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10 Celebrities Who Served in the Second World War [Part 1]

Here are ten familiar faces you might not have known had a background in the military. Stay tuned for part 2.

Bob Barker

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Before solidifying his legacy as the host of “The Price is Right”, Bob Barker served in the United States Navy as a fighter pilot. He enlisted after attending Drury College on a basketball scholarship, but the war ended before he was assigned to a sea-going mission.

Mel Brooks

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It’s hard to think that famous funnyman Mel Brooks was a battle-hardened veteran of the Second World War. Brooks was drafted while studying psychology at Brooklyn College and served as a corporal in the 1104 Engineer Combat Battalion, 78th Infantry Division, defusing land mines.

James Doohan

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Famous for his role as the chief engineer of the starship Enterprise, James Doohan enlisted in the Royal Canadian Artillery and was a member of the 14th Field Battery, 2nd Canadian Infantry Division.

Doohan was eventually commissioned a lieutenant and his first combat mission was storming Juno Beach on D-Day. He shot two German snipers that day and was shot six times by friendly fire, four in the leg, one in the chest, and one in the right middle finger. The bullet to the chest was stopped by a silver cigarette case his brother had given him, and the bullet to his finger eventually had to be amputated, a wound Doohan hid during the filming of “Star Trek.”

Hugh Hefner
Straight out of high school, this soon-to-be Playboy mogul signed up for the U.S. Army as an infantry clerk. Although he won a sharpshooter badge for his accuracy with the M1 Garand, Hefner’s military career mainly involved writing articles and producing cartoons for army newspapers. Hefner was released from the military two years later in 1946, when he proceeded to attend the Chicago Art Institute.   

Charlton Heston

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It may come as no surprise that the former president of the National Rifle Association of America has a military background. Charlton Heston enlisted in 1944 and served two years as a radio operator and aerial gunner with the 77th Bombardment Squadron of the Eleventh Air Force. By the time Heston left the military, he had reached the rank of staff sergeant.  

Joe DiMaggio
Already having achieved fame through his baseball career prior to the war, Joe DiMaggio’s time in the military saw him reach the rank of sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Forces. He spent much of as a physical education instructor and continued to play baseball during his service in exhibition games against major- and minor-league teams, and even gained 10 pounds from a special athlete-only diet he was being served. Embarrassed by his cushy lifestyle, he requested a combat assignment, but was denied.

Clark Gable

Another pre-war celebrity, Clark Gable joined the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1942. His studio, MGM, was initially reluctant to let their star actor risk his life in the war, going so far as to arrange for his friend and cinematographer Andrew McIntyre to enlist alongside him to accompany him through training. Gable was eventually promoted to captain while he was with the 351st Bomb Group and flew five combat missions.

Adolf Hitler was a fan of Gable and put a bounty on him for anyone who could capture the actor and bring him to Berlin unharmed.

Gable eventually was reassigned to a role making propaganda films for the U.S. government. He received a number of awards during the war, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and World War II Victory Medal.

Bea Arthur
Actress, activist, comedian and singer Bea Arthur, served in the U.S. Marine Corps Womens Reserve during the Second World War. She worked as a truck driver and typist before receiving an honorable discharge in September 1945.

Ronald Reagan

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This soon-to-be president signed up for the U.S. Army Enlisted Reserve and became a second lieutenant in the Officers’ Reserve Corps after completing 14 home-study Army Extension Courses.

Reagan was ordered to active duty in 1942, but due to poor vision he was classified for limited service only and never sent overseas. He spent most of his time in the military in the First Motion Picture Unit, where he was eventually promoted to captain. By the end of the war, the unit had produced some 400 training films.

Woody Guthrie

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Known for his folk songs and anti-fascist lyrics, Woody Guthrie hoped for a gig as a USO performer rather than being drafted as a soldier. His hopes were dashed when he was assigned to the U.S. Merchant Marine in June 1943. He served as a mess man and dishwasher and often performed for his crew on transatlantic trips. In 1945, Guthrie’s ties to communism made him ineligible for further service in the Merchant Marine and he was drafted into the U.S. Army.

Click here to read part 2


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An informative primer on Canada’s crucial role in the Normandy landing, June 6, 1944.