War knows no one. Young and old or rich and poor; we are all affected by it. World War 2 for one, excused no one. Even popular personalities fought the battle alongside their fans. Here are a few famous American World War 2 veterans who have set aside fame and fortune for military service.
Lear joined the US Air Force as a radio operator and gunner after the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor.
He later on ventured into television and produced several sitcoms in the 70’s.
Brooks, real name Melvin Kaminsky, was a corporal with a battalion assigned to diffuse land mines.
Civil rights activist Medgar Evers served the US Army on the European battlefront, including the battle of Normandy.
Before becoming known as a stand up comedian, Bruce joined the US Navy in WW2 when he was just 16. His comedic talent led to his discharge though when he performed for shipmates, dressed as a drag queen.
New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra also served the navy (as a Seaman Second Class), even when he was already signed as a major league baseball catcher.
He participated during the D-Day invasion.
The famous Yogi Bear was named after him.
Anthony Dominick Benedetto in real life, the hitmaker behind “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” was drafted into the US Army in 1944, during the final stages of WWII.
Here’s Bennett singing the track for MTV in 1994.
Sammy Davis Jr.
Even racial issues were set aside during war. Sammy Davis was assigned to a special unit which entertained for Army personnel, gaining their respect in the process.
Davis was best known for the hit song, “What Kind of Fool Am I.”
While he was best known for portraying villain roles in films (including Dirty Dozen), he was quite the opposite in real life. He served as a Marine Corps drill sergeant by the end of World War II.
He was part of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was a precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Like Lear, Preston joined the USAF after the Pearl Harbor incident. He was an intelligence officer.
He was best known for his role in The Music Man, both on as a stage and film.
Robert F. Kennedy
RFK served as an apprentice for the US Naval Reserve in ’44-46. He sailed for the USS Kennedy unit. The battleship was named after his older brother Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr.
The 40th President of the United States also served during WW2. His poor eyesight limited his service to local locations only, including the Army Air Force (AAF) and later on, the First Motion Picture Unit. FMPU produced propaganda and training films at that time.
The US senator became a 2nd Lt. for the US Army in World War 2 before sustaining life changing injuries.
Despite being color blind, he was a radioman-gunner for the US Navy during WWII and even joined Motorsports events later on; aside from his successful acting career.
Newman holds the distinction to be one of four Hollywood actors nominated for an Academy Award in five decades. The other stars include Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, and Jack Nicholson.
Before he became known for his signature white hair, Marvin enlisted for the US Marine Corps Reserve when he was 18 during WW2. He saw combat action in Saipan. His service ended when he was wounded during battle and subsequently discharged after a year of medical recuperation in naval hospitals.
He served as a communications officer for the US Navy during WW2.
Stewart’s military life was too colorful, there is an entire post all about it.
Best known as Ed Norton in the sitcom The Honeymooners, Carney served in the US Army infantry as a machine gun crew in WWII.
Uncle Bill Davis in CBS’ Family Affair received an Air Medal after serving as a TBM air gunner for the US Marine Corps in the Pacific during WW2.
One of The Dirty Dozen (1967, like Robert Ryan) and The Magnificent Seven (1960), Bronson served as a B-29 aerial gunner for the USAF and completed 25 missions. He was awarded with a Purple Heart for battle wounds sustained during his WW2 service.
He was an Army Ranger at D-Day before heading on to complete over 200 movies, TV shows and plays.
“The King of Hollywood” who starred in the epic film Gone with the Wind enlisted for the USAF following the death of his second wife Carole Lombard. She died from a plane crash after a record breaking war defense bond rally in her hometown.
Edward Davis Wood Jr. enlisted for the USAF after the Pearl Harbor incident, much like Lear and Preston; and reached a corporal rank.
His Hollywood stint wasn’t as victorious though, particularly, his directorial work on sexploitation movies.
Before starring in the hit sitcom Green Acres, he had a colorful military life in World War 2.
He secretly worked with the U.S. Army intelligence while in Mexico, taking photos of German U-boats. He later enlisted for the US Coast Guard and subsequently appointed as a lieutenant for the US Naval Reserve.
He was awarded the Bronze Star medal with the “V” inscription, the fourth highest military decoration for valor. He earned the award after piloting a Coast Guard landing craft which rescued 47 marines stranded in Tarawa, along with 30 others, even under machine gun fire.
Borgnine’s distinct physical features and voice may have contributed to a career which lasted for more than six decades. He was a Navy gunnery mate form 1935 to 1945 with several awards during his WW2 service and even after.
Orvon Grover “Gene” Autry, more popularly known as “The Singing Cowboy” was a tech sergeant for the US Army Air Corps. He eventually became a flight officer for C-109 transport planes.
Autry participated in The Hump, an airlift operation which flew over the Himalayas from India to resupply the USAF’s efforts in China in partnership with Chiang Kai-shek.
Henry Jaynes Fonda, whose fame spanned five decades further expanded through his children Jane and Peter as well as his granddaughter Bridget.
Fonda and Jimmy Stewart initially helped raise funds but both eventually served. Henry joined the US Navy as a Quartermaster 3rd Class and then later on as a Lt. Junior Grade in Air Combat Intelligence. He also earned awards like Stewart.
“I don’t want to be in a fake war in a studio,” so he said.
Carson hosted, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, one of the late night programs under The Tonight Show franchise.
Before his successful TV hosting stint, Carson joined the Navy at the latter part of the war. He was a as a communications officer decoding encrypted messages.
Famous World War 2 Veterans who are Women
Women of Hollywood have also contributed towards the Allied forces’ victory. Here are some of the most notable female stars who rendered military service in World War 2.
She’s probably everyone’s favorite among popular female WW2 veterans.
Her first marriage with Austrian military ammunition manufacturer and merchant Friedrich Mandl introduced her to applied science which will be very useful later on.
Together with composer George Antheil, Lamarr invented a radio guidance system utilizing frequency hopping, spread spectrum (FHSS) technology.
While Baker’s popularity was primarily in Europe, she was U.S. born, in St. Louis, Missouri.
In WW2, she helped the French Resistance and was awarded with the Croix de Guerre (Cross of War) and was honored as a Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur (the highest decoration in France) by Gen. Charles de Gaulle (France’s president from 1959 to 1969).
Beatrice Arthur rose to fame in sitcoms All in the Family and The Golden Girls.
Back in WW2, she was a truck driver and typist for the US Marine Corps Women’s Reserve.
Chef Julia Child had brought French cuisine to the American audience.
Like Robert Ryan, she worked at the OSS. She was a research assistant at the Secret Intelligence division.
While not in the same type of popularity as Hollywood stars, Colonel Florence A. Blanchfield served the US Army Nurse Corps (ANC) in both the first and second World War. She was also the first woman to be commissioned into the regular army.
More Famous World War 2 Veterans
Here’s a bonus! While the succeeding personalities aren’t technically American, they have been part of the US in some way.
Our beloved Saruman in the Lord of the Rings series was a military officer during WW2. He volunteered for the Finnish forces, the Home Guard (UK’s local defense volunteers) and the Royal Air Force.
“Bip the Clown” secretly worked with the French Resistance during WWII. He gained worldwide recognition for this mime performances after the war. His US tour in 1955 and 1956 was a huge success.
Sir Alec Guinness is very much part of the American culture due to the original Star Wars trilogy. But before portraying Obi-Wan Kenobi, he served as a seaman and then later on as an officer for the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve program.
Arthur C. Clarke
The British sci-fi and science writer, inventor, and TV host co-wrote the screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In the Second World War, Clarke was a radar specialist for the Royal Air Force.
While David Niven is British, he became a part of Hollywood too. He was effectively portraying the military both off and on camera.
He was commissioned into the British Army in 1930 but briefly left. He returned to service in 1939 when Britain declared war against Germany.
Fleming, who penned the famed James Bond series worked with the Britain’s Naval Intelligence Division. His background as a journalist during the war provided a detailed background which inspired his spy books.
J.D. Salinger participated during the D-Day landings (like Berra and Durning) as well as the Battle of the Bulge in Germany, before being reassigned to Military Intelligence.
Canadian James Montgomery “Jimmy” Doohan, best known for his portrayal of Scotty from the original Star Trek, also took part in D-Day.
He was a pilot for the Royal Canadian Artillery and was dubbed as the “craziest pilot in the Canadian Air Force” although he wasn’t officially a part of Royal Canadian Air Force.
Some of the popular personalities listed here also appear in the Celebrity Badass post. Celebrities in this other list were bad-ass in a different way, other than military servitude.
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