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They Also Served:
Actors with WWII Military Records

This is a page started on the Combat! web site on January 8, 2002. As I build this, I hope this to be a reference of actors and other entertainers who served in uniform in WWII, with details about their war records. It started with just two detailed biographies. Others to follow. If you have verified information about an actor's war record, please contact me and I'd love to include it on the site. Full credit and bylines for all authored works.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

A

  • Don Adams  - USMC, Contracted malaria on Guadalcanal [Source: Internet Movie Database]
  • John Agar - US Army Air Corps, Sergeant.
    (He appeared in the Combat! episode "The Mockingbird.")
  • Gene Autry - Flight Officer, Air Transport Command, 1942-1946 [Source: Internet Movie Database]
  • Eddie Albert  - US Navy. Drove Amtracks in several Pacific invasions. He served in the landings at Saipan in 1943, where he rescued wounded and stranded Marines from the beachhead. At Tarawa, he was wounded and lost most of his hearing and earned the Bronze Star.
    (He appeared in the Combat! episode "Doughboy")
  • James Arness - US Army, Wounded at Anzio. Purple Heart and Bronze Star [Source: Internet Movie Database]

B

  • Martin Balsam - US Army.
  • James Best - US Army Air Corps.
    (He appeared in the Combat! episode "Mail Call.")
  • Richard Boone - US Navy.
  • Neville Brand - US Army.
    (He appeared in the Combat! episode "Fly Away Home.")
  • Ernest Borgnine he served in the U.S. Navy for twelve years, joining before WWII.
  • Mel Brooks (Melvin Kaminsky) joined army in WWII and became a combat engineer. Cleared German mines after the Battle of the Bulge. He organized shows for the US troops, and when the German army began transmitting propaganda over loudspeakers Brooks is said to have replied with a version of Al Jolson's 'Toot-toot-tootsie'. (Information from BBC H2G2.)
  • Charles Bronson - US Army. Conflicting stories...
    (Bronson appeared in the Combat! episode "Heritage.")
  • Richard Burton - Royal Navy.

C

  • Art Carney  - US Army. Carney went to Normandy in July of 1944 as a replacement to the 28th Division in position around St Lô. He was part of a 30 calibre machine gun squad. On 15 August 1944 he had just taken up his position and was hit in the right leg by mortar shrapnel. After receiving field treatment, he was sent back to Britain and then the US. He once said of his military career, "Never fired a shot and maybe never wanted to. I really cost the government money." [source Osprey Military Journal]
  • Julia Child served with the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) in Ceylon and China during WWII. [Source: They Also Served by Scott Baron]
  • Jeff Chandller - US Army.
  • Robert Clary - In a Nazi concentration camp [Source: Internet Movie Database]
  • Jackie Coogan  - US Army Air Corps. Enlisted in Army March 1941. After Pearl Harbor, requested transfer to 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, the unit was sent to India where, by using CG-4A gliders, it airlifted crack British troops under Gen. Orde Wingate during the night aerial invasion of Burma (Mar. 5, 1944), landing them in a small jungle clearing 100 miles behind Japanese lines. [Source: US Air Force museum - www.wpafb.af.mil]
  • Tony Curtis - US Navy joined 1943 at age 17. In Tokyo Bay he watched the surrender ceremonies from the Signal Bridge of the USS Proteus. [Source The Tender Tale]

D

  • Ossie Davis - US Army [Source: Internet Movie Database]
  • Kirk Douglas - US Navy [Source: Internet Movie Database]
  • Charles Durning  - US Army. Durning landed at Omaha Beach in the D-Day invasion. He survived the landing, but was wounded in an ambush during the Battle of the Bulge. He was captured, escaped, and narrowly missed assassination at the Malmedy Massacre. He won three Purple Hearts and the Silver Star. He still carries his memories and battle fatigue to this day. [source Osprey Military Journal]

E

  • Maurice Evans  was in a Special Entertainment Unit that toured the South Pacific.

F

  • Douglas Fairbanks Jr. - US Navy. He joined the naval reserves before the war.  During the war he served on the Battleship Massachuesetts and was a Commando raider sent on several land attack missions. He retired from the reserves, years later, as a full Captain. He wrote about his war years in the book "A Hell of a War" which also covers his duties in helping organize the forerunners of today's Navy Seals.
  • Henry Fonda  - US Navy. Bronze Star for Valor.
  • Glenn Ford - US Navy. In addition to his WWII service, he served in the reserves during the Korean War and the Viet Nam War. He retired as a Captain in the US Naval Reserve. [Information provided by Tom Mischke, Commander, USNR (ret.)]

G

  • Clark Gable - Captain, US Army Air Corps. Although beyond draft age, Clark Gable enlisted as a private in the Air Corps on Aug. 12, 1942 at Los Angeles. He attended Officers' Candidate School at Miami Beach and graduated as a second lieutenant. He then attended aerial gunnery school and in Feb. 1943, on personal orders from Gen. Arnold, went to England to make a motion picture of aerial gunners in action. He was assigned to the 351st Bomb Group at Polebrook and although neither ordered nor expected to do so, flew operational missions over Europe in B-17s to obtain the combat film footage he believed was required for producing the movie entitled "Combat America." Gable returned to the U.S. in Oct. 1943 and was relieved from active duty as a major on Jun. 12, 1944 at his own request, since he was over age for combat.  [Source: US Air Force museum - wpafb.af.mil]
  • Frank Gorshin - US Army (Appeared in the Combat episode The Medal)
  • Shecky Greene - US Navy

H

  • Alan Hale US Coast Guard during WWII. 
  • Sterling Hayden USMC
  • Jack Hawkins - Volunteered to serve in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He spent most of his military career arranging entertainment for the British forces in India [Source: Internet Movie Database]
  • David Hedison
  • Audrey Hepburn, as a child she was a courier for World War II resistance fighters in Holland
  • Benny Hill - British Army
  • William Holden - US Army [Source: Internet Movie Database]

J

  • Rick Jason - US Army Air Corps

K

  • Bob Keeshan - ("Captain Kangaroo") U.S. Marines, enlisted two weeks before his 18th birthday. He saw no combat because his enlistment was just two months before the bombing of Hiroshima [Source snopes.com]
  • Brian Keith - USMC, Aerial gunner [Source: Internet Movie Database]
  • George Kennedy - US Army, served 16 Years [Source: Internet Movie Database]
  • Werner Klemperer - US Army [Source: Internet Movie Database]
  • Ted Knight - "From what I have found in research, Ted was a Combat Engineer and thus found himself in one of the early units to enter Berlin AFTER the Russians had secured it. Remember, Eisenhower declared Berlin to be merely a "prestige objective" and cancelled plans to airdrop the 82nd Airborne onto Tempelhof Airfield, leaving the taking of Berlin to our Soviet allies. As far as Knight's "bronze stars", they actually were "battle stars" awarded for campaign participation and added to the European-African-Middle Eastern Theater Medal (EAM). My father, who served with Third Army as a Machine Gunner T/5, had five battle stars for his EAM medal. This is not taking anything away from the late Mr. Knight. But battle stars did not signify any particular individual act of bravery or conspicuous gallantry under fire, those acts were rewarded by medals such as the Soldier's Medal, the Bronze Star (first awarded in 1944) or the Silver Star and, of course, higher awards, such as the Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Service Cross and Medal of Honor. Of the various obits, including those in the entertainment business (of which I work) I checked, I find no mention of any particular awards for gallantry, although it is is possible he did earn some. As an aside, another guest star, the late Neville Brand, was in fact the fifth most decorated soldier in the Army during the war. He was the sergeant who cared more for his pigeons than Saunder's squad in one episode." information provided by Dana Eugene Creasy
  • Don Knotts - USA 1943 [Source: Internet Movie Database]

L

  • Burt Lancaster - US Army [Source: Internet Movie Database]
  • Jack Lemmon - US Navy Reserve 1945-1946 [Source: A&E's biography]

M

  • Strother Martin - US Navy Swimming instructor [Source: Internet Movie Database]
  • Lee Marvin - US Marines, wounded in the battle of Saipan
  • Patrick MacNee British Royal Navy.
  • Steve McQueen USMC
  • Jan Merlin - Enlisted in US Navy April, 1942, served as a destroyer torpedoman until April 1946, honorably discharged. Played Roger Manning, Space Cadet!
  • Burgess Meredith - US Army Air Corps [Source: Internet Movie Database]
  • Gary Merrill US Army
  • Robert Montgomery - US Navy Reserve
  • Audie Murphy - US Army, most decorated soldier of WWII
    (Audie Murphy books and films)

N

  • David Niven Royal Army. His relates several charming tales of his war service (including the time he lets a German general slip away) in his autobiography The Moon's a Balloon 

O

  • Caroll O’Connor - Merchant Marines 1942 [Source: Internet Movie Database]

P

  • Jack Palance US Army Air Corps. 455th bomb group. Required facial reconstruction from terrible injuries received in 1943 when his B17 crash landed in Britain.
  • Dick Peabody - US Navy
  • Tyrone Power - USMC Pilot in the South Pacific.

Q

  • Anthony Quayle Royal Artillery

R

  • Jason Robards Jr - US Navy.  He was a radioman on duty at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack. He wrote about his experiences in A Hell of a War.
  • Ronald Reagan  - Captain, US Army Air Corps.  Because of a severe hearing loss, he was not allowed any flying duties.  However, he appeared in training films.  Prior to the war, he was a cavalry officer in the Nebraska National Guard.
  • Carl Reiner Entered army In 1942 and trained as a radio operator. He later studied French on assignment at Georgetown University to become an interpreter, but became a teletype operator in the Signal Corps where, on the way to Iwo Jima from Hawaii, was assigned to Maurice Evans' Special Entertainment Unit. For 18 months, he toured the South Pacific as a comedian in GI reviews. (Info from the DickVanDykeShow.com)
  • Don Rickles - US Navy.  Destroyer duty. He has said of one deployment, "It was so hot and humid, the crew rotted."
  • Andy Rooney - (okay, not an actor, but he is a TV personality) Sergeant, US Army. Early in war served with artillery regiment assigned to England. Joined Stars And Stripes in London. In 1943, Rooney is among first correspondents allowed aboard B-17 bombers attacking Germany. He wrote of his war experiences in the book My War.
  • Mickey Rooney - US Army. PFC. Served 21 months with a unit that entertained the troops [Source: Internet Movie Database]

S

  • Albert Salmi - US Army.
    (He appeared in the Combat! episode "Cat and Mouse.")
  • Charles Schultz (cartoonist)  - US Army. Staff sergeant and leader of machine gun squad.
  • Rod Serling - US Army paratroopers [Source: Internet Movie Database]
  • Robert Stack - US Navy.  Because of his expertise as an Olympic champion skeet shooter, he was assigned to teach anti-aircraft gunnery.
  • Rod Stieger  - Torpedoman, US Navy. Falsified his age to enlist at 16 [Source: A&E's biography]
  • Jimmy Stewart - US Army Air Corps.
  • Eli Wallich (Magnificent Seven) was an admin clerk/Sgt in WWII.  The Skipper on Gilligan's Island served with the Coast Guard during WWII. 

W

  • Judge Wapner of The People's Court was saved from a sniper's bullet when it lodged in a can of tuna he was carrying while an Army officer in the Pacific [Source: They Also Served]
  • Eli Wallach Sergeant US Army Medical Corps as an admin clerk.
  • Jack Warden Served in the 101st Airborne during WWII.
  • James Whitmore - USMC. WWII interrupted his pre-law studies at Yale. He received his degree while at boot camp and served as an officer in the Marine Corps. [Source: actor's publicity material]
    (He appeared in the Combat! episode "The Cassock")

Thank you to John Barlow, David Cronan, Marco Faccioni, Liz Garvin, Richard A. Landgraff, Patrick J. McCall, Tom Mischke, Donald Occhi, Scott Schlitte, and Pete Weiler. for providing additional information for this page.

Actors who served during other times:

Alan Bates - Royal Air Force, Humphrey Bogart - US Navy, wounded in World War One, tried to enlist in WWII but was turned down because of his age, Michael Caine - Royal Fusiliers, Sean Connery - Royal Navy

For more information about Actors in World War II see:

International Stars at War  by Scott Baron
     The last in a popular series on movie stars in the military, this handsome book provides readers with a guide to film actors of many nations who served in various branches of their own military forces. Because they appeared in Hollywood movies, many of these figures will be familiar to Americans.
     Most of them date their service to World War II. Among the more than sixty stars featured are UK actors Richard Attenborough, Richard Burton, Michael Caine, Royal Navy gunner Sean Connery, Alex Guinness, Rex Harrison, Anthony Hopkins (who spent a year with the Royal Artillery during the Cold War), Ray Milland, Roger Moore (a first lieutenant with the British Army in occupied West Germany after WWII), David Niven, Michael Rennie, and Peter Ustinov. Those from Canada include Lorne Greene, Raymond Massey, and Walter Pidgeon. The Frenchmen include Maurice Chevalier and Charles Boyer. Also featured are Laurence Harvey of South Africa, Peter Finch of Australia, Oskar Werner of Germany, Toshiro Mifune of Japan, and Audrey Hepburn, who as a child was a courier for World War II resistance fighters in Holland.
Hardcover: 264 pages ;
Dimensions (in inches): 1.09 x 9.24 x 6.18
Publisher: Naval Institute Press
Learn more about International Stars at War ...

Stars at War
by Michael Munn
(out of print, used copies available online)

They Also Served: Military Biographies of Uncommon Americans by Scott Baron
Over 500 condensed military biographies. Prominent in their fields, whether it be law, medicine, or the arts, their one commonality is that when our country called, they answered.
Paperback: 320 pages
Dimensions (in inches): 0.96 x 9.01 x 6.03
Publisher: Military Information Enterprises;
Learn more about They Also Served


 

 

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