Vintage | Entertainment

10 Celebrities You Didn't Know Were World War II Veterans

Although many entertainers have portrayed men and women in uniform on screen, they don't usually come to mind when we think of real-life servicemen. But, there's actually a surprising number of famous names who answered the call to war and enlisted in the army to fight for our country.

Some did their time before pursuing a career in Hollywood, while others took a break from the limelight to become soldiers. From a beloved 80s sitcom star to a record-breaking tennis player, here are 10 celebrities who served in the army during the second World War:

1. Alice Marble

Between 1936 and 1940, Alice Marble was the top female player in America with 18 Grand Slam Championships. The Wimbledon champion was the first woman to use the serve-and-volley style of play, but believe it or not her life off the court was much more interesting.


The tennis star was secretly married to an intelligence officer, and shortly after his death, the government recruited her for a spy mission in Switzerland during World War II. During her stint as an operative, she was shot in the back, but she recovered. The details about her secret life was revealed to the world after her death in 1990.

2. Mel Brooks

The famous funny guy is best known for his work on classic films like Young Frankenstein and Space Balls, but did you know that he served in the U.S Army during the second World War?

Los Angeles Times

Brooks is an alumnus of Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and joined the army at the age of 17. He served as corporal in an engineer combat battalion whose job included defusing land mines. The goofy actor fought in the famous Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944.

3. Bea Arthur

Years before she brought on the laughs as the sarcastic Maude Findlay on Golden Girls, Bea Arthur was a member of the U.S Marine Corps for over two years.


The late actress enlisted as Bernice Frankel in February 1943 at the age of 21 and spent 30 months as a typist and a truck driver for the Marines Corps. According to reports, her personality appraisal sheets described her as "argumentative," "over aggressive," and "officious—but probably a good worker—if she has her own way!"

4. James Stewart

James "Jimmy" Stewart's on-screen portrayal of strong American middle-class men in times of crisis has earned him plenty of accolades including multiple Academy Awards. But, those weren't the only awards he earned in his lifetime. Before his death, Stewart became the highest-ranking actor in military history.

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Stewart joined the Air Corps in 1942 and flew planes for at least 20 combat missions over the dangerous German skies with a B-17 bomber. His bravery as a pilot in the World War II and Vietnam War earned him six battle stars, the Air Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Clusters and the Croix de Guerre with Palm, a coveted French decoration.

The It's a Wonderful Life actor eventually became a Brigadier General in the U.S Air Force Reserve before retiring in 1968.


5. Julia Child

Before she became known as a chef, she was cooking up a double life by working with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was considered the original CIA.

Spoon University

In 1942, she joined the OSS as a research assistant in the Secret Intelligence division and worked directly with the head of the organization, General William J. Donovan. She then worked with the OSS Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section before taking an overseas position as the chief of the OSS Registry for two years. According to her fellow OSS officer, Fisher Howe, she was an "intelligence officer", but not a spy.

"You can be an able and effective intelligence officer but not be undercover, and we were not," he said. "But she was a very effective person in the job she had."

Julia in CeylonCIA

6. Kirk Douglas

The legendary actor delivered memorable performances in many military movies including Paths of Glory and Seven Days in May, but he was a badass serviceman in real life too.

Death and Texas

Douglas initially applied for the Air Force, but upon failing the psychological test, he opted for the Navy instead. He served as a Communications Officer in anti-submarine warfare until he received a medical discharge in 1944 due to war injuries.


7. Henry Fonda

Fonda didn't like the idea of being in a "fake war in studio," so he enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the height of his career in 1942.

He served on the USS Satterlee for three years then held the rank of a Lieutenant (junior grade) in Air Combat Intelligence. He was later awarded a Bronze Star and a Presidential Citation for his service.


8. Carole Lombard

Famously known for her roles in screwball comedies, Lombard was also actively involved in helping the troops during World War II.

NY Post

The actress attended a war bond rally in 1942 and raised over $2 million ($35 million today) in defense bonds. Unfortunately, the plane she was flying home in crashed near Las Vegas and she died. Following her death, President Roosevelt awarded Lombard with a medal as "The first woman to be killed in action, in defense of her country, in its war against the Axis Powers."

9. Clark Gable

The Hell Divers star was so devastated by his wife, Carole Lombard's death that he carried on the legacy by enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942.

Gable spent most of his time serving in the U.K, where he helped make recruitment films and flew a few combat missions. At one point during his military career, Hitler had a hit out on him, but he escaped unharmed and earned a handful of medals for his service.

Defense Media Network

10. Paul Newman

Newman was not only an award winning actor, he was a director, producer, entrepreneur, race car driver, activist, philanthropist and WWII U.S. Navy veteran.


The blue-eyed screen legend enlisted in the Navy in hopes of becoming a pilot, but he couldn't qualify due to being color-blind. Instead, he served as a gunner and radioman with the torpedo bombers in Hawaii in 1944. In 1945, he was on the USS Bunker Hill at the famous Battle of Okinawa.

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Did any of the names on this list surprise you?