Hollywood and the armed services – two things that complement each other very nicely, believe it or not! Some actors just play parts in war films, but many Hollywood stars took it further than just making movies. Whether storming the beaches, riding high above Fortress Europe, or just enlisting for duty in general, these actors made a choice to fight for America!
71%. That was the mortality rate for WWII bomber crews. So, basically a death sentence. Yet Mr. Jimmy Stewart chose to enlist in the Army Air Force as part of a bomber crew, having obtained his pilot's license prewar. Crews needed to fly twenty-five missions to rotate home. Stewart ended World War II as a colonel, led a B-24 squadron, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross twice. He eventually retired from the military in the 1960s.
Best known as Star Trek's Mr. Spock, Nimoy's pointy-eared role put his name on the map. But many fans don't know that Nimoy was a veteran. He was in the U.S. Army for eighteen months from 1953-1955, rising to the rank of sergeant. Nimoy entered service after a short stint at Boston College. The future Vulcan was part of the "Special Services Division" and he wrote, narrated, or performed shows for the troops. Live long and prosper!
"Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn," is one of the most iconic movie quotes in cinematic history. But before Clark Gable laid the smack down with that classic line in Gone with the Wind, he'd answered the call to duty in 1942. Gable attended flight training and functioned as a waist gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress. Ironically, he didn't seem afraid of death so much as capture, worried those damn Nazis might throw him in a cage to display him like some sick trophy.
Whether he's Paul Kersey in "Death Wish" or "The Mechanic," Bronson almost always played gruff, hard-hitting roles. But why was he so good at being such a badass? First off, Bronson worked as a coal miner before his 1943 military enlistment. He then decided to go ahead and survive the air war against Japan. Bronson was a B-29 nose gunner, a very dangerous job for which he got injured during combat. Discharged in 1945, he received the Purple Heart and went on to bring his badassery to the big screen.
The quintessential bad guy or crusty officer in so many amazing flicks, Marvin starred in classics like the "Magnificent Seven" and "The Dirty Dozen." But before his stardom on the silver screen, he joined the Marines at 18. His first action was the Battle of Saipan in 1944. The fierce fighting killed most of his unit and some damn sniper hit him in the butt, severing a sciatic nerve. Ouch! The injury kept him out for the rest of the war but he took home a Purple Heart for his troubles.
Forever linked to "Cool Hand Luke" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," Newman also served in the Navy. In 1942, he entered Yale's Navy V-12 program for future pilots, but his colorblindness cut that career short before it started. Undeterred, he stayed on and was assigned as a gunner in a torpedo bomber while serving on the USS Bunker Hill. His military career came to a close in 1946 with an honorable discharge as a petty officer.
The motorcycle chase in "The Great Escape" is one of Hollywood's most spectacular escape scenes. Steve McQueen had a penchant for playing tough guy leading roles, such as in that film and, of course, the unforgettable classic "Bullitt". McQueen grew up under difficult circumstances, reared by bad parents and growing up for a time in reform school. His early life instilled a rebel nature that never left him, even while he served in the Marines from 1947 to 1951. Busted in rank seven times, he also spent time in the brig. Still, he received an honorable discharge and went on to focus on his acting.
Driver played the son of Han Solo in one of his most prominent roles, but most folks don't know he is was in the Marines before that, serving from 2001 to 2003. Due to an exercise injury, Driver's time in the Corps was cut short, but once a Marine, always a Marine! He and his wife founded the non-profit Arts in the Armed Forces with the goal of giving entertainment in the form of plays and stage shows for the troops!
Not even the King could avoid Uncle Sam. Elvis became eligible for the draft in 1958 at 21. He could have gone the easy route, sticking to entertainment gigs, but he chose not to. Mad that "people expected [him] to mess up," he proved them wrong by serving in both the U.S. and Germany. The King never stopped making music, though. He recorded several songs during leave and was ultimately discharged in 1960 at the rank of sergeant.