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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.

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Entries in Entertainers (5)

Sunday
Mar112012

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. 

Source 

Monday
Mar282011

Johnny Carson, US Navy 1943-1946

Johnny Carson (Entertainer)
(John William Carson)
b. 23 Oct 1925 – d. 23 Jan 2005
US Navy, 1943-1946 
(World War II) 

Admitted to the U.S. Navy's V-12 officer training program in 1943 and commissioned as an ensign in 1945, Johnny Carson reported for duty aboard the USS Pennsylvania on Aug. 14, just two days after the battleship had been hit by a kamikaze. As the new ensign on board, Carson was detailed to supervise the recovery of the bodies of sailors killed in the attack. He left the service in 1946.

Monday
Mar282011

Hollywood Canteen - a place to write home about.

Judy Garland at the Hollywood CanteenThe Hollywood Canteen operated at 1451 Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood, California between October 3, 1942 and November 22, 1945 (Thanksgiving Day) as a club offering food, dancing and entertainment for servicemen, usually on their way overseas. Even though the majority of visitors were U.S servicemen, the Canteen was open to servicemen of allied countries as well as women in all branches of service. The serviceman's ticket for admission was his uniform and everything at the Canteen was free of charge.

 

The driving forces behind its creation were Bette Davis and John Garfield, along with composer Jules Stein, President of Music Corporation of America. Bette Davis served as its president and devoted an enormous amount of time and energy to the project . The various guilds and unions of the entertainment industry donated the labor and money for the building renovations. The Canteen was operated and staffed completely by volunteers from the entertainment industry. By the time the Canteen opened its doors, over 3000 stars, players, directors, producers, grips, dancers, musicians, singers, writers, technicians, wardrobe attendants, hair stylists, agents, stand-ins, publicists, secretaries, and allied craftsmen of radio and screen had registered as volunteers. Source Source

John Garfield Takes the stage with troopsBette greeting soldiers at the Canteen

 

Here's a short newsreel featuring footage from the Hollywood Canteen in its' heydey. Chock full of stars including Bette Davis, John Garfield, Marlene Dietrich, Jack Benny, Diana Durbin and more.

 

 

Mel Blanc, Claudette Colbert, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby

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

Bob Barker, US Navy & Naval Reserves 1943-1960


Bob Barker
(Entertainer)
(Robert William Barker) 
b. 12 Dec 1923 d. –
US Navy 1943-1945  (World War II, F4U Pilot)
Naval Reserve 1945-1960

Bob Barker interrupted his studies at Drury College in Missouri (on a basketball scholarship) and enlisted in the United States Navy on November 24, 1942. He was assigned the service number 7033834 and became a naval aviation cadet on June 10, 1943. He was later commissioned an ensign on December 6, 1944 and served on active duty until November 24, 1945. The war ended just as he was about to be assigned to seagoing duty.

 Barker was awarded the American Campaign Medal and World War II Victory Medal. He continued to serve as a Flight Officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve and remained on the rolls until December 7, 1960, when he was discharged from service as a lieutenant junior grade.

In 2009, he gave $3 million to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which is building a rehabilitation facility for wounded U.S. military personnel at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.