Many times, we’ve seen actors portray military men or women on the big and small screens. Here is a list of actors who actually lived the part. Some of them were already famous before serving.

Be honest – who among you veterans knew that Bea Arthur, that grand lady from “The Golden Girls,” had been in the Marine Corps during World War II? She served as a typist and a truck-driver from 1943 to 45. I was surprised.

How about James Stewart? Big star, but he was in the Army Air Corps throughout World War II, flying 24 missions in B-24s and retiring as Brigadier General. He flew at least one mission over North Vietnam in a B-52.

Tony Curtis enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942, serving on the USS Proteus Submarine-Tender and honorably discharged in 1945. Go Navy!

Brian Dennehy, a prolific American actor, was in the Marines from 1959 to 63.

Everybody knows Charleton Heston, one of Hollywood’s greatest leading men for 60 years, but how many know that he served in the Army Air Corps as a radio-operator and gunner in a B-25 Mitchell stationed in the Aleutian Islands during World War II?

James Arness, of “Gunsmoke” fame, was in the Army 3rd Infantry Division fighting in Italy. He was severely wounded at Anzio.

Dan Blocker, Hoss Cartwright in “Bonanza” for 13 seasons, was in the Army and fought in the Korean War. 

Walter Brennan; I remember him as grandpa in “The Real McCoys” and as supporting actor in several westerns. He was in France in the Army in World-War I!

Morgan Freeman has portrayed presidents, convicts, villains and God Himself in the movies. He joined the Air Force in 1955 and worked as a radar technician.

Leonard Nimoy, in Starfleet uniform as Lt. Commander Spock, served first in the U.S. Army as a sergeant from 1953 to 55.

Humphrey Bogart starred in countless Hollywood thrillers after a tour in the U.S. Navy. He enlisted in 1918.

Rock Hudson served in the Navy in the Philippine Islands as an aircraft Mechanic during World War II.

Don Rickles, that hard-nosed sergeant in “Kelly’s Heroes” and star of the TV show, “CPO Sharkie,” served in World War II in the Navy on the USS Cyrene.

Ernest Borgnine was a boatswain’s mate in the Navy during World War II, enlisting in 1935. I’m sure the experience helped him in “McHale’s Navy.”

Steve McQueen, action star in westerns and in “The Great Escape,” was in the Marines from 1947 to 1950.

Lee Marvin was a Marine wounded on Saipan during World War II. I liked him in “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Big Red One.”

I’m going to wind this up with Audie Murphy, the most-decorated U.S. Army soldier in World War II, who played himself in a movie about his own exploits. He received the Congressional Medal Of Honor and was also decorated for bravery by the governments of France and Belgium. What a man!

This list is by no means complete; dozens of other actors answered the call to serve their country in war.

Here’s a heads-up for you veterans: The veterans organizations of Texas County and the Houston Area Chamber of Commerce will team up to present the second annual Armed Forces Appreciation Day in May of 2020. Watch this space for information.

Veterans organizations in Houston:

American Legion Post 41 meets at 6 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at the meeting hall on the west end of Chilton Oil Company in Houston (just north of Pizza Hut).

Fleet Reserve Association Branch 364 meets at 2:30 p.m. on the fourth Sunday of each month at the American Legion Post 41 meeting hall in Houston.

Houston resident Robert E. Simpson is a retired U.S. Navy chief electronics technician who served from 1969 to 1990. Email

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