Celebrities Who Served

LCDR Montel Williams, US Navy and USMC (1974-1986)

LCDR Montel Williams, US Navy and USMC (1974-1986)

Montel Williams is best known as the Emmy Award-winning host of The Montel Williams Show, which aired nationally for seventeen years. Montel Brian Anthony Williams, known to most as simply “Montel,” is also an actor and motivational speaker. But did you know that Montel Williams served in the military? His decorated military service spanned 22 years in two branches of the service—the United States Marines and the United States Navy. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1974 and later became the first black man to graduate from the Naval Academy in 1980. Today, along with being a New York Times bestselling author, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Montel is a passionate advocate for veterans.  Montel Williams’s Early Years Born in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 3, 1956, Montel was the youngest of four children born to Marjorie and Herman Williams. Montel's father was a firefighter who in 1992 became Baltimore's first African American Fire Chief. Williams was raised as a Roman Catholic...

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A1C Morgan Freeman, U.S. Air Force (1955-1959)

A1C Morgan Freeman, U.S. Air Force (1955-1959)

Morgan Freeman, recipient of the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award, is an American actor, director, and narrator. Noted for his distinctive deep voice, Freeman didn't get his first big break until age 49. Most readers know Freeman for his perfromance in Shawshank Redemption, Million Dollar Baby, or Driving Miss Daisy. But did you know that acting was not Freeman’s first love? As a young man, he dreamed of being an Air Force pilot, turned down an drama scholarship to enlist in the Air Force, where he served for four years. Morgan Freeman’s Early Years Morgan Freeman was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on the 1st of June, 1937. These were harsh years, with the Wall Street Crash leading through to the Dust Bowl and then the war in Europe. His father, Morgan Sr, was a barber, his mother Mayme a cleaner struggling to maintain a family that eventually included six children: five boys and one girl, Morgan being the fourth-born. When Morgan was very young, like so many other...

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LTJG Neil Alden Armstrong, U.S. Navy (1949-1952)

LTJG Neil Alden Armstrong, U.S. Navy (1949-1952)

Neil Alden Armstrong who served in the US Navy between 1949 and 1952, is better known as the first man to walk on the Moon. His iconic announcement ‘One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind,’ and first steps on an extraterrestrial body were broadcast to over 650 million people: around a fifth of the total world population. Armstrong’s path to becoming the most iconic and famous astronaut of all time began near Wapakoneta, Ohio. Neil Armstrong’s Military Career Born on August 5, 1930, Neil Alden Armstrong developed an early interest in flying and gained his student flight certificate at the age of 16, before he even gained his driver’s license. At the age of 17, Armstrong received a Navy scholarship under the Holloway Plan, studying aeronautical engineering at Purdue University. With his scholarship, Armstrong was required to undergo two years of study prior to two years of flight training, as well as a full year of service in the US Navy as an aviator. Once those years...

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PVT Jimi Hendrix, U.S. Army (1961-1962)

PVT Jimi Hendrix, U.S. Army (1961-1962)

Jimi Hendrix, an American guitarist, singer, and songwriter, widely regarded as one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of popular music is one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century. Did you know Jimi Hendrix briefly served in the U.S. Army? James Marshall "Jimi" Hendrix was born in 1942 in Seattle while his father Al Hendrix, drafted into the Army during World War II, was imprisoned in an Alabama stockade. Drafted just three days after marrying Jimi’s mother, Lucille Jeter, Al spent a month in Fort Benning, Georgia, and was then sent to Camp Rucker in Alabama. He was a field artillery gunner for Company B of the 903rd Airbase Security Battalion. Their job was to guard the Eighth Airforce's airstrips, planes, and bomb dumps -- traveling wherever the Eighth Airforce went. Al requested leave around the time Jimi was to be born, but he was refused because he lived in Seattle. The army was only allowing five days leave for family births, and he would...

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2LT Jack “Jackie” Robinson, U.S. Army (1942-1944)

2LT Jack “Jackie” Robinson, U.S. Army (1942-1944)

Hall of Fame Major League Baseball Player, Social Reformer, famed baseball player and civil rights advocate, Jack "Jackie" Robinson became the first African-American to play in modern major league baseball. Jack "Jackie" Robinson Was Assigned to a Segregated Army Cavalry Unit at Fort Riley In 1942, Jack Robinson was drafted and assigned to a segregated Army cavalry unit in Fort Riley, Kansas. Having the requisite qualifications, Robinson and several other black soldiers applied for admission to an Officer Candidate School (OCS) located at Fort Riley. Although the Army's initial July 1941 guidelines for OCS had been drafted as race-neutral, practically speaking, few black applicants were admitted into OCS until after subsequent directives by Army leadership. As a result, the applications of Robinson and his colleagues were delayed for several months. After protests by heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis (then stationed at Fort Riley) and Truman Gibson's help (then an assistant...

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Sgt Thomas William Selleck (Tom Selleck), U.S. Army, (1967-1973)

Sgt Thomas William Selleck (Tom Selleck), U.S. Army, (1967-1973)

Known for his leading role in ‘Magnum, P.I.’ and as Monica’s love interest in ‘Friends’, Tom Selleck is a household name whose career has spanned over four decades. He’s had numerous on-screen careers, but you know that Tom Selleck is a Vietnam War era veteran? Tom Selleck’s Early Life Thomas William Selleck was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1945, but his family moved to Sherman Oaks, California, in 1948. Raised by hardworking parents, Tom Selleck learned the values of the U.S. military from an early age. Tom Selleck grew up hearing tales of World War II. His father, Robert, was a B29 mechanic in the Army Air Corps. His uncle Lyle went missing in action during the Battle of the Bulge, and his uncle George flew the Hump, the aviation route from India to China. Selleck graduated from Grant High School in 1962 and enrolled at Los Angeles Valley College. Later, Selleck, who stands 6 ft 4 in tall, transferred to the University of Southern California during his junior year to play for the...

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Capt Dan Lauria, U.S. Marine Corps (1970-1973)

Capt Dan Lauria, U.S. Marine Corps (1970-1973)

Dan Lauria: Marine Corps Veteran, Veteran Actor Dan Lauria, one of America’s best-known TV dads due to his famous role as “Kevin’s Dad” on the hit show Wonder Years, is an accomplished TV, film, and stage actor. His service in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War had a profound impact on both his life and his acting career. Todays, Lauria continues to support veterans through his involvement in several important organizations. Dan Lauria’s Early Years On Stage Lauria, an Italian-American, was born in 1947 in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in Lindenhurst, New York. He graduated from Lindenhurst Senior High School in 1965 as a varsity football player. Later, he briefly returned to the same high school as a football coach. Lauria developed an interest in performing from his aunt who used to awaken him to watch old movies on TV. A joke cracked on the football field in college led to acting lessons with Yale's Constance Welch. Lauria’s father was a World War II veteran of the Army who...

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Cpl Mel Brooks, U.S. Army (1944 – 1945)

Cpl Mel Brooks, U.S. Army (1944 – 1945)

Mel Brooks's Military Service “Springtime for Hitler” is one of the songs that made Mel Brooks famous. But did you know that this prolific actor, comedian, composer, and filmmaker served in World War II as a young man? Mel Brooks’s Early Life Mel Brooks was born Melvin James Kaminsky in 1926, the youngest of four boys. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in a Jewish family of modest means. When Brooks was two years old, his father passed away from kidney disease. Mel was raised by his mother and three older brothers: Irving, Lennie, and Bernie. It is often said that his father’s untimely death fueled Brooks's comedy career.  Later in life, Brooks reflected on his father’s death with these words: "there's an outrage there. I may be angry at God, or at the world, for that. And I'm sure a lot of my comedy is based on anger and hostility. Growing up in Williamsburg, I learned to clothe it in comedy to spare myself problems - like a punch in the face." Brooks was a small, sickly boy,...

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Maj Clark Gable, U.S. Army Air Forces (1942-1947)

Maj Clark Gable, U.S. Army Air Forces (1942-1947)

Clark Gable, of the U.S. Army Air Forces between 1942 and 1947, is best known as the ‘King of Hollywood’, the womanizing man’s man with a filmography of over 60 productions. However, he had a passion for flying combat missions and defied death in World War II. Born William Clark Gable in 1901, his father Will was an oil-well driller living in Cadiz, Ohio. Baptized Catholic, his mother Adeline died when he was just ten months old, and his father refused to raise him in the faith. Gable’s father remarried in 1903, and he was raised by his stepmother Jennie. She taught him the piano, and Will taught him to repair automobiles and hunt. Young Clark also developed a taste for literature, and would recite Shakespeare. Gable’s Childhood and First Marriage Gable was inspired to become an actor at 17 after seeing the play The Bird of Paradise. However, he worked with his father in Oklahoma in the oil industry, his stepmother had passed away. At the age of 21, Gable received an inheritance from...

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PFC Sixto Escobar, US Army (1941-1945)

PFC Sixto Escobar, US Army (1941-1945)

Sixto Escobar, of the United States Army between 1941 and 1945, was Puerto Rico’s first world boxing champion, and International Boxing Hall of Fame member. Remembered today with the Estadio Sixto Escobar, the San Juan home of River Plate Puerto Rico, as well as many buildings, roads, and statues, he is a favored son of the island territory. Not as many people know, though, that he served in the military during the Second World War as an Army PFC. Remembering Sixto Escobar Escobar was born in the town of Barceloneta, in March 1913. Early in his childhood, his family moved to San Juan, where he was schooled until the seventh grade. At this point, he left school to focus on his athletic career. Boxing was illegal in Puerto Rico while he was growing up, though this restriction was lifted in 1927. In ‘28, Angel ‘Sotito’ Soto moved from New York to Escobar’s area of San Juan, and established a boxing gym in his backyard, giving boxing classes to Escobar and other young athletes. Despite...

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Lt. Henry Fonda, U.S. Navy (1942-1946)

Lt. Henry Fonda, U.S. Navy (1942-1946)

Lt. Henry Fonda, of the US Navy between 1942 and 1946, interrupted a prominent career as a film actor in order to serve his country when it needed him most. Fonda’s commanding screen presence made him a favorite of theatergoers for five decades, culminating in an Oscar for his final performance. Henry Fonda’s Stage Beginnings Born in Grand Island, Nebraska, in 1905, Fonda was the son of a printer. Raised in Omaha, he witnessed and was profoundly affected by the horrors of the Omaha race riot of 1919. After high school he attended the University of Minnesota, but did not graduate. At the age of 20 he joined the Omaha Community Playhouse. He grew to be fascinated by the stage and learned many aspects of stagecraft, eventually growing to enjoy acting as taking on a role and speaking someone else’s words gave him respite from his shy personality.  In 1928 he moved to Massachusetts and met his future wife Margaret Sullavan while working for the University Players, a theater troupe....

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GySgt R. Lee Ermey, USMC (1961-1972)

GySgt R. Lee Ermey, USMC (1961-1972)

Remembering R. Lee Ermey Together We Served is among those remembering R. Lee Ermey, aka ‘Gunny’, famous Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant-turned-Hollywood star. Ermey passed away on April 15 2018, at the age of 74, as a result of complications that arose from pneumonia.  Vietnam veteran and character actor R. Lee "Gunny" Ermey joined 700 Veterans as part of the IAVA/Victory Motorcycles presence at the 2014 America's Parade in New York. Ermey died Sunday from complications of pneumonia, his manager Bill Rogin said. The Early Life of Ronald Lee Ermey Ermey developed a reputation for being a strict authoritarian and was eventually typecast as the stern authority figure, but as a youth he was anything but. Born in 1944 in Kansas, Ermey and his family moved to Zillah in central Washington. Ermey was actually arrested twice for criminal mischief. The second time, the judge gave 17-year old Ermey the option of jail or joining the military. Ermey joined the Marine Corps in 1961, serving in...

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