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Emil Knodell retired from the Marines a long time ago, but he’s never stopped thinking like a Marine. Part of that thinking is to do the right thing no matter what situation you find yourself in. When Knodell was recently tested, he made the right decision.
Although Knodell worked in California as a marketing director in the publishing business, when he retired, he returned to his home state of Texas. One of the things Knodell likes to do with his time now is to go to estate sales. There’s nothing boring about estate sales as far as Knodell is concerned. Instead, he says, "There's a little element of treasure hunting, the adventure of finding something of historical interest.” He goes on these adventures about once a month.
That’s how Knodell found himself at an estate sale in Missouri City, Texas. He wasn’t looking for anything specific. “I always come to a sale with an open mind because you never know,” says Knodell. “It’s always good to come at the half-price time because then the big fun starts.”
His bargain-hunting tactic paid off when he spotted a hand-made walnut dresser with a perfectly intact marble top that was probably made in the 1890s. Although Premiere Estate Sales Network, which was managing the sale had originally priced the antique dresser at $300, by the time Knodell got there on the third day of the sale, the price had dropped to $100.
It wasn’t just the price, though, that attracted Knodell to the chest of drawers. He later explained that, "Because it has a nice marble top, I hope to use it in my dining room.” He was impressed by the piece’s beautiful craftsmanship, too. "It was made of solid walnut and had great pulls on it," Knodell said. "It had a lot of original integrity to it. I thought it was remarkable that the marble top had survived and not been broken."
Knodell would have been satisfied if he had walked away from the estate sale with a great piece of furniture. The real adventure, though, began after he had paid for the piece and, with help from the estate sales people, started loading it into his camper top. The chest of drawers was too tall to go into the chest standing upright, so Knodell and his helpers gently turned the dresser on its side. That’s when they heard something unexpected.
The antique dresser was so solidly built that, barring the quiet banging of the wooden drawers as they were shifted, the guys should not have heard anything as they moved the dresser around. To their amazement, though, as they moved the dresser around, they heard a loud metallic rattling.
Jeff Allen, a representative for Premiere Estate Sales Network, explained that "As soon as we laid it down, it started making all this racket on the inside.” Trying to describe the sound, Allen added that "When we laid it down on the side, it sounded like a slot machine. I said, 'What in the world was that?' I figured I would look and see a bunch of marbles or nails."
The men started opening the dresser’s three drawers, but they were as empty as they had been when the dresser was first put up for sale. The men began investigating more closely. The marble top was securely attached to the dresser and none of the drawers had any hidden backs or bottoms.
However, when they looked closely at the baseboard under the third drawer, they realized that it was, in fact, a hidden compartment. After only a little investigation, they figured out how to open the secret compartment – and they were stunned by what they saw.
“There were rings, diamonds, gold and all kinds of stuff,” said Allen. “It was a real adrenaline rush. Both of us were in shock for a second." They had a treasure in front of them and what a treasure.
As they turned over the items filling the secret drawer, Knodell and Allen saw Civil War medals, a sentimental lock of hair, jewelry with pearls, emeralds, diamonds, and rubies, gold and silver coins, and antique military dog tags. Nor was this just costume jewelry and “junktiques.” This was the real thing. An appraisal revealed that the dresser’s contents were worth about $15,000.
At this point, Knodell could have walked away, having gotten himself a $15,000 treasure chest for $100. Knodell, however, saw things differently. He later explained, "I’m an old ex-Marine and I try to do the right thing. Jeff also, the man in charge, his immediate reaction was, 'Let’s call the owner.' There was never a question of anyone keeping it; it was: 'This is fantastic. Let’s call the owner and get the stuff back to them.'”
Knodell knew that he would never find piece if he walked away with these family treasures. "I bought the chest drawers,” Knodell said. “I didn't buy those things. If I kept them, I would never feel right about it. There would be a cloud over the whole thing. It's a feeling more than anything else."
Once Knodell made the decision that, even though he had bought the chest and its contents fair and square, he could not in good conscience keep the treasures from the secret drawer, Allen contacted the son of the man who had owned the dresser. The treasure was a huge surprise to the son too. "He remembers that dresser in a house in Michigan when he was a little child -- in his grand folks’ house," said Allen. "And he had no idea there was a hidden compartment."
**Check out these Celebs who have served as true heroes**
Maybe she’s really Wonder Woman after all. After being crowned Miss Israel in 2004, Gal Gadot enlisted as a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) where she taught gymnastics and calisthenics as a combat instructor. In Israel, serving in the IDF is mandatory, but it also made a difference in Gadot’s career.
She believes that she was able to break into acting because Justin Lin, the director of “Fast and Furious,” was impressed by her military experience. “You give two or three years, and it’s not about you,” she said of her time serving with the IDF. “You learn discipline and respect.” She had previously auditioned for the role of Bond girl Camille Montes in “Quantum of Solace,” which also contributed to her joining the “Fast and Furious” cast. Her more recent roles as Wonder Woman in “Batman v. Superman,” “Wonder Woman,” and “Justice League” have brought her worldwide acclaim.
Willie Nelson joined the U.S. Air Force straight out of high school. His military career didn’t last long, however, as he was medically discharged after just nine short months due to back problems. He did take away a bit of wisdom from his months served: “I was in the Air Force a while, and they had what they call ‘policing the area.’ I think that’s a pretty good thing to go by. If everyone just takes care of their own area, then we won’t have any problems. Be here. Be present. Wherever you are, be there. And look around you and see what needs to be changed.”
After the Air Force, he studied agriculture for a while before he dropped out to chase after a career in music, which he finally managed to start when Dr. Ben Parker, who ran a local radio station, decided to give him a chance as a DJ even though he didn’t have any experience working in radio. Nelson used the equipment there to record his first two songs, which were rejected by the local record label.
Tom Selleck is openly proud of his military service. He said, “I was a sergeant in the U.S. Army infantry, National Guard, Vietnam era. We’re all brothers and sisters in that sense.” Selleck served from 1967 to 1973 in the California National Guard. He had already joined 20th Century Fox and was learning acting when he was issued orders for the draft and decided to join the Guard — but when he left the military, Fox dropped his contract.
Selleck pressed on and 11 years later was offered “Magnum, P.I.” He’d filmed six other TV pilots in the intervening years that had gone unsold before finally hitting the role that made him famous. Magnum was a veteran of the US Navy who became a private detective, a role that Selleck played for eight seasons and 163 episodes.
Remember “The Benny Hill Show”? The British slapstick expert was known as one of the funniest silent showmen ever, reaching a record audience of more than 21 million people in 1971. Most people don’t know that Benny Hill also served time in the military. Benny Hill served in the British Army as one of the electrical and mechanical engineers that arrived in Normandy during WWII on September 1, 1944. He was in the 3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Battery. Hill was not a huge fan of his time in the service and preferred to not speak much about it.
We don’t know if his slapstick ways started while he was in the military, but we do know that when he got back, he started working to make his mark in showbusiness. He initially worked in plays and radio, but it’s television where he finally hit his stride with “The Benny Hill Show.”
Chuck Norris became interested in the martial arts while he was stationed in Korea as a member of the U.S. Air Force. At the time, he was in the security police and was upset that he had to draw his weapon to arrest a drunk. He began studying Tae Kwon Do and Tang Soo Do and eventually became the world middleweight karate champion for six years.
During that time, he met Bruce Lee. The two became friends, which led to Norris landing roles in several martial arts films, including “Way of the Dragon.” He played in a number of action movies and TV shows before landing his most famous role as the star of “Walker, Texas Ranger.”
Norris is the inspiration for countless how-tough-is-Chuck Norris-isms, including this one: “Chuck Norris once shot down an enemy fighter plane with his finger, by yelling ‘Bang!’”
The actor, director, and filmmaker wanted to apply to college out of high school, but he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Despite his tough-guy image, Clint Eastwood was a lifeguard working on base for the duration of his service. When he initially started trying to act, after getting out of the military, he was told that his appearance and stature were good, but that he needed acting lessons in order to actually get any work. Apparently, it was his stiff manner and habit of delivering his lines through his teeth that caused the biggest issues, even though he also had trouble following stage directions. Those became major trademarks of his character.
He went on to be an A-lister in Hollywood, starring in too many movies to list. He also has directed many military movies, including “Heartbreak Ridge,” “Flags of our Fathers,” “Firefox,” and “American Sniper.” “American Sniper” is based on the true story of Chris Kyle’s time serving as a Navy SEAL during the Iraq War. This film allowed Eastwood to showcase a deeper take on the effects of war and the stresses our soldiers and their families go through.
Sean Connery is known for his decades-long acting career and as one of the sexiest James Bonds. Just like his character 007, he did spend time in the military, but alas it was not as exciting as Bond’s. Connery served in the Royal Navy and was stationed aboard the HMS Formidable from 1947-1950. Instead of joining MI6, however, he was medically discharged due to a stomach ulcer.
After he was discharged, he held a variety of odd jobs and performed in bodybuilding competitions and as a soccer player. He was actually offered a spot on Manchester United but turned it down to pursue a career in acting because he was already 23 and knew that as a “footballer” he’d have to retire when he was around thirty. Apparently, he made the right choice, since his career has now spanned decades.
Although Harry Belafonte joined the U.S. Navy in 1944 to fight in World War II, he did not end up going overseas. After his discharge, his GI Bill benefits enabled him to further his education at The New School for Social Research. In the late 1940s, he studied acting at The New School’s dramatic workshop and performed with the American Negro Theater. To pay for his acting classes, he sang in New York clubs.
While he won a Tony Award for his performance in “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac,” his career gradually shifted primarily to music. In 1956, his album “Calypso” was, according to Belafonte, the first to sell over 1 million copies. That’s pretty impressive for a debut album. It’s still ranked as number four on Billboard’s list of the top 100 albums of all time, since it held the number-one spot on the US charts for thirty-one weeks and took ninety-nine weeks to drop off the list entirely.
The beloved Walt Disney contributed to the military and American war effort in a unique way. When he first attempted to join the service in 1918 to fight in World War I, the U.S. Army turned him down because he was only 16 at the time. Disney and his creative ways won out, as he forged the date on his birth certificate and was able to join the American Ambulance Corps, a division of the Red Cross. Just days after the war ended, his outfit was shipped off to France where he was assigned to an evacuation hospital and drove trucks and ambulances. He also served in the actual military during World War II. This time, his true talents were put to use creating propaganda cartoons and instructional videos for soldiers. The special unit was appropriately called the “Walt Disney Training Films Unit.”
After the war, he set up Disney Brothers Studio and began developing the animated films that we have all come to know and love. He introduced new techniques for film and animation, which resulted in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Pinocchio,” “Fantasia,” and many other films. By the time he died in 1966, Disney, the son of a failed orange grower and newspaper deliveryman, had grown his net worth to tens of millions of dollars, including a 14% stake in the Walt Disney Corporation worth $20 million.
The host of “The Price is Right” was once an active member of the armed forces. Drew Carey spent six years as a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps. He also started his stand-up career while serving in the military. Carey supports the troops to this day by touring overseas with the USO. “I think if I did not have such a great break, I would still be in the military,” said Carey. “I still wear my hair short and have the glasses. Also, I enjoyed the regimen and camaraderie. I knew that once I left the reserves, I would give back to the military, so I teamed up with the USO.”
When he left the military, he moved to Vegas and worked as a bank teller and at Denny’s, while also writing jokes for David Lawrence, a friend of his who was a disc jockey in Cleveland. That connection ended up spurring him to compete in an open-mic contest and becoming the MC for the Cleveland Comedy Club. Building from that, he appeared on the “Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and finally hit the big time.
Tony Bennett got his first singing job with a military band. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1944 and served in the “Blood and Fire” division in Germany and France. While in Europe, he was demoted from corporal to private due to words exchanged with an officer over Bennett inviting a black friend to eat with him. He was eventually transferred to special services and studied music before returning to the United States. He used his GI Bill benefits to study voice.
After a few years of singing small gigs while in school and waiting tables, he was “discovered” by Pearl Bailey and Bob Hope, the latter of whom brought Bennett along on the road and helped him get his first album with Columbia Records.
John Coltrane’s first recording on the alto saxophone was made in July 1946 while he was a member of the U.S. Navy. Coltrane had enlisted in the Navy on August 6, 1945, one day after the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan. In late 1945, he was shipped to Pearl Harbor as an apprentice seaman. He joined the base swing band and became one of few servicemen in the Navy who served as musicians without having a musicians’ rating. Because the band had only white members, Coltrane played as a “guest performer.”
After his discharge, he started touring with bands back home in Philadelphia, including King Kolax and a band led by Jimmy Heath. He studied jazz theory under Dennis Sandole and slowly improved his repertoire until he was playing both tenor and alto sax in multiple groups. That’s also when he met Miles Davis, who would become something of a rival off and on throughout his career.
For Alan Alda, who served in the U.S. military and played Hawkeye Pierce in the TV series “M*A*S*H,” it seems as if art imitates life. In real life, Alda contracted polio when he was only seven years old, but his parents managed to apply a treatment regimen that ended up saving his life.
Alda joined the U.S. Army Reserve after graduating from Fordham University, where he was in the ROTC. He spent a year at Fort Benning on the Alabama/Georgia border, then served for six months as a gunnery officer in Korea just after the Korean War. As Captain Hawkeye Pierce, he played a medic stationed overseas during the Korean War.
Alda was nominated for 21 Emmy Awards for his role on “M*A*S*H” and won five.
Adam Driver, the actor from the HBO series “Girls” and Kylo Ren in the new “Star Wars” franchise, actually had a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps. 9-11 jolted him into action, and he says that he and his friends all agreed they needed to join after that horrific terrorist attack. Ultimately, he was the only one that actually did.
Driver thrived in the military and felt a sense of unity with his fellow marines. He even created “Arts in the Armed Forces” (AITAF), a non-profit that performs theater for all branches of the military. He liked the discipline the Marine Corps provides and looked forward to deploying, but after serving for more than two years, he injured his sternum mountain biking and was medically discharged before ever seeing any action. Now he plays the leader of armies of stormtroopers in the First Order, which I’m sure draws in part from his military experience.
Charlton Heston enlisted in the Air Force in 1944. He was stationed in Alaska as a radio operator and aerial gunner on the B-25 Mitchell bomber, but he never saw combat. After the war, he and his wife moved moved to New York City and worked as models for a while before managing a playhouse in North Carolina as a way to break into theater.
Later, after he became a Hollywood star, the military asked Heston to lend his distinctive voice to the narration of Department of Energy films about nuclear weapons. Because these films were classified, for this work Heston needed to hold the highest security clearance level in the U.S. at that time.
Toward the end of his life, he was active in the National Rifle Association, which he apparently considered to be connected to his military service, given that the NRA was originally founded by former Union soldiers who were appalled at the marksmanship of their fellows.
The famous novelist and short story writer F. Scott Fitzgerald may be best known for his novel “The Great Gatsby,” but what you may not know is that he dropped out of Princeton University when World War I started and took a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Thinking of the possibility of his death, he was motivated to write in all of his off hours, hoping he could still leave behind a literary legacy. Fitzgerald never did make it to battle though, as the 1918 Armistice was signed just before he was set to be shipped out. His time in the service did produce a draft of what would become his hit debut novel “This Side of Paradise.”
After leaving the Army, Fitzgerald moved to New York City and started working advertising, hoping that he’d be able to make enough money through copywriting that his girlfriend Zelda Sayre would agree to marry him. However, he could not break through into a lucrative career like he had hoped, and when she broke off the engagement, he moved back home with his parents. After revising his novel “The Romantic Egotist” into “This Side of Paradise,” he managed to sell enough copies that Zelda agreed to marry him.
James Stewart had wanted to be a pilot growing up, but his father convinced him to go to Princeton instead of the US Naval Academy. While there, he began acting in plays but rarely saw much success, in part due to the Great Depression. His career in Hollywood was just really starting to take off when he was drafted into the Army in October of 1940.
However, his weight wasn’t high enough for new recruits and he was rejected. After working with a trainer, he managed to get his weight up enough to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps before the United States entered World War II. As an experienced commercial pilot, he was well prepared for the role.
While in training, he took college courses with the goal of obtaining a commission, which he received after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He went through basic flight training and was trained in several different types of aircraft before being transferred to England as the commander of a B-24 bomber squadron. Stewart had flown 20 combat missions by the end of war, and after his active service was complete, he stayed in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. In July 1959, he was promoted to brigadier general.
Hoping to become a pilot, Paul Newman joined the U.S. Navy through Yale’s V-12 college training program. His hopes were crushed soon after when it was discovered that he was colorblind. Instead, he had to settle for basic training where he trained to be a rear-seat radioman and gunner for torpedo bombers. He was discharged in 1946 with military honors including the Good Conduct Medal, American Area Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.
He then attended Kenyon College using the GI Bill and studied drama and economics. After school, he moved to New York, where he soon made his broadway debut in William Inge’s “Picnic.”After a couple years on Broadway, Newman began solidly making his way into film. His first Hollywood production was “The Silver Chalice,” which bombed terribly. However, he quickly made up for it with “Somebody Up There Likes Me” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” which were both successful and launched his career into superstardom.
“All in all, despite my problems, I liked my time in the Marines,” Steve McQueen once said. After a rough early life, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1947. But McQueen was inclined toward disobedience, to put it mildly, and he was demoted seven times. After a weekend pass turned into a two-week “vacation” of his own making, he was arrested, which earned him some time in the brig. During that period, he decided to reform himself. Later, McQueen was training in the Arctic when the ship he was on hit a sandbank. Several tanks and their crews were thrown into the water and many drowned, but McQueen was able to rescue five men.
After his honorable discharge in 1950, McQueen went on to study acting with his G.I. Bill. He earned extra money by competing in motorcycle races on the weekends while he played minor roles on Broadway. In 1955, he moved to California to seek work in Hollywood and quickly became a star.
A U.S. Navy brat, Robert Duvall is the son of a rear admiral and a descendant of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. He graduated college in 1953 and then decided to go the military route himself by enlisting in the U.S. Army. Even then, Duvall was interested in acting and performed in plays while serving. He returned to civilian life after two years of service, using the GI Bill to study acting at New York’s Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater.
He branched into television and film roles starting in the early sixties, with movies like “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Captain Newman, M.D.” He’s still active in the industry today, sixty-six years after his first credit in “Laughter in the Stars,” an adaptation of “The Little Prince,” at Gateway Theatre.
Before “Wheel of Fortune,” Pat Sajak worked as a DJ on Armed Forces Radio — and he sometimes felt bad for how easy he had it. “I used to feel a bit guilty about my relatively soft duty,” he said. “After all, I was billeted (lodged) in a hotel, and there were plenty of nice restaurants around. But I always felt a little better when I met guys who came into town from the field and thanked us for bringing them a little bit of home.”
He’d gotten the position due to his radio career, which had already begun in his teens. He stayed in radio after he left the military, up until he was hired as a weatherman by KNBC-TV in LA in 1977. He stayed there until he was chosen to host NBC’s “Wheel of Fortune” in 1981, which, of course, is the role that brought him national fame.
Ted Williams was a famous Boston Red Sox Player who would go to earn a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But first, he was a patriot at heart who interrupted his baseball playing career to join the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II for three years. He served in World War Two as a second lieutenant and naval aviator. When the war ended, he was transferred to Pearl Harbor so that he could play baseball for the Navy in their game against the Army. Allegedly, the game that year was even better than the actual World Series, with Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, and Stan Musial also in the league.
He went back to baseball after his discharge from the Navy in 1946, but he was recalled to military duty from 1952 to 1953 as a Marine combat aviator during the Korean War. Williams flew a total of 39 combat missions in the Korean War. He never lost his baseball ability, batting 342 with 38 home runs in 1946 after returning home. He had a long-running career in spite of the two pauses for military service.
Long before Bill Cosby played Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, the funny-yet-firm TV dad, and even longer before his April 2018 conviction for sexual assault, he was a U.S. Navy hospital corpsman. From 1956 through 1960, Cosby served aboard ships and at the Bethesda Naval Hospital where he worked with Korean War casualties. He was honorably discharged, and in 2011 he was given the title of honorary chief petty officer. The Navy has since revoked the title, citing the allegations that led to Cosby’s court troubles and stating that they conflict with the Navy’s core values.
After he left the Navy, he attended Temple University on a track and field scholarship until he decided to pursue a career in comedy instead. His breakthrough into TV has been cited by other comics, like Jerry Seinfeld, as paving the way for comedians to follow in his footsteps.
After enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1943, Charles Bronson served as an aircraft gunner and then flew 25 missions in B-29 bombers. He was wounded in action and was awarded the Purple Heart. After he left the military in 1945, he used his G.I. Bill benefits initially to study art, and later he switched to acting.
His first film role was in 1951, playing a sailor in “You’re in the Navy Now.” He continued to play a number of small roles for many years but finally starred in his own show, “Man with a Camera,” in 1958. That started a line of low budget films where he also played the lead and his career picked up significantly. He hit a peak in the US with his role in “The Dirty Dozen,” where he played the third lead, then moved to Europe for a while to try his luck there. While he was successful, that success didn’t translate back to the US when he returned as much as he would have liked.
The Duke of York, Prince Andrew, the brother of Prince Charles, served in the British Military. He was trained to fly the Lynx helicopter and promoted to Lieutenant in 1984. Prince Andrew served aboard the HMS Brazen as a pilot until 1986, which included a deployment to the Mediterranean Sea. He advanced to a helicopter warfare officer in 1986, and also served on HMS Edinburgh as an Officer of the Watch and Assistant Navigating Officer until 1989. He advanced to Senior Pilot of 815 Naval Air Squadron in 1995 and finished his active military career at the British Ministry of Defense as an officer of the Diplomatic Directorate of the Naval Staff in 2001.
He is currently seventh in line for the royal throne, as he is behind his brother Charles and all of Charles’ heirs. He has been involved in a great deal of charity work, including with Fight for Sight, an organization that works to prevent and treat blindness and other forms of eye disease. He also aids the British Crown as a trade envoy, which requires him to travel all over the world.
During his career in the U.S. Navy, Bob Barker flew eight different airplanes. He originally enlisted and then stayed at Drury College in Springfield, Missouri to complete the two years of college he needed to qualify to become a naval aviation cadet. Reporting for duty in June 1943, he was commissioned as an ensign and trained at eight different wartime locations over 18 months.
After the war ended, he returned to Drury college, where he graduated summa cum laude in economics. While there, he began working in radio, which led to his role in “Truth or Consequences” and then to “Price is Right,” where he was the host for thirty-five years. He’s long been a cultural icon and has guest-hosted a number of award shows and other events, including both Miss Universe and Miss USA from 1967 to 1987 and things such as WWE Raw and charitable events.
Funny man, actor, director, writer — let’s just say the whole package, Carl Reiner is best known for his show where he was the producer, writer, and actor of “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” During the 1940s, the draft had all-hands-on-deck policy, and Reiner was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Force in 1943 where he rose to the rank of corporal. He was supposed to be a radio operator, but after contracting pneumonia, he was trained to be a French translator at Georgetown University.
That’s where he got his first experience with acting, putting on a play in French. When the training was completed, they shipped him to Hawaii to serve as a teleprinter operator, which is where he auditioned for the Special Services and became an actor in their productions. The next two years were spent entertaining troops throughout the Pacific theater and led directly into his acting career.
Dan Rather has had a long-standing career in American journalism and was the news anchor for the CBS Evening News. Rather claims to have served in the US Marine Corps, but it seems this claim may have been used to serve his ego. Bernard Goldberg did some digging to find out the truth for his book, Bias. Coauthor, BG Burkett, says that during a conversation he had with Rather about a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece claiming Rather has a left-wing bias, he became noticeably angry.
“Rather’s voice started quivering, and he told me how in his young days, he had signed up with the Marines – not once, but twice!” he stated. According to Burkett, this is greatly exaggerated. Rather did serve, but he did not join the Marines twice. He was in the Army Reserve during the Korean War. When the Korean War ended Rather finished college and then signed up for the Marines, but never even made it to basic training.
Johnny Cash enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1950 and completed his training at Air Force bases in San Antonio, Texas. Cash was assigned to the U.S. Air Force Security Service in Germany as a Morse-code operator when he put together his first band, The Landsberg Barbarians. He served four years and was honorably discharged as a staff sergeant. Cash’s four daughters were born of his marriage to his first wife, Vivian, a native San Antonian who he met while in Air Force training.
After the military, he sold appliances in Memphis, Tennessee while playing guitar in the evenings. Eventually, he auditioned at Sun Records and received a recording contract that included “Hey Porter” and “Cry! Cry! Cry!” The two songs were successful in the country genre and started him on the path to success. By 1958, he left Sun and signed with Columbia Records in exchange for more creative freedom (he wanted to be able to sing gospel music) and a higher royalty.
Henry Fonda started his acting career in 1925, when he was twenty years old. His mother’s friend recommended that he try out for a part in “You and I” at the Omaha Community Playhouse, and he continued on from there. He took on a number of small roles throughout the country until he made his break into film in 1935’s “The Farmer Takes a Wife,” playing the role of the husband which he had previously played on Broadway. The film was a success and he continued to act in a number of Hollywood films.
Henry Fonda enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a seaman during World War II, even though he was old enough by that point to avoid the draft, saying “I don’t want to be in a fake war in a studio.” He worked in operations and air combat intelligence, and earned a Bronze Star and a presidential citation for his bravery. He achieved the rank of lieutenant before his discharge in 1945.
Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, started his career working as an illustrator and cartoonist for “Vanity Fair,” “Life,” and other publications. He published his first children’s book in 1937.
When the World War II hit, Geisel felt pulled to put his projects for younger readers on the back shelf and work on political cartoons instead. He created satirical cartoons aimed at Adolf Hitler and American isolationists such as Charles Lindbergh who was trying to keep the U.S. out of war. Geisel stated, “While Paris was being occupied by the clanking tanks of the Nazis, and I was listening on my radio, I found that I could no longer keep my mind on drawing pictures of ‘Horton the Elephant.’ I found myself drawing pictures of ‘Lindbergh the Ostrich.’”
In 1943, Geisel joined the Army and was the commander of the Animation department of the First Motion Picture Unit in the Army Air Forces. He worked to create training and propaganda films for the military throughout the war. After the war, of course, he returned to writing children’s books, including classics like “The Cat in the Hat,” “Horton Hears a Who,” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Don Rickles, the insult comedian extraordinaire known as “The Merchant of Venom,” was in the Navy at the end of World War II, from 1944 through his honorable discharge in 1946. A Seaman First Class on the USS Cyrene, he sailed from Norfolk, Virginia to Papua New Guinea as the ship escorted torpedo boats, followed by convoy duty in the Philippines. Rickles would later describe one deployment, “It was so hot and humid, the crew rotted.”
After leaving the military, he studied to be a dramatic actor but couldn’t find work. So, instead, he began working in comedy clubs, where he became famous for the insults he gave to hecklers and celebrities, including Frank Sinatra. He did have some serious films later in his career, including “Run Silent, Run Deep” with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster. He was still doing shows around the US when he died of kidney failure in 2017 at the age of 90.
Ed McMahon’s famous quote “Here’s Johnny!” from the opening of “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” is a line forever etched in our memories. McMahon enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1941 and started flight training in Dallas. He then completed fighter training in Pensacola and obtained his landing qualification. For the next two years, he was a flight instructor until he received his orders to report to the Pacific Fleet. However, his transfer didn’t happen due to the two atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The war had ended, but McMahon continued his service as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. When the Korean War broke out, he was reinstated to active duty and flew a Cessna O-1 Bird Dog, an unarmed spotter plane. His military career spanned 25 years, and McMahon received six air medals and retired in 1966 with the rank of colonel.
During a time when Elvis’ rock & roll was being viewed as something far to provocative and outrageous, he did something surprising and enlisted in the United States Army. Although he was offered a cushy spot, safe housing, and a job entertaining the troops, he decided to enlist as a soldier just like everyone else. This earned him the respect of his fellow soldiers and others who had previously viewed him as a “detriment to society.” A lot happened while he served in Germany: his mom passed away, he met his future wife, Priscilla, and unfortunately began what would ultimately become a life-long dependency on drugs.
After his honorable discharge in 1960 at the rank of sergeant, he went back to producing music almost immediately. Within the month, he had recorded and released “Stuck on You,” which became a number-one hit. Two weeks later, he recorded “It’s Now or Never’ and “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” which also soared up the charts. It seems that his military service may have actually helped further his career, rather than putting a damper on it.
Morgan Freeman has always loved acting but had dreams of becoming a fighter pilot. He even decided to turn down a drama scholarship to join the U.S. Air Force after high school. He ended up spending over three years in the service, but once he was in the cockpit of a fighter plane, he realized it was not what he wanted. Of his experience he told the AARP: “I had a distinct feeling I was sitting in the nose of a bomb. I had this very clear epiphany, ‘You are not in love with this; you are in love with the idea of this.’” He decided to leave the Air Force and pursue acting.
Freeman started in off-Broadway plays but moved into television with “Another World” and the children’s show “The Electric Company.” Over time, he picked up supporting roles in a variety of films. These tend to be his most famous roles, including playing God in “Bruce Almighty” and “Evan Almighty” and Lucius Fox in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.
Who hasn’t heard of Joe DiMaggio? He is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. The legend who married Marilyn Monroe also spent time in the Army during WW2. But he didn’t enter the battle ground at all, he spent his service time on bases around America where he was an athletics instructor. Already famous at that point, the Army decided that he would be more useful as an inspiration to others than as a soldier on the frontline.
When he returned to the Major Leagues after his discharge, he hadn’t lost his stride at all and soon became the first player to make more than $100,000 in a single season (more than $1 million in today’s dollars). He continued playing for a couple more years, but he announced his retirement in December of 1951 at the age of 37. He told “Sporting News,” “I was full of aches and pains and it had become a chore for me to play. When baseball is no longer fun, it’s no longer a game, and so, I’ve played my last game.”
Before he was a governor. Before he was an actor. Before he was a bodybuilder, world-class Arnold Schwarzenegger served in the Austrian Army during 1965. This was not by choice, but due to a requirement at the time that all Austrian males who reached 18 serve one year. During his time in the Army, he actually won the Junior Mr. Europe Contest.
After the military, he continued competing as a bodybuilder, but he did his best to move into acting. While he had some minor roles, his breakthrough was “Conan the Barbarian” in 1982, which led to a string of action movies, including “Commando,” “Predator,” “Red Heat,” and “Terminator.” He used his stardom to drive his 2003 run for governor of California, where his victory in the Gray Davis recall election earned him the nickname “The Governator.” He did his best to hold a moderate Republican coalition together, which succeeded in winning his reelection in 2006 against fairly tough odds, given the political climate that year.
He enlisted in 1960, becoming a helicopter pilot after completing Ranger School. He was offered a teaching position at West Point but turned it down so he could focus on his music. His family looked down on his decision to leave the Army and ultimately disowned him for it. Here is how he feels about our troops today: “I want you to know I’m an Army brat; I was a captain in the Army and my brother was a jet pilot in the Navy. So I support our troops; I identify with them. But I sure as hell don’t identify with the bastards who sent them over there.”
He geared up in 1950 to return to the battlefield in the Korean War, but at the same time his acting career started to heat up. The army decided to keep him as a recruitment tool and use his fame to recruit more soldiers. He would retire with the rank of major.