18 MeTV stars who were U.S. Armed Forces veterans

Let's salute these stars who served.

Before becoming television stars, dozens upon dozens of memorable MeTV faces served our nation in the Armed Forces. It's no wonder. For American men of certain generations, especially those who were of age during World War II, military service was probable. Many actors who rose to fame in the 1950s and 1960s had honed their skills in Army Special Services.

There are too many to list here, and we do not wish to overlook anyone. This is a mere sampling of the honorable men who gave their service and grace our screen. Please, share others in the comments.

1. Jamie Farr

The dog tags Klinger wears in M*A*S*H were no prop. They belonged to the actor himself. He was the rare cast member of M*A*S*H to have actually served in the Korean War. Farr underwent basic training with the 6th Infantry Division Fort Ord, in California. He served for two years, with time in Japan and Korea. Recently, Farr sat down with us to pick his 10 favorite M*A*S*H episodes.

2. Clint Eastwood

The American icon and Rawhide star was also at Fort Ord. There he was a lifeguard and swimming instructor. Those skills came in handy when he was flying on a Douglas AD bomber that ran out of fuel and splashed down into the ocean off the northern California shore. Eastwood escaped from the sinking fuselage with the pilot, and the two swam 3 miles back to land.

Image: CBS Television

3. James Garner

After some time in United States Merchant Marines, in which he discovered he suffered from seasickness, Garner enlisted in the National Guard. For a little over a year, he served as a rifleman in the 5th Regimental Combat Team in Korea. He was wounded twice, receiving the Purple Heart for both injuries — though the latter was not awarded to him until 1983.


Image: AP Photo / Wally Fong

4. Alan Hale, Jr.

Yep, the Skipper served in the Coast Guard. He held the rank of Seaman E-3 when he served between 1942 and 1945. When Hale died in early 1990, his ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean.

5. Buddy Ebsen

The future Jed Clampett and Barnaby Jones also served in the Coast Guard. In 1941, two years after being cast as the Tin Man The Wizard of Oz and sadly losing the gig due to medical reasons, Ebsen joined the military. He served on the Navy frigate USS Pocatello, a weather ship that served on Station Able.


Image: uscg.mil

6. Don Knotts

The West Virginia native served in an Army comedy troupe during WWII. Knotts served from 1943–46. He was part of a performance group called Stars and Gripes, which performed in the Pacific. Earlier this year, someone uploaded an autograph card to Flickr that featured signatures of the Stars and Gripes performers. Knotts wrote: "Happy Birthday, Mrs. Checco, from Al's Morgantown buddy, Don Knotts."

Image: The Everett Collection

7. Leonard Nimoy

In 1953, Nimoy enlisted in the United States Army Reserve at Fort McPherson, Georgia, serving for a year and a half until 1955. He left as a sergeant, and he had some future celebs under him, as you'll see. Part of Nimoy's time in the military was spent with the Army Special Services, putting on shows which he wrote, narrated and emceed. After his discharge, he drove a cab.

8. Ken Berry

The star of F Troop, Mama's Family and Mayberry R.F.D. was there with the future Spock! After some time in Artillery, Berry served under Sergeant Nimoy in the Special Services Corp, the entertainment branch of the Army. Berry kept his tap shoes by his side in the service and won talent contests. After serving, as a contract player at Universal, he utilized the GI Bill to study ballet, jazz dance, singing and acting.

9. Adam West

After he was drafted into the U.S. Army, West spent part of his time in the military helping to launch a military television station. The ultimate Batman (in our eyes, at least) was an announcer on the American Forces Network.

10. Bob Newhart

Newhart was drafted into the U.S. Army and served stateside during the Korean War. He was a personnel manager until being discharged in 1954.

11. Don Adams

Before he became Maxwell Smart, Adams saw serious action in World War II as a Marine. He participated in the Battle of Guadalcanal. He was shot in combat and contracted a severe form of malaria, with a high probability of fatality. After an evac, Adams recouperated for months in a Navy hospital in New Zealand. Healthy again, he became a drill instructor.

12. Bob Crane

Yep, Hogan served in real life, too. He spent two years in the National Guard in Stamford, Connecticut.

13. Telly Savalas

Savalas also served three years (1943–1946) in the United States Army during World War II, working for the U.S. State Department as host of the Your Voice of America series. The cool customer certainly had the voice for it.


14. Ted Knight

Knight dropped out of high school to enlist in the United States Army in World War II. He was a member of A Company, 296th Combat Engineer Battalion, earning five battle stars while serving in Europe. He was in one of the early units to enter Berlin after the Soviets secured the city.

15. Jack Klugman

After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Klugman later roomed as a young struggling actor with Charles Bronson — who had been a gunner in the United States Army Air Forces.

16. Chuck Connors

The Rifleman stud did it all. Connors played in the NBA, MLB and served during World War II, after enlisting in the Army at Fort Knox. The multitalented man spent most of the war as a tank-warfare instructor at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and at West Point.

Image: The Everett Collection

17. Rod Serling

Serling enlisted in the U.S. Army the morning after his high school graduation. He served with the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division. Sent to the Pacific theatre, Serling fought on the Philippine island of Leyte, was part of the force that took Manila back from the Japanese and later was assigned to the occupation force in Japan. Among his military decorations are the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Philippine Liberation Medal.


Image: therodserlingzone.tumblr

18. Steve McQueen

That rebel pose of this ultimate man's man was no act. He was promoted to P.F.C. in the Marines — and demoted to private seven times for rebelliousness. He even spent 41 days in the brig after overextending a weekend pass to stay with his girlfriend. Eventually, he straightened up. In an Arctic exercise, he saved five other Marines, yanking them from a tank before it broke through the ice. Later, he protected Harry Truman as one of the honor guard for the president's yacht.


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MattUnderwood 46 months ago
Werner Klemperer (Col. Klink in Hogan's Heroes) served in WWII in the U.S. Army. He was in a Special Services unit based in Hawaii, and they toured all over the Pacific entertaining the troops.

John Banner (Sgt. Schultz in Hogan's Heroes) served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in WWII as a supply sergeant, and even posed for a recruiting poster.

Leon Askin (Gen. Burkhalter in Hogan's Heroes) served as a staff sergeant in WWII in the U.S. Army Air Corps.

Ernest Borgnine (LCdr. Quentin McHale in McHale's Navy) was an old "China sailor" in the U.S. Navy from 1935 to 1941, when he was honorably discharged after 6 years service. Two months after his discharge, Pearl Harbor was bombed and he re-enlisted and served all through WWII in anti-submarine warfare off the United States' Atlantic coast, being honorably discharged again in 1945, serving a total of 10 years.

Joe Flynn (Capt. Binghamton in McHale's Navy) served for 3 years in WWII in the U.S Army's Medical Corps.

Tim Conway (EnsignParker in McHale's Navy) served in the U.S. Army from 1956 to 1958.

Tony Randall (Felix Unger in The Odd Couple) served four years in the U.S. Army's Signal Corps in WWII, including work in the Signal Intelligence Service (the codebreaking section of the Signal Corps, which became the Army Security Agency in late 1945).

William Hopper (private investigator Paul Drake in Perry Mason) served with distinction in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Theater in WWII, both as a member of the Office of Strategic Services (the O.S.S., predecessor to the C.I.A.), and as a member of the Underwater Demolition Teams (U.D.T., or "Navy Frogmen", the main predecessor of the Navy Seals).
Serbella 53 months ago
Richard Boone (Have Gun Will Travel) joined the United States Navy in 1941 and served on three ships in the Pacific during World War II, seeing combat as an aviation ordnanceman, enlisted Naval Aircrewman and tail gunner on Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bombers.
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