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Celebrities in the Armed Forces? Not These Days
Newhouse News Service ^ | 4/16/03 | Michele Melendez

Posted on 04/16/2003 2:11:31 PM PDT by Incorrigible

Baseball legend Ted Williams, pictured here in 1953, was a fighter pilot in both the Korean War and World War II. (Photo courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)


Celebrities in the Armed Forces? Not These Days


More stories by Michele Melendez

Actor Clark Gable joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 at age 41. (Photo courtesy of the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum)


Back when Clark Gable's Hollywood charm made girls swoon and Bob Feller's pitching prowess drove boys wild, celebrities became superheroes during wartime.

Having the famous in the armed forces delighted the folks on the home front during World War II.

Experts say the bombing of Pearl Harbor inspired such support for the war that everyone, from children to stars, was expected to contribute. That feeling has not gripped the country in subsequent wars, they say.

The reason lies partly in how government officials have portrayed patriotic duty. The message has been: Go about life, keep working, keep spending.

"In 1941, when America was attacked, people rushed to enlist in the service; in 2001, when America was attacked, they rushed to buy shoes, convinced that that would be how they could do their part in the war against terrorism," said Robert Thompson, professor of media and culture at Syracuse University in New York.

"In 1941, a celebrity might have enlisted," he said. "In 2003, it's doubtful the celebrity would even be sent overseas."

The only well-publicized exception seems to be former NFL safety Pat Tillman, who declined a three-year, $3.6 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army last year. He deployed recently to the Middle East.

During World War II, famous fighters abounded.

"They were heroes, and some of them were quite legitimate," said Roy Hoopes, author of "When the Stars Went to War: Hollywood and World War II."

Among them:

-- Jimmy Stewart, who in 1940, the year he won an Academy Award for his part in "The Philadelphia Story," was drafted into the Army but turned away for being underweight. Wanting to serve, he reportedly gorged himself to reach the threshold. In the Army Air Corps, predecessor to the U.S. Air Force, Stewart flew 20 combat missions. In the Air Force reserves, he was promoted to brigadier general.

-- Feller, a hotshot with the Cleveland Indians who had a draft deferment because he was supporting his dying father, his mother and his sister. But two days after the Pearl Harbor attack, he enlisted in the Navy. Feller led a gun crew on the battleship USS Alabama.

-- Gable, who in 1942 was 41 and exempt from the draft. That year, the "Gone with the Wind" leading man lost his wife, actress Carole Lombard, in a plane crash, while she was on a war-bond promotional tour. Gable enlisted in the Army Air Corps, later heading to Europe to produce a recruitment film for aerial gunnery. He flew in several bombing missions and left the corps as a major.

-- Band leader Glenn Miller, who at age 38 also was draft-exempt. Even so, in 1942 he approached the Navy, which turned him down. Miller eventually joined the Army Air Corps as a captain and performed for troops overseas. He died on active duty, when his Paris-bound plane crashed.

Sharing the war experience with their favorite stars thrilled the fans, said James E. Wise Jr., a retired Navy captain and co-author of several books about famous military personnel, including "Stars in Khaki: Movie Actors in the Army and the Air Services," with Paul W. Wilderson III.

The modern-day equivalent might be actor Tom Cruise as a real top gun, or New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter as a genuine Bronx bomber.

But the times don't align.

World War II "has been called America's last popular war, in the sense that it enjoyed widespread support; there were very few people who argued that we shouldn't be in that war," said Bill Gilbert, author of "The Seasons: Ten Memorable Years in Baseball, and in America."

Moreover, there was a cultural mandate to contribute during 1940s wartime.

"The state of the military in 2003 is so vastly different than it was in 1942 that it makes the model of Jimmy Stewart joining the armed services an almost completely archaic one," Thompson said.

"When World War II broke out, a force was necessary that included nearly the entire adult population," he said. "If you weren't off fighting the war, you were getting new jobs in the factories, taking the place of people who were."

Plus, experts point out that not every star bolted to the armed forces.

"There are many athletes that we see in World War II who were indeed draftees or coerced, who didn't want to serve," said Wanda Ellen Wakefield, author of "Playing to Win: Sports and the American Military, 1898-1945" and history professor at the State University of New York College at Brockport.

"The story often is told that these guys dropped everything and went off to war: not true," she said, adding that nostalgia keeps that myth alive.

Kevin Hagopian, lecturer in media at Pennsylvania State University at University Park, explained: "During World War II, popular culture stars used various evasions to avoid serving while still appearing patriotic; thus was born the notion of `soldiers in greasepaint,' in which actors and singers entertained the troops as their contribution to the war effort."

And enlistment did not necessarily equate with dedication.

"Some figures in popular culture went reluctantly," Hagopian said. "Joe DiMaggio's service career was spent playing in baseball games to entertain troops at various bases."

But even some of the hesitant proved themselves, like Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams. He had requested a deferment from the draft, but fans and sportswriters berated him for being unpatriotic. He joined the Navy, became a pilot and rose to captain, never leaving stateside during World War II.

Williams saw action during the Korean War, when he was recalled as a member of the Marine reserves. He flew 39 missions, many of them with future astronaut and U.S. senator John Glenn.

By the Vietnam era, social pressure to contribute to the war effort had vanished.

"In the 1960s, there were a whole variety of ways you could avoid combat by finding yourself a safe billet," Wakefield said, adding that professional athletes often secured slots in the reserves and National Guard, which were not slated for deployment.

"I can't think of any ballplayer who was criticized for this," she said.

And now, without a draft or nationwide support for war, celebrities are unlikely to visit a recruiter.

"You've got a very `me' type of environment with the stars today: their contracts, their commitments," said Wise, the "Stars in Khaki" author. "It's an entirely different way of thinking."

(Michele M. Melendez can be contacted at

Not for commercial use.  For educational and discussion purposes only.

TOPICS: Culture/Society
KEYWORDS: bobfeller; clarkgable; glennmiller; iraqifreedom; jimmystewart
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1 posted on 04/16/2003 2:11:31 PM PDT by Incorrigible
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To: Incorrigible
Today we have one. Pat Tillman.
2 posted on 04/16/2003 2:14:33 PM PDT by SoDak
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To: SoDak
3 posted on 04/16/2003 2:17:58 PM PDT by SoDak
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To: SoDak
Don't forget Rocky Blier (sp?) from the Vietnam era. Grenade fragments in the foot didn't stop his Steelers career.
4 posted on 04/16/2003 2:21:12 PM PDT by pfflier
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To: Incorrigible
The only well-publicized exception seems to be former NFL safety Pat Tillman, who declined a three-year, $3.6 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army last year. He deployed recently to the Middle East.

Absolutely amazing. Kudos to Pat Tillman. When/If he comes back to play again, I may go root for that team. (Unless it's the Raidas...Boo!)

Go Broncos!

5 posted on 04/16/2003 2:22:04 PM PDT by hattend
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To: SoDak
My dad joined the AAF at age 36, as a civilian pilot in the China-Burma-India Campaign and flew the Hump in C-46's, carrying cargo to the Brits and Nationalist Chinese, engaging the Japanese Army. He was involved in a crash landing, suffered burns and was treated at an Army burn center in Texas.
He never received Vet's status or benefits because he was a civilian captain, never sworn in. After the war, he returned to civilian life and didn't make much of his war experience. He was not a celebrity but he was, in his own way, a hero.
6 posted on 04/16/2003 2:22:18 PM PDT by Eric in the Ozarks
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To: mtngrl@vrwc
They forgot Cary Grant. ;-D
7 posted on 04/16/2003 2:23:29 PM PDT by lawgirl (Bad spellers of the world--UNTIE!!!)
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To: SoDak
Pat Tillman. What a true warrior. IFor those who don't here's a little more information on Pat Tillman

He gave up a $3.6 million contract to join with his brother, Kevin - a minor league baseball player - shortly after the Sept. 11 terror attack. Tillman enlisted in the Army after four NFL seasons that included a team-record 224 tackles in 2000

When strong safety Pat Tillman walked away from a three-year, $3.6 million contract offer from the Arizona Cardinals a year ago, some fans called him crazy.

Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis calls him courageous.

"This was truly a decision made with honor, with integrity, with dignity, with a lot of thought and with a lot of sacrifice," McGinnis said this weekend.

Tillman enlisted in the Army after four NFL seasons that included a team-record 224 tackles in 2000. Tillman and his brother, Kevin, a former baseball player in the Cleveland Indians organization, have been deployed, presumably to the Middle East.

"I think he's the quintessential definition of a patriot," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a Vietnam War veteran who serves on the Armed Services Committee, said yesterday. "He gave up a lucrative and exciting career to serve his country."

Pat Tillman is believed to be the first NFL regular to leave the game voluntarily for military service since World War II, when 600 players served and 19 were killed. The Tillmans are part of the 75th Ranger Regiment, comprising three battalions and 2,200 men. They had been stationed in Fort Lewis, Wash. Even family and close friends don't know for sure where they are now.

Cardinals defensive coordinator Larry Marmie, who has remained in touch with Tillman, last heard from him three weeks ago.

"He was upbeat," Marmie said. "You could sense an enthusiasm coming through the phone. He had completed a lot of the steps that you have to take to become a Ranger and reach that stage. He was feeling good about it."

The Tillmans have never publicly discussed their decisions to join the Army's elite infantry unit, declining all interview requests. Family and friends have respected their privacy, helping both to maintain a low profile.

"They don't want recognition separate from their peers," Patrick Tillman said of his sons. "It's a pretty elite crowd they're running with. All of those guys are stand-up guys. I don't think you can pick one out and say one's better than another."

Pat Tillman, now 26, had been considering enlisting before 9-11. (The Rangers will not accept a recruit over age 28.) The terrorist attacks only confirmed his decision to put his NFL career on hold for at least three years.

"He told me he thought he had had a pretty darn good life and things had been fairly easy for him, and he felt the need to give something back," Marmie said.

Tillman informed the team in May after returning home from his honeymoon with his high school sweetheart, Marie. It came as little surprise to anyone who knew him.

While at Arizona State, Tillman would meditate atop a 200-foot light tower above Sun Devil Stadium. He ran a marathon one offseason because he was bored; in another offseason he competed in a 70.2-mile triathlon to prove he could do it.

Tillman, who earns from $1,022 to $1,443 a month as a soldier, completed the Ranger Indoctrination Program in December. At graduation, he was chosen flagbearer for his unit, B Company of the 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment.

Only 35 percent of candidates earn the right to wear the coveted black and gold Ranger Tab.

John Devlin, who met Tillman through his brother, Mike Devlin, is a former Army Ranger. He figures the Tillmans are right in the middle of the action. That is exactly the reason Tillman took a hiatus from the NFL.

"He's not nuts," John Devlin said. "He's a rare, rare individual he and his brother both. I'm proud to know them; I wish them luck; and I pray that they and the rest of our guys come home all in one piece, but I know that's not going to be the case."

8 posted on 04/16/2003 2:28:45 PM PDT by optik_b
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To: Incorrigible
I believe Glenn Ford was also. I think he retired as a full Colonel or general in the Guard or Reserves.
9 posted on 04/16/2003 2:30:05 PM PDT by RetiredArmy
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To: Eric in the Ozarks
I totally agree.
10 posted on 04/16/2003 2:30:43 PM PDT by SoDak
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To: Incorrigible
The ironic thing about World War II is that it was no more a "just war" than our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have been.

Japan attacked us without having declared war, but that was an error, as the Japanese ambassador was supposed to have delivered the ultimatum to the U.S. before the attack.

Japan was an aggressor nation, but no more so--maybe less--than the Soviets or the Chinese have been since World War II.

Japan was "boxed in" by U.S. intransigence, feeling they could not survive in the front tier of nations without the resources their empire was providing.

And Germany had done nothing to us; their declaration of war was prompted by ours upon Japan, their ally.

Prior to World War II there was a very great anti-war movement, including such notables as Charles Lindbergh--who argued that Hitler was an admirable leader with whom we ought to do business.

All that changed as soon as we went to war. There was no talk of "opposing the war but supporting the troops." Everyone JOINED the troops. EVERYONE, including those in Hollywood.

I disagree with Tom Brokaw in just about everything else, but he is right when he calls this "The Greatest Generation."

Today, we have too many entrenched Marxists who are ironically getting fat and rich off our capitalist system--Sarandon, Sheen, Robbins, Penn, and Garofalo being notable examples. They hate this country because it is not a socialist workers' paradise, because it destroyed the Soviet Union and because they love Castro.
11 posted on 04/16/2003 2:34:10 PM PDT by Illbay
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To: RetiredArmy
Oh, and Audie Murphy, except he did it the other way around. Soldier first, then movie star! Medal of Honor along the way with the fighting 3d Infanty Division, the division who went down the road to Ragbag!!!
12 posted on 04/16/2003 2:34:32 PM PDT by RetiredArmy
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[Portrait] Pat Tillman gave up the glamour of the NFL to serve his country.
Pat Tillman
13 posted on 04/16/2003 2:35:12 PM PDT by optik_b
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To: RetiredArmy
I had a great uncle who went through basic training (Navy) with Henry Fonda, in 1943 I believe. Don't know if Fonda was ever deployed.
14 posted on 04/16/2003 2:35:31 PM PDT by xlib
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To: pfflier
Bleier was not a "celebrity" before he saw service in Vietnam. Not taking away anything from his service, but the point of this article is that people in the World War II era, who actually had something to lose by joining the military were knocking themselves out to do so. Ted Williams, Clark Gable, my personal hero Jimmy Stewart, Hedy Lamarr (who helped develop the precursor to the first sophisticated torpedo guidance system--did anyone know that?), Ronald Reagan, Tyrone Power, Glenn Miller, and many, many others dumped their lush lifestyles and gave all they had to the cause.

You're not going to find anything like that. Pat Tillman is the only thing remotely close, and the majority of people you ask won't even know who he is.

N.B. I was most impressed to realize that Greg Kelly, the intrepid FNC reporter embedded with the 3ID during the Iraq campaign, is a Major in the USMCR.

15 posted on 04/16/2003 2:38:23 PM PDT by Illbay
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To: Incorrigible
The Hollywooders cover for their lack of contribution to America by fighting America. They suppose their protests show how "brave" they are.
16 posted on 04/16/2003 2:41:40 PM PDT by keats5
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To: Incorrigible
Compare Entertainers of 1943 with today's.

The Entertainers of 2003 have been in all of the news media lately. It seems News Paper, Television and Radio has been more than ready to put them and their message before the public.

I would like to remind the people of what the entertainers of 1943 were doing, (60 years ago). Most of these brave men have since passed on.

Alec Guinness (Star Wars) operated a British Royal Navy landing craft on D-Day.

James Doohan ("Scotty" on Star Trek) landed in Normandy with the U.S. Army on D-Day.

Donald Pleasance (The Great Escape) really was a R.A.F. pilot who was shot down, held prisoner and tortured by the Germans.

David Niven was a Sandhurst graduate and Lt. Colonel of the British Commandos in Normandy.

James Stewart flew 20 missions as a B-24 pilot in Europe.

Clark Gable (Mega-Movie Star when war broke out) was a waist gunner flying missions on a B-17 in Europe.

Charlton Heston was an Army Air Corps Sergeant in Kodiak.

Earnest Borgnine was a U.S. Navy Gunners Mate 1935-1945.

Charles Durning was a U.S. Army Ranger at Normandy.

Charles Bronson was a tail gunner in the Army Air Corps.

George C. Scott was a U.S. Marine.

Eddie Albert (Green Acres TV) was awarded a Bronze Star for his heroic action as a U.S. Naval officer aiding Marines at the horrific battle on the island of Tarawa in the Pacific Nov.1943.

Brian Keith served as a Marine rear gunner in several actions against the Japanese on Rabal in the Pacific.

Lee Marvin was a marine on Saipan when he was wounded.

John Russell was a Marine on Guadalcanal.

Robert Ryan was a U.S. Marine who served with the O.S.S. in Yugoslavia.

Tyrone Power (an established movie star when Pearl Harbor was bombed) joined the Marines, was a pilot flying supplies into, and wounded Marines out of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Audie Murphy , little guy from Texas, Most Decorated serviceman of WWII.

I wish I had room to tell you more about Actor Sterling Hayden and an actor by the name of Peter J. Ortiz (Twelve O'clock High, Rio Grande and The Wings of Eagles), but this would turn into a book.

There is quite a huge gap between the heroics and patriotism in 1943 and the cowardly despicable posturing of the Hollywood crowd of today...all of which smack of sedition and treason.

Think about this every time you are tempted to go to the movies or go to a Blixy Chicks or Pearl Jam concert!!

17 posted on 04/16/2003 2:44:05 PM PDT by schaketo (Hollywood and their ilk now take Iraq's place in the "Axis of Evil"!)
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To: Incorrigible
R. Lee Ermey (Drill Sgt from Full Metal Jacket) served as well.
18 posted on 04/16/2003 2:44:49 PM PDT by Dan from Michigan ("I have two guns. One for each of ya." - Doc Holliday)
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To: Illbay
... Hedy Lamarr (who helped develop the precursor to the first sophisticated torpedo guidance system--did anyone know that?)

Which is also the basis for our modern cellular phone systems too, right?

19 posted on 04/16/2003 2:46:19 PM PDT by fnord ( Hyprocisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue)
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To: Illbay
Ronald Reagan had very limited military service, never overseas. You must be thinking of his movie roles ;-)

Reagan was a great patriot and he had a fine life of public service but putting him on a list of war veterans would be like including Josh Hartnett because he acted in Blackhawk Down.
20 posted on 04/16/2003 2:48:45 PM PDT by optik_b
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