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5 celebrities you didn’t know were veterans

Before their time in the spotlight, these famous celebrities proudly served their country. Some wanted the experience, some needed the money, and others were simply looking for a change. Check out these five celebrities who you didn’t know were veterans.

Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks dipping hands in cement at the famous Chinese Theater in Los Angeles, California
Credit: Kathy Hutchins/ Shutterstock

Before he became a comedy legend, creating movies like “Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein” and “Spaceballs,” Mel Brooks served as a combat engineer in World War II. He was drafted into the 1104 Engineer Combat Battalion, 78th Infantry just before finishing his college degree in psychology. One of his tasks in the military was to defuse land mines. He also participated in one of the most important battles in WWII, the Battle of the Bulge. Brooks eventually advanced to the rank of corporal before being honorably discharged.

While it may have been dangerous work, Brooks never lost his sense of humor. When the Germans played their propaganda through loudspeakers, he became famous for setting up his own loudspeakers and playing music from Jewish musicians right back at them. After his time in the military, Brooks started his career as a writer and comedian. He is one of the few people to win all four major entertainment awards: an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Tony.

Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair, 1968
Credit: Thomas Crown Affair Original Movie Still/ Public Domain

Now known as the ultimate “cool guy,” Steve McQueen didn’t have the best childhood growing up. His early life was littered with abuse, homelessness and poverty. When he got older, his rebellious nature caused him to frequently lose jobs until finally he decided to enlist in the Marines. McQueen served in the Marines from 1947 to 1950 before being honorably discharged.

Military life was difficult for such an unruly person. It was common for him to be insubordinate and even disappear for weeks at a time. Throughout his military career, McQueen was demoted back to the rank of private seven times. He once did a 41-day stint in the brig for running away with his girlfriend for two weeks without notice.

After his punishment he decided that he had to change. During a training exercise in the Arctic, McQueen’s ship hit a sandbank, and several of the armored tanks onboard were thrown into the icy waters with people still trapped inside. McQueen dove in and saved five men. For his acts of bravery McQueen served out the rest of his time in the Honor Guard that protected the president’s yacht. He used the money from his G.I. Bill to study acting and start racing. The rest is history.

Bea Arthur

Bea Arthur at the 39th Emmy Awards in September 1987
Credit: Alan Light/ flickr

Anyone who has ever seen “The Golden Girls” knows that Bea Arthur is not to be messed with. In real life she didn’t differ much from her fictional character, Dorothy. Both were sure of themselves and strong willed. In 1944, Arthur got her parents' permission and joined the Marine Corps.

She performed well in the military and spent most of her career as a truck driver. It was common for her superiors to praise her, saying that she was a great worker as long as everything could be done her way. Her stubborn and confident attitude led her all the way up to the title of staff sergeant before receiving an honorable discharge.

Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris posing for a photo with his wife, Gina at the 17th Annual Movieguide Faith and Values Awards Gala
Credit: s_bukley/ Shutterstock

If there is any celebrity that the U.S. would want to serve in the military, it’s Chuck Norris. Known for his martial arts skills and rugged appearance, Chuck Norris has been the star of many action films and has become so popular that there are even jokes made about his toughness: “When Chuck Norris enters a dark room, he doesn’t turn the lights on. He turns the dark off.”

What many may not know is that Chuck Norris owes much of his current fame to his military service. Fresh out of high school, Norris joined the Air Force in hopes of training with the Security Police, which would prepare him for a successful career in law enforcement.

One night while on patrol in Korea, he came across a drunk man who was acting belligerent. Norris tried to arrest him but couldn’t do it without using his weapon. This forced him to seek out better ways to subdue criminals and led him straight into the world of martial arts. He studied hard and became the first Westerner to earn an eighth-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. He was honorably discharged from the military in 1962 and went on to be the martial arts champion and actor who everyone knows and loves (and fears).

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley smiling while sitting in a chair
Credit: Modern Screen (Feb-Dec 1958)/Public Domain

While many of the famous celebrities on this list joined the military before their fame and fortune, Elvis Presley was enlisted right at the height of his musical career. In 1957, Elvis was drafted to serve in the military. Instead of using his fame and power to avoid service, he embraced it. Many different branches of the military wanted him for promotional reasons, but he denied them all, saying he didn’t want special treatment. He joined the Army as a regular G.I.

Elvis was put on active duty and stationed with an armored division in Germany. He worked hard and rose to the rank of sergeant before being honorably discharged in 1960. He then picked up right where he left off, continuing his rise to the throne as the King.