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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

Monday
May302011

Edgar Allan Poe, US Army - 1827-1829


Edgar Allan Poe
(poet)
(AKA - Edgar Allan Perry)
b. 1809 – d.
US Army, 1827-1829 

On May 26, 1827,  already a published poet ,and finding himself in serious debt and poverty,  Edgar Allan Poe, enlisted in the United States Army as Edgar A. Perry at the age of 18, lying on the application stating that he was 22. Poe must have been an exemplary soldier for he was promoted sergeant-major on the 1st of January 1829. 

In 1830, after serving two years, he applied to West Point Military Academy with the support of his commanding officer and foster father. He was court martialed out of school after only eight months in January 1831 for missing drills, parades, classes and church.  Although his time was short, his legend was long-lasting. 

Professor Bill Hecker had stated that there had been an Edgar Allan Poe Society at the Academy until just before the Second World War. After the War, the dedication of time and energy to the Society had been diverted to other, more pressing activities of the staff and Corps of Cadets. Those with access to the Library Archives will find materials on this subject in Poe's "Vertical File."

Hecker was killed in Iraq in 2006, but had completed a compilation of Poe’s poems that were written during his time at West Point. Private Perry and Mister Poe: The West Point Poems, 1831 is available at Amazon.

Source  Painting Source:  Edgar Perry, Sergeant Major, Fort Monroe, Virginia, is courtesy of Mr. Paul Morando, Archives Director, of the Casemate Museum, Fort Monroe, Virginia

Monday
May302011

Conway Twitty, US Army 1954-1956


Conway Twitty
(Musician)
(Harold Lloyd Jenkins )
b. 1 Sep 1933 – d. 5 Jun 1993
US Army (1954-1956)

Harold Jenkins was first drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies after high school before being drafted once again into the US Army. While stationed in Japan, he kept both his dreams alive by forming a band and playing on the local Army baseball team. His first band, the Fuji Mountain Boys represented their Yokohama unit and won the 1954 All-Army Talent Competition. Johnny Eubanks, Gene Jones, Craig Reemes and Harold changed the band’s name after their big win to The Cimarrons. They were later joined by Nick Cristiano on drums and trumpet and the quintet frequently played for military service clubs around Japan.

The unit was attached to the Armed Forces Radio Service in Tokyo and recorded a series of programs for the Far-East Radio Network. They were awarded the “Best Instrumental Group” of the Far East Command. Listen to original recordings from 1955.

After returning from his deployment in Japan, Harold didn’t think his musical service to his country would translate into anything substantial. After discovering rock-n-roll via Elvis, Harold decided to take his ,music career seriously and, at the encouragement of his manager Don Seat, became the country music legend we all know as Conway Twitty.

 

Source 

Sunday
Apr242011

Larry Flynt, US Army & US Navy, 1958-1964


Larry Flynt
(Publisher)
(Larry Claxton Flynt, Jr.)
b. 1 Nov 1942 – d.
US Army, 1958 US Navy, 1960-1964

Seems Larry Flynt, son of a WWII veteran, was never one for following rules yet always one for championing his personal sense of right and wrong. At the age of 15, he used a false birth certificate to enlist in the US Army. After spending a year amongst the ranks, he was discharged due to low test scores. When Flynt enlisted in the United States Navy in July 1960, he was the only sailor at his Great Lakes boot camp with any prior service.

During boot camp, Flynt served as a Master-at-Arms for his company. He went on to attend Radar “A” school and finished as the youngest 2nd class Petty Officer in the Navy at the time. He was then sent on to Officer’s CIC school in Brunswich, GA. In 1962 , Flynt became a radar operator on the USS Enterprise. He was the operator on duty when the ship was assigned to recover John Glenn's space capsule.

For such a free thinker, Larry surprisingly excelled within the disciplinary construct of the military. In his book, Naked Ambition, Flynt assuredly recalls his stellar performance,

“I was the absolute best at what I did. I set an example for the men who worked for me, and I made sure that I knew each and every one of their jobs better than they knew it themselves.”

He was honorably discharged in July 1964.

Source

Sunday
Apr242011

Humphrey Bogart, US Navy - 1918-1919

Humphrey Bogart (Actor)
(Humphrey DeForest Bogart)
b. 23 Jan 1899
d. 14 Jan 1957
US Navy, World War I
1918-1919
 

This hard-boiled actor, with an admirable anti-hero quality, had plenty of true life experience in the military to bring an authenticity to his performances in movies like Casablanca and The Caine Mutiny.

In the spring of 1918, Bogart left, or was asked to leave, prep school to serve in the U.S. Navy at the end World War I. He served as a signalman aboard the USS Leviathan, a troop transport ship. Much of Bogart’s service in the Navy entailed ferrying soldiers back and forth between Europe and North America after the official end of the hostilities.

While on assignment in the military police, it is rumored that a prisoner struck Bogart in the mouth, and left him with his lip scar and slight lisp which became an enduring trademark of his on-screen persona. The story, not officially confirmed, is recounted here from the book Stars in Blue:

Bogart was ordered to take a U.S. Navy prisoner to Portsmouth Naval Prison, New Hampshire. The two traveled side by side, with the prisoner handcuffed. As they changed trains in Boston, the con asked Bogart for a Lucky Strike, a supply of which Bogie always had and was happy to share. As he dug for matches, suddenly his ungrateful companion smashed him in the mouth with his manacles and jumped up to escape. Bogart, his upper lip badly torn and bleeding, reacted quickly, drawing out his .45 automatic and dropping the prisoner. Initial Navy surgery on the lip was badly botched, and subsequent plastic surgery did not help.

Later in the same year, for reasons unknown, Bogey missed a connection on the USS Santa Olivia (SP-3125) that was sailing for Europe and was subsequently jailed for failing to show for duty. The AWOL sailor turned himself in and served a three-day prison sentence on a ration of bread and water. He was honorably discharged in 1919.

During World War II, Bogart again tried to serve officially in the military but was supposedly turned down due to his age. Instead, he joined up with the USO and toured North Africa and Italy in 1943, including a stop in Casablanca, as well as extensive touring for the war bond effort.

As Bogart was a truly seaman at heart, he enrolled his yacht, Santana, into the US Coast Guard Temporary Reserve Auxiliary where he routinely provided security patrol services off the coast of California for the duration of the war.

Source 1, Source 2

Sunday
Apr242011

Norman Fell, US Air Force - World War II

Norman Fell (Actor)
(Norman Noah Feld) 
b. 24 Mar 1924 - d. 14 Dec 1998
US Army Air Force  (World War II, B-25 Tail Gunner, Pacific)

There is very little published information about Norman Fell’s time in the US Air Force.  We do know he served as a tail gunner in the World War II Pacific theater. After his service was complete, he enrolled and studied drama at Temple University.  During his long television and film career, Fell played a few choice parts in military films including Catch-22, PT 109 and Pork Chop Hill.

In this funny scene from Catch-22, of Fell playing straight man to Bob Newhart’s neurotic Major Major, he looks like a natural soldier.

 

 

Sunday
Apr242011

Sam Peckinpah, USMC 1943-1946

Sam Peckinpah (Director)
(David Samuel Peckinpah)
b. 21 Feb 1925 – d. 28 Dec 1984
US Marines, 1943 – 1946

In 1943, Peckinpah joined the United States Marine Corps where he was sent to China with the task of disarming Japanese soldiers and repatriating them following World War II. While he was disappointed that his duty did not include any actual combat, Sam claims to have witnessed ghastly acts of war between Chinese and Japanese soldiers. According to friends, these included various acts of torture and the murder of an innocent laborer by sniper fire. In this situation, the American Marines were not permitted to intervene, and these events reportedly deeply affected and influenced the notorious depictions of violence in his films.

Interestingly, Peckinpah also claimed he was shot during an attack by Communist forces. In addition, during his final weeks as a Marine, he applied for discharge in Peking, so he could marry a local woman, but was refused.  These rumors have not been verified, but they don’t sound too far-fetched coming from a man that lived as large and furiously as he did.

Sam’s familiarity with war is best seen in his 1977 WWII film Cross of Iron starring James Coburn and James Mason. Reportedly he had to finance it with money from a German porn producer and was drinking several bottles of booze every day during the filming. This film marked a turning point in his career, his subsequent films are not considered among his best - perhaps reflecting the turmoil present in his personal life. It begs the question, did the movie bring him full circle and face to face with the violent visions of his past that could not longer be surpressed?  Kind of like facing a magic mirror that’s lost it’s spell and now only reflects the authentic horror of the truth.

Sunday
Apr242011

Desi Arnaz, US Army, 1943-1945

Desi Arnaz (2nd from left) plays the Soldier Bowl in 1944 along with Lucille Ball (center)

Desi Arnaz  (Actor, Musician)
(Desiderio Alberta Arnaz) 
b. 2 Mar 1917  – d. 2 Dec 1986
US Army 1943-1945 (World War II, Special Services)

Dashing Desi Arnaz received his draft notice in 1943, but before reporting he dislocated his kneecap in an army baseball game. He completed his recruit training, but was classified for limited service during World War II. He was assigned to direct United Service Organization (U.S.O.) programs at an army hospital in Birmingham, California. 

Desi was quoted as saying, “The way the Army does things is sometimes a little strange.” Seeming to prove his own point – after discovering the first thing the wounded soldiers requested was a glass of cold milk, Desi used his connections and arranged for movie starlets to meet them and pour the milk for them.

Monday
Mar282011

James Blunt, Captain, British Army 1997-2002


James Blunt
(Musician)
(James Hillier Blount)
b. 22 Feb 1974 d. -
British Army 1996- October 2002

Because the British Army sponsored his university education, Blunt was obliged to serve a minimum of four years in the armed forces. Blunt trained at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Life Guards, a unit of the Household Cavalry, where he rose to the rank of captain. One of his first assignments was to British Army Training Unit Suffield in Alberta, Canada, where his battalion was posted for six months in 1998 to act as the opposing army in combat training exercises.

In 1999, he served as an armoured reconnaissance officer in the NATO deployment in Kosovo. Initially assigned to reconnaissance of the Macedonia-Yugoslaviaborder, Blunt and his unit worked ahead of the front lines directing forces and targeting Serb positions for the NATO bombing campaign. His unit was given the assignment of securing the Pristina International Airport in advance of the 30,000-strong peacekeeping force; the Russian army had moved in and taken control of the airport before his unit's arrival. The confusion surrounding the taking of Pristina airfield in 1999 has been written about in political memoirs, and was widely reported at the time.

In an interview with BBC Radio 5 live broadcast Blunt recounted the following:

I was given the direct command to overpower the 200 or so Russians who were there. I was the lead officer with my troop of men behind us from the Parachute Regiment, so they're obviously game for the fight.

"The direct command [that] came in from Gen Wesley Clark was to overpower them. Various words were used that seemed unusual to us. Words such as 'destroy' came down the radio." Asked if following the order would have risked starting World War III, Blunt, who was a 25-year-old cavalry officer at the time, replied: "Absolutely. And that's why we were querying our instruction from an American general.

"Fortunately, up on the radio came Gen Mike Jackson, whose exact words at the time were, 'I'm not going to have my soldiers be responsible for starting World War III', and told us why don't we sugar off down the road, you know, encircle the airfield instead.

If Gen Jackson had not blocked the order from Gen Clark, who as Nato Supreme Commander Europe was his superior officer, Blunt said he would still have declined to follow it, even at the risk of a court martial.

He said: "There are things that you do along the way that you know are right, and those that you absolutely feel are wrong, that I think it's morally important to stand up against, and that sense of moral judgement is drilled into us as soldiers in the British army."

It was while on duty in Kosovo that he wrote his song "No Bravery". He also stood guard at the coffin of the Queen Mother during the days of her lying in State and was part of the funeral procession on April 9, 2002.

Source