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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
Mar282011

Sean Connery, British Royal Navy 1946-1949

Sean Connery (center) with two mates at Portsmouth
Sean Connery
(Actor)
(Thomas Sean Connery) 
b. 25 Aug 1930 – d. --
British Royal Navy 1946-1949

In 1946, at the age of 16, shortly after World War II, Sean signed up for 7 years in the Royal Navy plus another 5 in the Volunteer Service, where he trained near Lochinver, Scotland. After his initial training he was moved down to Portsmouth where he'd serve in a gunnery school and in an anti-aircraft crew. He was later assigned as an Able Seaman on the HMS Formidable. After two years, at age 19, he was diagnosed with peptic ulcers and discharged with a disability pension of 6s 8d a week.

Monday
Mar282011

Eddie Albert, US Navy, 1942-1945

Eddie Albert (Actor)
(Edward Albert Heimberger)
b. 22 Apr 1906 – d. 26 May 2005
US Navy, Naval Reserves 1942-1945
(World War II, Saipan, Tarawa)

Prior to World War II, Albert was a high-wire artist and a working clown with the Escalante Brother Circus touring Mexico as a cover for his undercover Intellegence gathering for the US Army. He was charged with photographing German U-Boats in Mexican harbors.

On September 9, 1942, Albert enlisted in the US Navy where he served in several Pacific invasions. Albert served in the landings at Saipan in 1943 where he rescued wounded and stranded Marines from the beachhead. During the bloody battle at Tarawa in November 1943, acting as the pilot of a U.S. Coast Guard landing craft, he rescued 47 Marines who were stranded offshore (and supervised the rescue of 30 others), while under heavy enemy machine-gun fire. This earned him a Bronze Star with Combat “V”.  It was here where he was wounded, losing much of his hearing and earning a Purple Heart.  In 1943 he was discharged and accepted an appointment as a lieutenant in the Naval Reserves where he was used in War Bond Drives.

 

Monday
Mar282011

Alex Haley - US Coast Guard 1939-1959

Alex Haley (Writer)
(Alexander Palmer Murray Haley)
b. 11 Aug 1921 - d. 10 Feb 1992
US Coast Guard, 1939-1959
(World War II, Korean War, Chief Petty Officer, Chief Journalist) 

After dropping out of college, Simon Haley, Alex's father, felt that Alex needed discipline and growth and convinced Alex to enlist in the military. On May 24, 1939, Alex Haley began his twenty-year enlistment with the Coast Guard. He enlisted as a mess attendant and became a Petty Officer Third Class in the rate of Steward, one of the few rates open to African Americans. He spent World War II in the Pacific theater although he did not see much action during the conflict.

After World War II, Haley petitioned the Coast Guard to transfer into the field of journalism, and by 1949 he had become a Petty Officer First Class in the rating of Journalist. He later advanced to Chief Petty Officer and held this grade until his retirement from the Coast Guard in 1959. He was the first Chief Journalist in the Coast Guard, the rating having been expressly created for him in recognition of his literary ability.

Haley's awards and decorations from the Coast Guard include the American Defense Service Medal (with "Sea" clasp),American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Coast Guard Good Conduct Medal (with 1 silver and 1 bronze service star), Korean Service Medal,National Defense Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, and the Coast Guard Expert Marksmanship Medal.

During his World War II service in the Pacific theater, Haley taught himself the craft of writing stories and he obviously had a talent for it. Rumor has it he was often paid by other sailors to write love letters to their girlfriends. He talked of how the greatest enemy he and his crew faced during their long sea voyages wasn't the Japanese but boredom.

Source

Monday
Mar282011

Jackie Coogan - US Army 1941-1945

 

Jackie Coogan (Actor)
(John Leslie Coogan)
b. 26 Oct 1914 –
d. 1 Mar 1984
US Army Air Corps, 1st Air Commando Group
(World War II, Flight Officer) 

Coogan enlisted in the Army March of 1941. After Pearl Harbor, he requested transfer to the Air Corps as a glider pilot because of his civilian flying experience. After graduating from Glider School, he was made a Flight Officer and volunteered for hazardous duty with the 1st Air Commando Group. In Dec. 1943, his unit was sent to India. During the night aerial invasion of Burma on Mar. 5, 1944, using CG-4A gliders, the unit airlifted crack British troops, the Chindits (under Gen. Orde Wingate), landing them in a small jungle clearing 100 miles behind Japanese lines.

 

Monday
Mar282011

Bob Hope, USO 1941-1990s

Bob Hope
b. 1903 - d. 2003 
USO
Entertainer 

Any discussions of celebrity veterans would be incomplete without their globe-trotting muse, Mr. Bob Hope. Although he didn't serve in the traditional branches of the military, Hope gave a lifetime of service to the US military forces by entertaining them for 6 decades. Three months after the USO was founded, Bob Hope led a group of celebrities to perform for airmen stationed at March Field in California—the beginning of a great tradition. He never let up in his lifetime. 

"America's No. 1 Soldier in Greasepaint." to the GIs, he was "G.I. Bob" and their clown hero. It began in May, 1941 when Bob, with a group of performers, went to March Field, California, it continued on with his first trip into the combat area in 1943 when he and his small USO Troupe - Frances Langford, Tony Romano and Jack Pepper visited US military facilities in England, Africa, Sicily and Ireland.

Six decades later, in May 1997, Bob stood by in New Orleans as his wife Dolores christened the USNS Bob Hope (AKR 300), the first of a new class of ships named after Bob. Not to be outdone, one month later the U.S. Air Force dedicated a new C-17 in his name. 

The United States Congress has honored Bob on five separate occasions for his service. In October 1997, Bob received one of his greatest tributes when Resolution 75 was unanimously passed by members of both Houses making him an Honorary Veteran. In July 2001, the 'Pentagon' paid a visit to Bob Hope's home in Toluca Lake, California for the presentation of the Order of Horatio Gates Gold Medal for his life-long contributions toward maintaining the high morale of soldiers around the world.

Here's a short video highlighting his USO service with commentary from friends Raquel Welch, Alan Alda, Barbara Walters, Phyllis Diller and more.

Monday
Mar282011

Van Heflin, USAAF, First Motion Picture Unit

Van Heflin  (Actor)
(Emmett Evan Heflin Jr.) 
b. 13 Dec 1910 - d. 23 Jul 1971)
US Army Air Force, Lieutenant
(World War II, Combat Photographer, 9th Air Force, Europe)

There is not much information about the time that Van Heflin spent in the service other than he served as a combat photographer with the 9th Air Force in Europe. He was part of the First Motion Picture Unit (FMPU) that produced propaganda, training and morale films for the US military. 

 

 

 

Monday
Mar282011

Benny Hill - British Army, 1944-1947

Benny Hill (Entertainer)
(Alfred Hawthorne Hill)
b. 21 Jan 1924 – d. 19 Apr 1992
British Army 1944-1947
(World War II, Driver/Mechanic, Europe)

Benny Hill was drafted into the British Army (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) as a mechanic and arrived in Normandy 1 September 1944. He was a searchlight operator for the Third Light Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Battery which landed at the famous Mulberry floating harbors. From there they were sent to Dunkirk where a pocket of 7,000 Germans had been bypassed. Though they nicknamed the area 'buzz bomb alley' they saw little action, though a few men were killed while on guard duty.

Hill was not a natural soldier. In training he developed a bad case of 'guardsman's foot' and he never did get the hang of driving. But his sense of humor was as sharp as ever. When his sergeant asked him what a 'fine sight' was, he replied, 'Two dinners on one plate.'

He was eventually transferred to Germany and began entertaining, ending up in the production 'Stars in Battledress'.

The popular story that the Army discovered him was dismissed by Benny when he wrote: "No, the Army did not discover me. In fact, when I was in Germany with an entertainment unit, the officer in charge took a dim view of my style and insisted on compering the show himself. Most of my time was spent lumbering huge wicker baskets and crates of stage props."

However, not everyone took a dim view of Benny's act and a sergeant by the name of Harry Segal, who had been an old pro of the music halls since childhood spotted something that he liked about Benny's performance. He encouraged a downhearted Benny to persevere and gave him confidence with gentle encouragement. During an outbreak of influenza, which had hit the unit, Segal ordered Benny out onto stage to do a solo act. Among the audience was a Colonel Richard Stone, in charge of Combined Service Entertainment throughout Europe. After the war Stone became Benny's life-long friend and agent.

Hill admitted to hating his actual service, claiming that there was always someone above you to shout, 'You're an 'orrible dozy little man. What are you?' 'I'm a horrible dozy little man, sergeant.' He later summed up his service with, 'I was five years in the army and never got a stripe.'

Source

Sunday
Mar272011

Rock Hudson - US Navy, 1943-1946

Rock Hudson  (Actor)
(Roy Harold Scherer, Jr., Roy Fitzgerald) 
b. 17 Nov. 1925 – d. 2 Oct. 1985
US Navy 1943-1946 (Aircraft Mechanic, Philippines)

Roy Fitzgerald enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1943 and was shipped on the S.S. Lew Wallace, a Kaiser Liberty ship, to Samar, a sandy island in the Philippines. He returned to California in 1946.

Rock Hudson is a role model in more ways than one - he had to keep his sexuality a secret in the military - something he did carried on throughout his post-war career as well.  Even after contracting AIDS in the early 80s, Rock never publicly came out of the closet.

Personally, I find it astounding that the service of homosexuals is still being discussed as the sacrifice and suffering are the same regardless of sexuality - I'm sure Rock would be pleased to see the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.   

Source: Rock Hudson: His Story, p42