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Famous Army vets throughout history

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WASHINGTON — Before James Earl Jones was making Americans remember their love of baseball or striking fear into their hearts as the voice of Darth Vader, he was an Army officer.

He commissioned in the summer of 1953 as a second lieutenant following graduation from the Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Michigan. After his initial training, he completed his first and only assignment by establishing a cold weather training command at the former Camp Hale near Leadville, Colorado.

Jones is just one of many Army veterans who not only served their country but also had illustrious civilian careers.

Below are a few others:

Tony Bennett

The late Tony Bennett was the son of Italian immigrants and grew up during the Great Depression in New York. Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto, he was drafted into the Army in 1944 during World War II.

As a young Soldier, he deployed to Europe with the 63rd Infantry Division, which replaced large casualties suffered during the Battle of the Bulge. His division fought its way across Germany throughout 1945 and liberated the concentration camp at Dachau.

At the end of the war, Cpl. Benedetto was sent to Mannheim, Germany as part of an Allied occupation force. There, he started singing with the 314th Army Special Services Band under the stage name Joe Bari.

Bennett used his GI Bill to study bel canto singing at the American Theatre Wing in New York City after leaving the Army in 1946. He was discovered shortly after by Bob Hope while he was on tour with Pearl Bailey. Hope told him he needed to change his name and said they would start calling him Tony Bennett.

Bennett went on to win 20 Grammy Awards and two Emmys during his prestigious career before passing away this summer.

Robert Duvall

Actor and filmmaker Robert Duvall grew up in a military household. He was the son of Navy Rear Adm. William Howard Duvall. Instead of following in his father’s Navy footsteps, Duvall enlisted in the Army in 1953 at the end of the Korean War.

He served two years at Camp Gordon, Georgia, now Fort Eisenhower, before being honorably discharged as a private first class.

He too used his GI Bill to take acting classes at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City. He was classmates with Dustin Hoffman, James Caan and Gene Hackman. His big acting break came in 1962 playing Boo Radley in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

That springboarded a career that saw Duvall appear in many military theme films including “M*A*S*H,” “The Great Santini,” “Gods and Generals,” and “Apocalypse Now.”

Duvall, now 92, spends some of his spare time visiting Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals to thank injured veterans for their service.

Clint Eastwood

Another celebrity that was drafted in the 1950s was Clint Eastwood, known to many as “Dirty Harry.” He became a swimming instructor at Fort Ord, California, after basic training.

In his spare time, he was a bouncer at bars and clubs off base, gaining recognition from some in Hollywood. After his honorable discharge in 1953, he used his GI Bill education benefit to take acting classes.

That was the start of a 70-year career in the entertainment industry as an actor, director and producer of movies and television.

Elvis Presley

SP-4 Elvis Presley, rock & roll singer, TV & Movies, undergoes training with the 3.5 rocket launcher at Wildflecken, Germany. Oct 1959. Photo by SP-4 Jack R. Thornell, 143 Sig Bn, Third Armored Div.

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Left: Actor James Earl Jones poses for a photo in 2013.

Right: James Earl Jones is the voice of Darth Vader in the 1980 film “The Empire Strikes Back.”

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WASHINGTON — Before James Earl Jones was making Americans remember their love of baseball or striking fear into their hearts as the voice of Darth Vader, he was an Army officer.

He commissioned in the summer of 1953 as a second lieutenant following graduation from the Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Michigan. After his initial training, he completed his first and only assignment by establishing a cold weather training command at the former Camp Hale near Leadville, Colorado.

Jones is just one of many Army veterans who not only served their country but also had illustrious civilian careers.

Below are a few others:

Tony Bennett

Left: Cpl. Anthony Benedetto sings for troops in 1945 while deployed in Germany.

Right: Tony Bennett performs on tour with his quartet.

The late Tony Bennett was the son of Italian immigrants and grew up during the Great Depression in New York. Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto, he was drafted into the Army in 1944 during World War II.

As a young Soldier, he deployed to Europe with the 63rd Infantry Division, which replaced large casualties suffered during the Battle of the Bulge. His division fought its way across Germany throughout 1945 and liberated the concentration camp at Dachau.

At the end of the war, Cpl. Benedetto was sent to Mannheim, Germany as part of an Allied occupation force. There, he started singing with the 314th Army Special Services Band under the stage name Joe Bari.

Bennett used his GI Bill to study bel canto singing at the American Theatre Wing in New York City after leaving the Army in 1946. He was discovered shortly after by Bob Hope while he was on tour with Pearl Bailey. Hope told him he needed to change his name and said they would start calling him Tony Bennett.

Bennett went on to win 20 Grammy Awards and two Emmys during his prestigious career before passing away this summer.

Robert Duvall

Actor Robert Duvall, wearing a blue shirt, and wife Luciana Pedraza shake hands with a member of the Navy’s Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 4 at the Taormina Film Fest in Sicily, Italy, in 2005.

Actor and filmmaker Robert Duvall grew up in a military household. He was the son of Navy Rear Adm. William Howard Duvall. Instead of following in his father’s Navy footsteps, Duvall enlisted in the Army in 1953 at the end of the Korean War.

He served two years at Camp Gordon, Georgia, now Fort Eisenhower, before being honorably discharged as a private first class.

He too used his GI Bill to take acting classes at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City. He was classmates with Dustin Hoffman, James Caan and Gene Hackman. His big acting break came in 1962 playing Boo Radley in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

That springboarded a career that saw Duvall appear in many military theme films including “M*A*S*H,” “The Great Santini,” “Gods and Generals,” and “Apocalypse Now.”

Duvall, now 92, spends some of his spare time visiting Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals to thank injured veterans for their service.

Clint Eastwood

U.S. Army photo; DOD photo by Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Melissa Ugalde

Another celebrity that was drafted in the 1950s was Clint Eastwood, known to many as “Dirty Harry.” He became a swimming instructor at Fort Ord, California, after basic training.

In his spare time, he was a bouncer at bars and clubs off base, gaining recognition from some in Hollywood. After his honorable discharge in 1953, he used his GI Bill education benefit to take acting classes.

That was the start of a 70-year career in the entertainment industry as an actor, director and producer of movies and television.

Elvis Presley

FORT DIX, N. J. Sgt Elvis Presley, rock & roll singer, TV & Movies, after receiving his final Pay and separation from active duty in the US Army, at Fort Dix Separation Center. 5 March 1960. Photo by Sgt William Ervin, Co B, Service Troops, Fort Dix.

The “King of Rock and Roll” went from superstar to Army private after getting drafted in 1957. Following an initial service deferment to finish filming a movie, Presley went through basic training in 1958 before being assigned to the 2nd Armored Division and then the 3rd Armored Division.

He spent two years on active duty, which included an 18-month stint in Germany where he was a truck driver. He finished his Army career as a sergeant and received an honorable discharge in 1960.

“I was in a funny position,” he said during an Armed Forces Radio and Television interview before his discharge. “Actually, that’s the only way it could be. People were expecting me to mess up, to goof up in one way or another. They thought I couldn’t take it and so forth, and I was determined to go to any limits to prove otherwise, not only to the people who were wondering, but to myself.

Jackie Robinson

The future Hall of Famer and man who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was drafted into the Army in 1942 during World War II. This was following a distinguished college career at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he became the first athlete to letter in four sports: baseball, basketball, football and track.

He was initially assigned to a segregated cavalry unit in Fort Riley, Kansas, before being commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1943. He joined the 761st “Black Panthers” Tank Battalion.

In 1944, Robinson boarded an Army bus and was ordered to sit in the back but refused. He was taken into custody by military police and court-martialed. He was later acquitted and sent to Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky.

There, he served as an Army athletics coach until receiving an honorable discharge in 1944. The next year, Robinson began playing baseball for the Missouri’s Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro leagues. He was spotted by Branch Rickey, president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Rickey signed Robinson and placed him with Brooklyn’s minor-league club, the Montreal Royals. Robinson was called up to make his major league debut with the Dodgers in 1947 as the first African-American player in MLB history.

He went on to be a six-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year and 1955 World Series champion. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962 and passed away in 1972. His number was retired by MLB in 1997.

Charles Schulz

The man we all must thank for “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Schulz is the author and illustrator of the popular “Peanuts” newspaper comic strip, which stars Charlie Brown, Snoopy and friends.

Before he created the iconic series, Schulz, who grew up near Saint Paul, Minnesota, was drafted into the Army in 1943 during World War II. He served as a staff sergeant in the 20th Armored Division.

He came back to the U.S. in 1947 and started his career as an illustrator with the publication “Li’l Folks” in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He pitched a four-panel strip to the United Feature Syndicate, and it was accepted.

The first release of “Peanuts” was Oct. 2, 1950, and it ran until Feb. 13, 2000. He passed away in his sleep at 77 after completing the final comic strip.

Ice-T

Tracy Marrow, now known by his stage name Ice-T, grew up in Newark, New Jersey until his parents both passed away while he was young. He lived with various relatives in Los Angeles, California, during high school and got involved with gangs.

Struggling to support his girlfriend and daughter after graduation, he enlisted in the Army as an infantryman. He served four years in the 25th Infantry Division. During a deployment to Hawaii, he served as a squad leader at Schofield Barracks.

After completing his enlistment, he returned home to California where he launched a successful music career winning multiple Grammy Awards. He then turned that success into a lengthy career in television and movies, playing detective Odafin Tutuola on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and starring in his own reality show “Ice Loves CoCo.”

Mr. T

“The A-Team” actor and professional wrestler was born Laurence Tureaud. The Chicago-native was a three-time high school wrestling champion and earned a football scholarship to Texas’ Prairie View A&M University.

He legally changed his name to Mr. T when he turned 18 because he said he wanted to be respected. He then enlisted in the Army in 1975 and joined the Military Police Corps.

After his service ended, he became a nightclub bouncer in Chicago and then a bodyguard in Los Angeles. He worked for several celebrity clients including Steve McQueen, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Muhammad Ali.

He caught the eye of actor and director Sylvester Stallone while appearing in the “America’s Toughest Bouncer” competition in 1980. Stallone decided to cast Mr. T as boxer Clubber Lang in the 1982 movie “Rocky III.”

His acting career took off and he was cast as Sgt. B.A. Baracus, an Army Special Forces veteran, in the television series “The A-Team,” which ran from 1983-1987. He currently stars in the home renovation show “I Pity the Tool.”

Gene Wilder

Yes, Willy Wonka was in the Army. Born Jerome Silberman, the Milwaukee native was drafted in 1956. He worked as a paramedic assigned to the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Valley Forge Army Hospital in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.

During his years in service, he began taking acting classes at Herbert Berghof Studio in New York City. He was honorably discharged in 1958 and adopted the stage name Gene Wilder in 1959.

He went on to direct and star in movies, TV and commercials during the next few decades. He’s known for his roles in “Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein,” “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” and many films starring opposite Richard Pryor.

He passed away in 2016 due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

All of these celebrities are Army veterans who served their country. Many of them benefitted from their time in service and used the benefits they received to kick-start their careers in the entertainment industry.

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