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Celebrity Veterans

Before you knew them as actors, musicians, politicians and important personalities, these brave men and women served their respective countries in both times of war and times of peace. This page serves as nothing more than a way to honor that legacy of commitment and service.

1930s  l  1940s  l  1950s  l  1960s  l  1970s l  1980s  l  1990s  l  2000s  l  Home


Willie Nelson, US Air Force, 1951

Willie Hugh Nelson
b. 29 Apr 1933

After graduating high school, young Willie Nelson voluntarily joined the Air Force. In the midst of the Korean War, Willie enlisted hoping to be a jet pilot. He received his first basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, but it was concluded Willie was too “absentminded” (as Willie puts it) to be in the cockpit of a jet. So the Air Force shipped him to Shepherd Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, TX, and eventually to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois for more basic training.

Eventually they made him a medic, but years of bailing hay back in Abbott, TX had given him a bad back and he was discharged after 9 months of service. 

His time in service did leave a lasting impression on Willie though and on his basic philosophy for living life. 

"I was in the Air Force a while and they had what they call "policing the area." That's where you looked around and if there's anything wrong here, there, anywhere, you took care of your own area. And I think that's a pretty good thing to go by. If everyone just takes care of their own area then we won't have any problems. Be here. Be present. Wherever you are, be there. And look around you and see what needs to be changed." Source

Nelson performing at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas for patients and staff. 2006

Despite his limited stint in the Air Force, Nelson has remained passionate about veterans issues, advocating for veteran's healthcare and supporting advocacy groups such as Operation Firing for Effect. Below are two PSA's Nelson shot in 2008 in his continued support of his fellow veterans. This, is one of a gazillion reasons why I love Willie... don't even get me started on that adorable-pie pic of him in his uniform. 


Desmond Llewelyn, British Army, 1939-1945

Llewelyn, third from left, in the production of Noel Coward's "Post Mortem"

Colditz Castle, 1945Desmond W Llewelyn
b. 12 Sep 1914  d. 19 Dec 1999
(World War II, Prisoner of War) 

With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, a 25 year old Desmond Llewelyn took a break from his stage career and joined the British Army. He was soon commissioned a second lieutenant, serving in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Deployed to France with the British Expeditionary Force, he was captured in the massive German attack on France in May-June 1940, and spent the remainder of the war as a Prisoner of War in Germany. He spent some time at Colditz Castle and was held in Camp Oflag IX-A/Z near Hesse in Germany. 

Desmond was fortunate enough to be in a position to participate in acting roles with the other prisoners, putting on entertainment shows, and polishing his acting skills along the way. In 1942, while at Eichstatt, he participated in the world premier staging of Noel Coward's "Post Mortem" with his fellow prisoners. Llewelyn was mentioned in the King's College collection of fellow prisoner Captain Bobby Loder:

For most POWs life in a prisoner of war camp was characterised by boredom, frustration, hunger and dreams of better days once the war was over. The Loder archive shows that theatre provided a brief escape from this life. Strangely, this was done with the support and aid of the German authorities. Perhaps the Germans felt that if the prisoners were busy with concerts and variety shows they would think less about digging tunnels.

Capt Loder's performances began in the summer of 1940, when the Senior British Officer in Laufen suggested that Loder and his choir should entertain the camp. Loder put together a committee that went on to produce theatrical performances. Details of the entertainments were carefully recorded by Loder in journals like the one shown below, given by the Canadian Junior Red Cross and sent home to his mother. 

Initially the group had very little to work with, no makeup, no costumes and no lighting but they still played to full houses. There were some professional actors within the camp, such as Desmond Llewelyn (Q in James Bond) and Michael Goodliffe (a Shakespearean actor who appeared in some episodes of Inspector Morse). As time went by Capt Loder's productions became better resourced. The costumes for Dossing Dulcie (shown above) were credited as 'supplied by Messrs Diringer of Munich'. The group even managed to stage a production ofHamlet, and Eichstätt saw the world premiere of Noel Coward's play Post Mortem. Source

When he was finally liberated in 1945 by the American Army, he returned to Great Britain to resume his theatrical career. He most notably enjoyed a lengthy career as James Bond's gadget-guy and colleague, Q. 



Adolphe Menjou, US Army 1917-1919 

Adolphe Menjou, film star, made his first public appearance since his arrival in England, when he visited Trafalgar Square in London, England June 12, 1943 and addressed a huge crowd from the bridge of a model tanker. He was mobbed by the crowds when making a tour of he exhibits in connection with the salvage drive. Adolphe Menjou inspecting a sea mine, one of the exhibits on display in connection with the salvage drives. (AP Photo)

Adolphe Jean Menjou
b. 18 Feb 1890 - d. 29 Oct 1963
(World War I, Ambulance Service) 

In 1906, young Menjou's father, a hotel manager, disapproved of his boy's early interest in show business and him to Culver Military Academy in Indiana for his senior year of high school in the hopes of dissuading him from such a reckless and disreputable career.  He went on to Cornell University where he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering and returned to his early interest of stage and screen work. World War I interrupted his fledgling career and he enlisted in to the US Army Ambulance Service in June of 1917. 

In my search for information on his time in service, I uncovered a few Service Abstracts and can follow where he rose from Corporal to first Lieutenant on October 15, 1917 and again to Captain on May 11, 1918. He served overseas from June 7, 1918 to May 1, 1919. He was honorably discharged from the Army on May 10, 1919 and awarded the Italian War Service Ribbon. 

Following his discharge, Menjou resumed his career and proceeded to appear in over 100 productions culminating with his 1958 performance of the ruthless General George Broulard in WWI war film, Paths of Glory. He toured with USO groups during World War II entertaining troops in England and participated at the Hollywood Canteen in California.

In 1947, Menjou shifted his focus to the defeat of Communism and its' associated politics. He cooperated with the House Committee on Un-American Activities in its creative witch hunt.  Menjou was also a leading member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, a group formed to oppose communist influence in Hollywood thatincluded fellow Hollywood Republicans Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor and John Wayne. 

Click to enlargeClick to enlarge

Adolphe Menjou, the famous film star, is seen making friends with three A.T.S. girls and A.W.A.A. girls at his first troop concert in England on June 14, 1943. (AP Photo)



James Doohan, Royal Canadian Army (1938-1945)

James Doohan
b. 30 Mar, 1920 – d. 20 Jul 2005
Royal Canadian Army, 1938-1945
(World War II, Lieutenant 18th Field Artillery Regiment)

Star Trek’s loveable engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, AKA James Doohan, attended high school at the Sarnia Collegiate Institute and Technical School (SCITS) in Ontario, Canada where he excelled in mathematics and science. His proficiency in these areas prompted him to join the 102nd Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps in 1938.

When Canada entered World War II, Doonan was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 13th Field Artillery Regiment of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division in the Royal Canadian Army. Doohan headed to England for additional training where he didn’t get to put it to real use until 1944. His first combat mission was a biggie, the invasion of Normandy at Juno Beach (the Canadian one) on D-Day.

"The sea was rough," he recalled. "We were more afraid of drowning than of the Germans."

Shooting two snipers, Doohan led his men to higher ground through a field of anti-tank mines, where they took defensive positions for the night. Crossing between command posts at 11:30 that night, Doohan was hit by six rounds of friendly fire courtesy of a Bren gun and an overzealous Canadian gunman. He took four shots in his leg, one in the chest, and one through his right middle finger.  His right middle finger had to be amputated, something he kept hidden during his career as an actor. Miraculously, the bullet to his chest was stopped by a silver cigarette case, a gift from his brother he kept in his breast pocket. He would later give up smoking, but unlike almost every other ex-smoker, he could say that smoking actually saved his life once. 

It took a while, but Doohan recovered from his injuries and received his new orders. He trained as a pilot graduating from Air Observation Pilot Course 40, and flew Taylorcraft Auster Mark V aircraft for 666 (AOP) Squadron, RCAF, in support of 1st Army Group Royal Canadian Artillery. All three Canadian (AOP) RCAF Squadrons were manned by Artillery Officer-pilots and accompanied by non-commissioned RCA and RCAF personnel serving as observers.

Although never actually a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Doohan was once labelled the "craziest pilot in the Canadian Air Force." As the story goes Doohan was boasting of his piloting prowess and in the late spring of 1945, he dared to slalom a plane between mountainside telegraph poles to prove it could be done. The stunt, performed in a Mark IV Auster on the Salisbury Plain north of RAF Andover, earned him a serious reprimand. 

Perhaps his experience as a pilot allowed him to better connect to fans in his out-of-this-world role on Star Trek. Regardless, he inspired a new generation of engineers and was given an honorary degree in Engineering by the Milwaukee School of Engineering in 1966. Apparently half of the students polled cited him as the inspiration for entering the field.



Harvey Milk, US Navy (1951-1955)

Harvey Milk (Politician)
b. 22 May 1930 - d. 27 Nov. 1978
US Navy, 1951-1955
(Korean War, Diving officer) 

In 1951, after graduating from New York State College for Teachers in Albany, NY, gregarious and outgoing Harvey Milk joined the US Navy. He enlisted during the Korean war conflict where he served aboard the submarine rescue ship USS Kittiwake (ASR-13) as a diving officer. He was later transferred to San Diego where he served as a diving instructor. In 1955, he was honorably discharged at the rank of lieutenant, junior grade.

Joining up to serve one's country was not a unique idea in the Milk household - in fact it may have been expected as both of Harvey's parents were Navy veterans. His mother, Minerva Karns, was an early feminist activist who joined the Yeomanettes, a group agitating for the inclusion of women in the US Navy during World War I while his father, William Milk, served on a sub crew during the war. 

Milk was proud of his military service, and wore a brass belt buckle bearing his Navy insignia until the day he died. When Milk entered the political arena, rumors circulated that he had been dishonorably discharged for being gay, but this was untrue.

In 2009, President Obama awarded Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In April 2012, Congressman Bob Filner has organized a letter writing campaign to the Navy to consider naming their next ship to be christened after the late gay advocate and politician to acknowledge the military's repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell." I believe Harvey would approve - as he said himself - 

“all young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.”

Much like Rock Hudson - Milk was a proud veteran who was not allowed to serve his country as his authentic self - yet he did it anyway. It's important to acknowledge the men and women who served in silence for the betterment of all of our lives. Anyways - changing the subject for a second - it's pretty amazing how much Sean Penn resembles the real Harvey Milk in his youth - nice casting Hollywood!



Leonard Nimoy, US Army Reserves (1953-1955)

Leonard Nimoy (Actor)
b. 26 Mar 1931 - d.
US Army Reserves, 1953-1955 

In 1953, Leonard Nimoy served as a member of the United States Army Reserves. He received his final discharge in November 1955 with the rank of Sergeant. According to the National Archives, Nimoy's Army personnel file was destroyed in 1973 during a major fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri... and as a result, there's not much public information about his service.

During the time of his enlistment, Nimoy appeared uncredited in, Them, Gordon Douglas' 1954 thriller about giant mutant ants birthed from radiation resulting from atomic testing. He played the role of a Air Force Sergeant, which was his real-life ranking at the time (albeit in the army)... perhaps as an extra in this film - he got the gig because he owned his own passable wardrobe? 

After his 1955 discharge, Nimoy went on to international fame in the 1960sas Mr. Spock from Star Trek and subsequently as any true artist, he has tried his hand at various artistic endeavors including photography and music. In 1967 the Armed Forces Radio & Television Service released several recordings of Nimoy's including "Mr. Spock's Music from Outer Space." Source


Sammy Davis Jr., US Army (1943)

Sammy Davis Jr. (Entertainer)
b. 8 Dec 1925 – d. 16 May 1990
US Army, 1943
(WWII, Entertainment Special Services)

Davis was drafted into the US Army in 1943, when was eighteen, and his experiences were not happy ones. When he arrived for basic training he saw a PFC sitting on the steps of the barracks.  He walked over to him and said, "Excuse me, buddy.  I'm a little lost.  Can you tell me where 202 is?  The man jerked his head back and said "Two buildings down and I'm not your buddy, you black bastard!"

Overnight the world looked different. It wasn't one color any more. I could see the protection I'd gotten all my life from my father and Will (an "uncle" with the Will Mastin Trio). I appreciated their loving hope that I'd never need to know about prejudice and hate, but they were wrong. It was as if I'd walked through a swinging door for eighteen years, a door which they had always secretly held open. 


Due to his abuse by fellow soldiers, he was transferred to an entertainment regiment, and eventually found himself performing in front of some of the same soldiers who had painted the word "coon" on his forehead. For example, after one performance at the Officer's Club, a fellow soldier motioned for Sammy to join his table, he said he wanted to make peace and slid a pitcher of beer towards Sammy.  When Sammy poured a drink and started drinking, the soldiers fell out laughing.  Sammy soon discovered that he was actually drinking urine. (Later this same group would kidnap Sammy out of the barracks and paint him white from head to toe.)

In spite of enduring this extreme racism, Davis found that the spotlight lessened the prejudice. Even prominent white men admired and respected his performances. "My talent was the weapon, the power, the way for me to fight. It was the one way I might hope to affect a man's thinking," he said. After his discharge, Davis rejoined the family dance act, which played at clubs around Portland, Oregon. He began to achieve success on his own and was singled out for praise by critics, releasing several albums under contract with Decca Records and going on to international fame in both movies and music.

During the 1960s and 70s and into the 80s, Sammy Davis, Jr continued to support his country by touring with the USO around the world. He described his USO tours as among the most exciting and satisfactory experiences in his career. Above are several pictures of him during his Vietnam tour in 1972, along with a plaque commemorating his Vietnam tour, and Sammy dancing  with Lola Falana in Germany, September 1968. Below is a video of him joining Bob Hope in 1981 on the USS Lexington docked in Pensacola, FL. 



Rocky Marciano, US Army (1943-1946)

Rocky Marciano
(Rocco Francis Marchegiano)
b. 1 Sep 1923 – d. 31 Aug 1969
US Army (4 March 1943 - March 1946)
(World War II, Combat Engineer, European Theater)

Rocky Marciano, the real Rocky if you ask me, dropped out of high school after the tenth grade to work and help support his family in a variety of jobs — washing dishes, gardening and working both a candy and a shoe factory. On March 4, 1943, at the age of 20, Rocky enlisted the Army  in Boston, Massachusetts and was sent overseas to Europe. Marciano was assigned to the 150th Combat Engineers and stationed in Swansea, Wales where he helped ferry supplies across the English Channel to Normandy. The 150th went on to receive service stars for Normandy, North France, Rheinland, Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe.

Although there's very limited information to be found about his time in the army - it has been established that Marciano first took up boxing in the service, reportedly as a way to get out of kitchen duty. While awaiting discharge, Marciano, representing the army, won the 1946 Amateur Armed Forces boxing tournament. After the war ended, he completed his service in March 1946 at Fort Lewis, Washington where he received an honorable discharge from the Army. He returned home to Brockton, Massachusetts and continued to box as an amateur, pausing briefly to pursue a baseball career and then returned to boxing and become the world heavyweight champion.

Here’s a copy of a Presidential Unit Citation issued for the 150th Engineering Combat Battalion in 1945. You can read more about this specific batallion here

Office of the Commanding General
APO 312, U.S. Army NO. 124
21 AUGUST 1945

      Under the provisions of Section IV, Circular 333, WD, 22 DEC. 43 and 2nd Ind, Hq Third US Army, 3 Aug. 45 to Ltr, HQ 1135 Engr. C Gp, 24 Jun. 45, the 150 Engr. C Bn. is cited for outstanding performance of duty against the enemy from 7 Feb. 45, to 13 Feb., 45, on the Sauer and Our Rivers in Luxembourg and Germany. The 150 Engineer Combat Battalion was assigned the mission of ferrying the assault troops and supplies across the Our River during the 319 Infantry Regiment's assault Troops on the Siegfried Line. Following the attack, which began at 0200, 7 Feb., in the face of withering small arms fire from Pillboxes with heavy Artillery, Mortar and Rocket Fire from the carefully planned positions of the Siegfried Line, this Battalion waged a bitter struggle with the raging torrents of the flooded Our River Repeated efforts were made to construct foot bridges, infantry support bridges, and Treadway bridges. However due to excessively and accurate fire from the fortifications of the Siegfried Line and the torrential water of the Our River, all efforts to construct Bridges or ferries met with complete failure. It was therefore necessary for the 150 Engineer Combat Battalion to rely entirely on the use of assault boats to support the Bridgehead until it could be expanded sufficiently to eliminate the small arms fire and the observed artillery fire upon the only existing Bridge site. On the night of 9 Feb., when it had been decided that additional troops could not be ferried until the 319 Infantry Regiment's bridgehead was further expanded, the 150 Engineer Combat Battalion was given an additional mission of constructing a Treadway bridge over the Sauer River in the vicinity of Dillingen. Despite the mailing casualties and the strain from the continual struggle against the flooded River, and with a spirit of grim determination, the officers and Men of the 150 Engineer Combat Battalion undertook their new mission. Throughout the night of Feb. 9 and the following day, small arms and accurate mortar fire from the Siegfried line repulsed every effort to construct the bridge. Although severely handicapped by the flooded river and the enemy's accurate mortar artillery fire, the battalion was able to complete the bridge on 13 Feb. The admirable spirit and devotion to duty of the gallant officers and men of the 150th Engineer Combat Battalion is in keeping with the highest traditions of the Corps of Engineering.

Source Source