Famous Americans Who Started Out in the Military

Skills you learn in the military will serve you well in future careers. Serving in the United States Armed Forces can prepare you for more than just combat; your service can be a solid base for a successful career. Many veterans have used their military experiences to find fame and fortune outside of the government and the armed forces.

Here are just a few directions that veterans have taken after they were discharged from military service.

Musicians in the military

The U.S. military is one of the larger employers of musicians in the country, so it should come as no surprise that a number of veterans have taken their military musical training on to commercial success:

  • Legendary crooner Tony Bennett was an Army infantry rifleman on the front lines in Europe during the closing stages of World War II.
  • Country-music legend George Strait enlisted in the Army in 1971, serving four years in Hawaii.
  • Stanley Kirk Burrell served as a Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy before becoming baggy-pantsed rapper M.C. Hammer.
  • International reggae artist Shaggy (Orville Burrell, no relation to M.C. Hammer) saw five months of action in Desert Storm during his service as a U.S. Marine.

Actors in the Armed Forces

Both the silver screen and the small screen abound with U.S. Armed Forces veterans. Here are just a few:

  • Screen greats Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart both served in the Army Air Forces (the precursor to today's U.S. Air Force) during World War II.
  • Late-night legend Johnny Carson served for three years in the U.S. Navy in the mid-1940s.
  • Alan Alda, who won five Emmy Awards portraying army doctor "Hawkeye Pierce" in M*A*S*H, was himself an Army Reservist, serving a six-month tour as a gunnery officer in Korea after the Korean War.
  • Before becoming "America's Dad," actor-comedian Bill Cosby served four years in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman.

Hard-corps athletes

To be successful in the military, you have to be physically fit. After military service, that fitness can translate into athletic success:

  • MLB Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra saw action during the D-Day invasion during his service in the U.S. Navy.
  • Before becoming a legendary Dallas Cowboys quarterback, Roger Staubach quarterbacked the Navy football team. Because he volunteered for one tour of duty in Vietnam, didn't begin playing professionally until 1969 — as a 27-year-old rookie.
  • David Robinson won the nickname "The Admiral" because of his service in the U.S. Navy. As the San Antonio Spurs's 7'1" center, he went on to become the 1990 NBA Rookie of the Year and 1995 NBA MVP.

Entrepreneurs who enlisted

Certainly the discipline they learned in the Armed Forces helped these entrepreneurs succeed in business:

  • After earning a Bronze Star for Military Service in World War II, Army veteran Malcolm Forbes turned the magazine his father began in 1917 into a publishing powerhouse, becoming a multi-millionaire in the process.
  • Loveable Wendy's founder Dave Thomas began his culinary career as an Army mess sergeant during the Korean War.
  • In 1945, after earning the rank of Captain in the U.S. Army Intelligence Corps, Sam Walton bought his first variety store in Arkansas. He went on to create the Wal-Mart empire that we know today, being ranked by Forbes magazine as the richest man in America from 1985 to 1988.
  • After graduating from Yale, Fred Smith joined the Marines, serving two tours of duty in Vietnam. After his military service, he started his own express delivery service which became Federal Express (FedEx).