team that successfully landed and walked on the moon in 1969. While they will always be remembered as the first men to go to the moon, all three of them served in the military. Armstrong served as a Navy pilot and saw action in the Korean War, Aldrin was among the top of his class at West Point before serving in Korea with the Air Force and Collins was a member of some of the most prestigious flight programs as a fighter pilot for the Air Force. All three men used their experiences from the military to eventually become astronauts with NASA, leading to the first-ever moon mission that marked their names in history.
At the ripe age of 18, before his musical career took off, Johnny Cash was a staff sergeant for the U.S. Air Force. Serving from 1950-1954, Cash was assigned to the 12th Radio Squadron Mobile of the U.S. Air Force Security Service at Landsberg, West Germany where he worked as a morse code operator intercepting Soviet Army transmissions. In fact, Cash was officially the first American to know about Stalin’s death when he decoded a message while monitoring Soviet Morse Code chatter in 1953. Cash was then tasked to tell the critical information to his superiors. Cash began his musical journey during his time in the military, having formed his first band during service: The Landsberg Barbarians. After his service and into his thriving musical legacy, Cash continued to show his appreciation for his roots by participating in concerts and events designed to support our nation’s troops.
Bea Arthur and Betty White
Long before they were your favorite Golden Girls, Bea Arthur and Betty White served in the U.S. military. At just 20 years old, Bea Arthur enlisted with the Marine Corps’ Women’s Reservists, becoming one of the first people to do so. She served as a typist at Marine Headquarters
in Washington, D.C. and later transferred to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to become a driver and dispatcher. Arthur was honorably discharged at the end of the war in 1945 with the title of staff sergeant. White served with the American Women’s Voluntary Services; an organization dedicated to providing support to the war effort. She also worked as a PX truck driver delivering military supplies to the barracks in the Hollywood Hills and regularly attended farewell dances for departing troops hosted to boost troop morale.
One of the most beloved figures in the veteran community, Chuck Norris wouldn’t be who he is today if it wasn’t for his service in the Air Force. In 1958, after graduating high school, Norris became an Air Policeman and was stationed at Osan Air Base in South Korea. It was there that Norris began studying martial arts and earned his first black belt in Tang Soo Do. Once Norris was discharged from service in 1962, he went on to participate in martial arts competitions, became the World Middleweight Karate Champion from 1968 to 1974 and launched his acting career. Though it’s been 60 years since Norris was discharged from the Air Force, he still dedicates his projects, time and money to veterans’ efforts. He has worked with organizations such as the USO and the Veterans Administration National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans and was the spokesperson for the U.S. Veterans Administration. He received the Veteran of the Year award from the Air Force in 2001 and was even made an honorary Marine in 2007.
Everyone knows Harriet Tubman and her brilliant work with the Underground Railroad, but many people often forget her military history. After escaping slavery and rescuing over 70 other slaves working for the Underground Railroad, Tubman worked with Colonel James Montgomery and the Union Army as a nurse and spy. Her work consisted of tending to the wounds of soldiers and escaped slaves, but mostly entailed gaining intel on the Confederate soldiers for the Union Army. Tubman created a spy ring in South Carolina, paid informants for intel that would be useful to the Union Army and was one of the leaders that helped to plan and execute the Combahee Ferry Raid. The raid successfully caught Confederate soldiers off guard, allowing a group of Black Union Army soldiers to free more than 700 slaves. Her contributions made her the first woman in American history to lead a military assault.
Before her career as a senator for the state of Illinois, Tammy Duckworth was a combat veteran of the Iraq War. Joining the Army Reserves in 1990 and transferring to the National Guard in 1996, Duckworth served as a helicopter pilot while stationed in Iraq. In 2004, her helicopter was hit by a rocketpropelled grenade resulting in the loss of both of her legs and limited mobility in her right arm. Despite being the first female double amputee of that particular war, Duckworth obtained a medical waiver that allowed her to continue her service in the National Guard for another 10 years. She retired in 2014 at the rank of lieutenant colonel. Duckworth has worked relentlessly to advocate for the needs and wellbeing of the veteran community. With her high ranking position with the Department of Veterans Affairs and her status as a U.S. senator, Duckworth has created government-sponsored programs to help veterans with PTSD, advocated for the needs of women and Native American veterans, created initiatives to bring an end to veteran homelessness and helped pass the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Before Clint Eastwood was an actor, musician, director and your favorite gun-slinging cowboy, he served in the U.S. Army. In fact, without Eastwood’s Army service, he may have never become the iconic figure he is today. Before he got the chance to enroll in college, Eastwood was drafted into the Army during the Korean War. He served as a lifeguard and swim instructor at Fort Ord in California where he met future co-stars Martin Milner and David Janssen. Upon discharge from the Army, Eastwood used his GI Bill benefits to study drama at L.A. City College and soon after landed his contract with Universal Studios. The rest is history.
James Earl Jones
An iconic actor with a distinctive voice, James Earl Jones is best known for his work throughout Hollywood and as the voice of one of Hollywood’s most notorious sci-fi villains, Darth Vader. But before he ventured into the world of Hollywood, Jones served with the Army during the Korean War. A member of the University of Michigan’s Reserve Officer Training Corps, Jones was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army and assigned to Headquarters Company, 38th Regimental Combat Team. Jones served his first and only assignment at the former Camp Hale, where he helped establish a cold weather training command. His battalion became a training unit and Jones was promoted to first lieutenant before being discharged soon after. He went on to begin his acting career straight out of the service at the Ramsdell Theater in Michigan and has since made significant contributions to the world of the arts.