USA Pride: 21 Celebrities You Didn't Know Served in the Military (PHOTOS)

Rona Gindin | Sep 4, 2015 Celebrities
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  • Adam Driver


    Image © Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/Corbis

    Driver may be known as emotive character Adam Sackler in HBO's Girls, but it was physical, not psychological, damage, that lost the California native his spot in the Marines. Driver joined the service following the 9/11 attacks but was forced to leave after nearly three years due to a mountain-biking injury. The three-time Emmy nominee will soon be on the big screen as a villain in Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens and as an evangelical Jesuit priest in Martin Scorsese's Silence.

  • Clint Eastwood


    Image © Lucas Jackson/Reuters/Corbis

    Directing American Sniper may be Eastwood's most recent tango with the military, but it wasn't his first. The actor/director/producer's first stint involved the real thing: He was drafted into the Army while in college in 1951. His military service began easily as a lifeguard and swim instructor at a California base. But it soon became as dramatic as any of the Academy Award winner's films. Eastwood's flight from home back to base aboard a Douglas AD bomber had technical problems, ran out of gas, and landed in the ocean. That aquatic experience came in handy. The soldier swam about three miles to safety. No wonder we all think he's a badass.

  • Morgan Freeman


    Image © Kevork Djansezian/Reuters/Corbis

    Before rising to stardom, Freeman had dreams of flying to the stars. In 1959, he joined the Air Force, but was given the position of Automatic Tracking Radar Repairman instead of pilot trainee. When after nearly four years he was invited into the cockpit, Freeman became disillusioned. He soon left the military and resumed his pursuit of the stage, ultimately earning three Academy Awards. Freeman did finally earn a private pilot's license at age 65, though.

  • Ice-T


    Image © EM Hillock/Splash News/Corbis

    Ice-T's life was about anything but law and order before his success as a rapper and an actor on Law & Order: Special Victim's Unit. The orphaned Tracy Lauren Marrow joined the Army as a way to support his girlfriend and child. He served the nation for four years, but went AWOL for a short bit after stealing a rug with some buddies. He ultimately received an honorable discharge.

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  • J.R. Martinez


    Image via AdMedia/Splash News

    Reality and entertainment are completely intertwined these days for Martinez, an actor and motivational speaker. The performer was badly burned by a bomb in Iraq during his army service in 2003. Since recovering, the star of TV's SAF3 also has played a veteran on All My Children, and a physical therapist who helped other vets on Army Wives. In 2011, he inspired others by competing in Dancing with the Stars.

  • Willie Nelson


    Image © Danny Moloshok/Reuters/Corbis

    Before he began the fight for legalizing marijuana, Nelson was geared up for a different kind of fight: In 1950, right after high school, he entered the Air Force. Back pain ended Nelson's stint after just a few months. That freed up the budding musician to pursue his artistic career, which encompassed being a country-western singer-songwriter, actor, and activitist.

  • Sinbad


    Image © Kate Purdy/Demotix/Corbis

    There's nothing funny about serving in the Air Force — unless you're Sinbad. Born David Adkins, the comedian and actor signed up hoping to be on the basketball team. He was made a boom operator instead, doing in-flight refeuling. While serving in Wichita, Kansas, Sinbad performed stand-up routines in town and entered an Air Force talent contest. He ultimately got to travel as part of the Tops in Blue program, which entertains troops worldwide, and later became a TV star.  

  • Kris Kristofferson


    Image © Suzanne Cordeiro/Corbis

    Ultimately, the author of famed song "Me and Bobby McGee" found his love in music, books, and acting, not guns. But it took him years. The son of an Air Force general, Kristofferson followed his Masters degree at Oxford University with a stint in the Army. By the early 1960s, he was stationed in West Germany and eventually ranked captain. Upon leaving active service, Kristofferson was invited to teach English literature at prestigious West Point. He chose songwriting instead. He was given the "Veteran of the Year Award" by the U.S. military in 2003, followed the next year by his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

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  • MC Hammer


    Image © F. Sadou/AdMedia/AdMedia/Corbis

    MC Hammer was "2 Legit 2 Quit" the Navy. The rapper and dancer, then Stanley Kirk Burrell, enlisted shortly after high school. He served for three years as Petty Officer Third Class as an Aviation Storekeeper in Mountain View, California, until earning an honorable discharge.

  • Oliver Stone


    Image © Tobias Hase/dpa/Corbis

    When making the Vietnam blockbusters Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, and Heaven & Earth, Stone was working from experience. The screenwriter, director, and producer served in the military during the controversial conflict, enlisting in the Army as a combat solider in 1967. Stone has earned a bronze star and purple heart as well as three Oscars. 

  • James Earl Jones


    Image via Johns PKI / Splash News

    James Earl Jones served in the Army during the Korean war but was lucky enough never to be sent into conflict. He was commissioned after graduating college, attending ranger school and ultimately setting up a cold weather training command in the Colorado mountains. He earned first lieutenant rank before leaving for the civilian world and acting, where he went on to major success with Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Golden Globe awards in his name.

  • Jimi Hendrix


    Image © Douglas Kent Hall/Zuma/Corbis

    Just as Hendrix had a short but brilliant music career, he had a short if not brilliant stint in the military. James Marshall "Jimi" Hendrix joined the Army in 1961 because he otherwise would have been incarcerated for riding in stolen cars. Once his father mailed his guitar to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Hendrix started playing in base clubs. Not long after earning his Screaming Eagle patch as a paratrooper, Hendrix was given an honorable discharge as an unsuitable soldier. He earned fame as a guitarist, singer, and songwriter before dying of a drug overdose at 27. 

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  • Shaggy


    Image © Debby Wong/Corbis

    Reggae-fusion hipster and Grammy winner Shaggy spent time in the Marines, and he claims his time there helped his music career. Jamaican-American Orville Richard Burrell joined the service as an artilleryman in 1988, serving during the Gulf War. His cadence calling during marches helped develop his style. What's more, he learned discipline in the Marines and credits that to his work eithic. 

  • John Coltrane


    Image © JazzSign/Lebrecht Music & Arts/Lebrecht Music & Arts/Corbis

    Coltrane's musical talents were so strong that the jazz saxophonist and composer gained attention even while in the military. Coltrane joined the Navy in 1945, near the end of World War II. Trained as an apprentice seaman, he was shipped to Hawaii's Pearl Harbor, where he was invited to join the base swing band, the Melody Masters. He held kitchen and security duties at the same time. 

  • Pat Sajak


    Image © Alexander Michael/Retna Ltd./Corbis

    "Good morning, Vietnam!" For a year and a half, Sajak yelled that greeting at 6 a.m. to fellow soldiers stationed in Asia. The future Wheel of Fortune host began his Army stint in 1968 as a finance clerk, but then managed to snag the a.m. DJ spot on Armed Forces Radio. On the show "The Dawn Buster," he greeted each day with the signature phrase -- later made famous by a Robin Williams film of the same name -- and played rock music for an audience of 500,000.

  • Montel Williams


    Image via Jennifer Graylock/

    It was certainly no straight path, but Williams' time in the military led to his career as a TV talk show host. The Baltimore native joined the Marine Corps after high school. He trained in desert warfare but, upon showing leadership skills, was sent to study at a higher level. He spent time at the Naval Academy Preparatory School, the U.S. Naval Academy, and a Russian language program. Williams headed to Guam as a cryptologic officer. During his service, Williams began counseling families, then reaching out to the community, which ulimately set the stage for his TV career as a talk show host.

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  • Harvey Keitel


    Image © Thibault Camus/AP/Corbis

    Keitel is renowned for his gripping, gritty performances, which is likely why five-star directors like Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino choose him for their Hollywood films. Some of Keitel's bite came, surely, from his stint in the Marines. The actor joined the service at 16 and was part of Operation Blue Bat, a U.S. military intervention in Lebanon, before returning stateside.

  • Chuck Norris


    Image © Byron Purvis/AdMedia/Corbis

    Action runs throughout Norris' acting CV, with titles such as The Hitman and Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection among his claims to fame. That action began in the Air Force. Norris enlisted in 1958, serving as an air policeman in both South Korea and California. He studied martial arts during that time. After his discharge, the black belt parlayed his expertise into karate schools and competitions. He started acting in 1969.

  • Jerry Garcia


    Image © Kristy McDonald/AP/Corbis

    Garcia was a rebel-rouser as a teenager. Among other offenses, he helped himself to his mother's car, which led the 17-year-old straight into the Army. That was 1960. The young man was in and out of the military within a year, though. Since he tended not to be where he was supposed to be fairly often, the Army discharged the soldier for "lack of suitability to the military lifestyle." He later became the renowned Greatful Dead guitarist and songwriter.

  • Gene Hackman


    Image © Reuters/Corbis

    Forget the stage and screen. Hackman's first access to audiences was radio -- military radio. At 16, the two-time-Oscar-winner-to-be dropped out of high school and enlisted in the Marines, which eventually sent him to China and Hawaii. He worked as a field radio operator for much of his nearly five years in the service, with some DJ and newscaster opportunities mixed in. Later military roles included that of Admiral Leslie McMahon Reigart in 2001's Behind Enemy Lines.

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  • Elvis Presley


    Image © Bettmann/Corbis

    Well on his way to becoming the "King of Rock 'n' Roll," Presley was drafted into the Army in 1958. Frightened he'd lose his mojo while in the service, Presley recorded five songs during a two-week vacation that year. He was later shipped to Germany but his handlers kept releasing songs he'd recorded; 10 became Top 40 hits during that time. The singer and actor received an honorable discharge in 1960.

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