Veterans Day: Celebrities Who Served in the Military
Today we celebrate Veterans Day in recognition of the men and women who have served in the armed forces.
In honor of the holiday, here’s a look at a few famous veterans in Geni’s World Family Tree:
1. Buster Keaton
Buster Keaton’s WWI draft card / NARA
Remembered as one of the funniest comedians of the Silent Film Era, Buster Keaton served in the United States Army in France with the 40th Infantry Division during World War I. Born Joseph Frank Keaton, the silent film actor submitted his World War I draft registration card at the age of 21. Just two weeks after the start of the war, Keaton made his film debut in The Butcher Boy with Fatty Arbuckle, whom Keaton listed as his employer on his draft card. Shortly after, Keaton was drafted into the U.S. Army. During his time in France, Keaton helped entertain the troops with a group of soldiers, who called themselves “The Sunshine Players.” After he was discharged, Keaton returned to his career in Hollywood. His military experience would later influence many of his films, including The General, which is often considered one of the greatest films in the history of cinema.
2. Paul Newman
U.S. Navy photo / Wikimedia Commons
While at Yale, Paul Newman enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served during World War II. He initially enrolled in the pilot training program, but his colorblindness prevented him from completing it. He trained as a radioman and rear gunnar for torpedo bombers. While stationed at Barbers Point, Hawaii, Newman was responsible for training replacement combat pilots and air crewmen. Shortly before the Battle of Okinawa, he was ordered to the USS Bunker Hill with a draft of replacements, but his pilot’s ear infection kept their plane from leaving with the rest of their squadron. Luck would be on Newman’s side. Just days later, their unit was killed aboard the aircraft carrier when the ship was targeted in a kamikaze attack.
3. Johnny Cash
Staff Sargent John R. Cash / NSF
Before he became known as the “Man in Black,” legendary singer Johnny Cash enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on July 7, 1950, just as the Korean War began. He was assigned to the 12th Radio Squadron Mobile of the U.S. Air Force Security Service at Landsberg Germany as a Morse Code operator. During his service, Cash intercepted transmissions from the Soviet Army. Cash was the first radio operator to pick up the news of Joseph Stalin’s death. He used his pay from the military to purchase his first guitar and formed his first band named, The Landsberg Barbarians.
4. Kurt Vonnegut
U.S. Army portrait / Wikimedia Commons
After studying at Cornell University for a couple of years, author Kurt Vonnegut enlisted in the U.S. Army in March 1943. In December 1944, Vonnegut fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive campaign of World War II. During the battle, his sector was overrun by German forces and Vonnegut was captured with about 50 other American soldiers. He was sent to Dresden, Germany and was present during the Allies’ fierce bombing of the city. He and the other prisoners of war survived the bombardment by finding refuge in an underground slaughterhouse meat locker. Immediately after the bombing, the POWs were put to work excavating bodies from the rubble. In May 1945, he was liberated by Red Army troops at the border of Saxony and Czechoslovakia. When he returned to the U.S., he was awarded the Purple Heart. The devastation Vonnegut witnessed during the war would have a profound influence on his work later on.
5. Jimmy Stewart
U.S. Air Force photo / Wikimedia Commons
In addition to his successful acting career, Jimmy Stewart also had a very notable career in the military. A veteran of World War II and the Vietnam War, Stewart had deep military roots in his family history. His grandfather fought in the Civil War, while his father served during the Spanish-American War and World War I. In 1940, Stewart was drafted into the U.S. Army, but was initially rejected for failing to meet the weight requirements. After working to increase his weight, Stewart eventually succeeded in joining the Air Corps. Already a notable actor, Stewart received a lot of attention during his training and initially, was used as a symbol for new recruits. A trained pilot, Stewart flew bombardiers, and by the end of the war, he had flown 20 combat missions. In 1959, he was promoted to brigadier general, becoming the highest-ranking actor in military history.