Veterans Day is a time to honor and remember past and current military personnel who served to protect our freedom and liberties, some paying the ultimate price of their lives. There are those who make the armed forces their career and way of life, and then there are others who serve and then choose another profession. Nearly half of America’s presidents, beginning with George Washington, have been veterans, as have many other famous people. Here’s a selection of well-known veterans who you might have heard of, and some who might surprise you:
Although Harriet Tubman is most known for her work in the Underground Railroad, she is also recognized as the first woman to lead a military project in her role as a spy for the Union during the Civil War. Working with Colonel James Montgomery, her spy ring was able to free about 750 slaves in South Carolina.
The martial arts and movie star wasn’t born with those karate chops and kicks; he actually learned them while serving in the military. After high school, he joined the Air Force, working towards a career in law enforcement. While he was stationed in Korea as a security officer, he realized he wasn’t able to arrest violent people without using his weapon, so he started studying Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwan Do. In 1969, Norris won Black Belt magazine’s “Fighter of the Year,” and went on to found 32 martial arts schools, as well as getting hooked on the acting bug. Audiences loved him after seeing his performance in Way of the Dragon, where he was the legendary Bruce Lee’s opponent. He continues supporting the military and veterans, and on March 28, 2007, he was made honorary United States Marine by Commandant Gen. James T. Conway.
Elvis Presley was already on the road to stardom with music hits such as “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Love Me Tender” when he was drafted into the military. In 1958 he joined the Army and was sent to Germany for around 18 months. While there, he met Priscilla Beaulieu, whom he later married. During an interview with Armed Forces Radio and Television, he explained the expectations of the fans and how he dealt with them:
“I was in a funny position. People were expecting me to mess up, to goof up in one way or another. They thought I couldn’t take it and so forth, and I was determined to go to any limits to prove otherwise, not only to the people who were wondering, but to myself.”
Best known for her character Dorothy on the sitcom The Golden Girls, Bea Arthur enlisted as Bernie Frankel during World War II and became one of the first members of the Women’s Reserve. At the time, she needed her parent’ permission because she wasn’t 21 years old yet. She joined the Marine Corps and worked as a truck driver and a typist in Virginia and North Carolina, earning the rank of staff sergeant. After leaving the military in 1945, she started acting on Broadway and earned a Tony Award before turning to television.
In 1955, the Shawshank Redemption actor turned down a scholarship to Jackson State University to join the Air Force. Freeman wanted to be a pilot, but all that changed once he experienced the real thing. He later revealed:
“When I was getting close to being accepted for pilot training, I was allowed to get in a jet airplane. I sat there looking at all those switches and dials and I got the distinct feeling that I was sitting in the nose of bomb. I realized my fantasies of flying and fighting were just that — fantasies. They had nothing to do with the reality of killing people. What I wanted was the movie version. So that was the end of the whole idea of doing anything other than acting for me. I’ve never had any other vocation.”
The western actor and former mayor of Carmel, California, was drafted into the military during the Korean War. He became a swim instructor while stationed in Fort Ord, CA. Eastwood’s swimming abilities came in handy when he was on a plane that ran out of gas, forcing him to jump into the Pacific Ocean and swim a mile to shore.
Ice T, rapper and actor, knew he needed to make a change in his life. “When I had my daughter, I was like, man, I’m going to jail, I got to do something, and I went to an enlistment office,” he said. “Next thing you know, I’m in the military, four years infantry.” While stationed in Hawaii, he was able to afford musical equipment, which helped launch his rap career.