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c.1910s-1960s

Celebrities in the service

Vintage photos show famous American musicians, writers and film actors in the military

The official day of celebrating our veterans may be over, but that’s no reason to stop paying tribute to those who have served.

To that end, today’s Retronaut post takes a look at faces you might know from a movie, a book jacket or an album cover—and shows you them in uniform.

Clark Gable: Gable entered the armed forces when his wife, Carole Lombard, was killed in a plane crash—the first war-related American female casualty of World War II. Gable was 41, and Lombard had been his third wife. Based in England, Gable flew five combat missions, and was promoted to Major. His discharge papers were signed by Captain Ronald Reagan.
Fred Ramage/Getty Images
Humphrey Bogart: He joined the U.S. Navy in the final year of the First World War, at age 19. After the Armistice of November 1918, he remained in service, helping to transport troops back to America from the European theatres of war.
Getty Images
“At eighteen, war was great stuff. Paris! Sexy French girls! Hot damn!”
Humphrey Bogart
Paul Newman: He was a member of the U.S. Navy. Dropped from the V-12 pilot training program at Yale because he was colorblind, Newman served as a radioman and rear gunner, and flew in an Avenger torpedo bomber as a turret gunner.
Public Domain
Jimi Hendrix: Caught joy-riding stolen cars, a 19-year-old Hendrix was given the choice of joining the Army or serving a prison sentence. He chose the Army and enlisted in 1961. Assigned to the 101st Airborne Division—aka the Screaming Eagles—Hendrix wrote to his father asking for his guitar. Hendrix completed his paratrooper training, but was regarded as unfit for army life, and given an honorable discharge.
Public Domain
“There’s nothing but physical training and harassment here for two weeks, then when you go to jump school … you get hell.”
Jimi Hendrix
James Stewart: At the outbreak of World War II, Stewart already held a pilot license. He was drafted in October 1940, but was rejected for being too skinny. He worked with an MGM body builder, and in March of 1941, became the first leading American movie star in military uniform, at age 33. During the war, he rose from the rank of private to colonel.
Peter Stackpole/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Elvis Presley: Here third from left, Presley was a solider in the US army for just two years, from 1958 to 1960. He was 23 when he was called up. The various branches of the American military had each attempted to recruit Presley—but Presley elected to be a normal soldier.
Don Cravens/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
“People were expecting me to goof up. I was determined to prove otherwise.”
Elvis Presley
Ernest Hemingway: Like Bogart, he joined the U.S. war effort in 1918, serving as an ambulance driver in Italy. In July of that year, at age 18, Hemingway was wounded by a mortar attack, but helped Italian troops to safety, and was awarded the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery. He also received wounds to his legs from shrapnel.
Corbis/Getty Image
“When you go to war as a boy you have a great illusion of immortality. Other people get killed; not you…Then when you are badly wounded the first time you lose that illusion and you know it can happen to you.”
Ernest Hemingway
John Coltrane: The jazz saxophonist joined the Navy on August 6, 1945—the day that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. At that time, the Navy was segregated. A 19-year-old Coltrane was trained in a black-only training ground and while he was there, the Second World War came to an end. However, Coltrane was sent to serve on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
Getty Images
Jack Kerouac: 20-year-old Kerouac dropped out of Columbia University, and joined the U.S. Merchant Navy. The ship he served on was the U.S. transport ship Dorchester. Kerouac left the Navy and returned to Columbia in October 1942. Three months later the Dorchester was torpedoed, and 600 crew members died. A month after returning to Columbia, Kerouac left again and joined the U.S. Naval Reserve. Like Hendrix, he was found to be unfit for service and discharged.
Public Domain
“My mother is very worried over my having joined the Merchant Marine but I need money for college, I need adventure, of a sort (the real adventure of rotting wharves and seagulls, winey waters and ships, ports, cities, and faces & voices).”
Jack Kerouac
Arnold Schwarzenegger: In 1965, an 18-year-old Schwarzenegger carried out his one-year mandatory service in the Austrian army. During his training he went AWOL in order to compete in a body-building championship, and as a result was held for a week in a military prison.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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