In the 20th century, American men aged 18-37 could potentially be drafted into military service whenever conflicts broke out. Mandatory enlistment in the U.S. armed forces is known as conscription, which pulls eligible registrants from the Selective Service System. As a result, many celebs got drafted into military service during World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. But thanks to overwhelming protests during the Vietnam War, America’s military switched to an all-voluntary force (AVF) in 1973. Today, men and women can volunteer to serve in any branch of the United States Armed Forces. In fact, many celebs are just as moved as the rest of us to serve and protect this great country!
10 Surprising Celebs With Military Service Records
Below are the 10 celebs you’d never imagine are also military veterans, along with some background info about their service. We salute anyone who’s brave enough to join and keep their fellow Americans safe at home and abroad!
1. Bob Ross, artist and TV show host, The Joy of Painting
This soft-spoken artist is most famous today for painting “happy little trees” on PBS. But back in 1961, 18-year-old Orlando, FL native Robert Norman Ross first enlisted in the United States Air Force. Over his 20-year military career, Ross rose to the rank of Master Sergeant. Ross saw snow and mountains for the very first time while stationed at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. They inspired him to learn how to quickly paint 2-3 landscapes every day on his lunch breaks. Once Ross realized he could earn more money selling these paintings, he retired from the Air Force in 1981. PBS aired its first The Joy of Painting episode starring Ross on January 11, 1983 – and the rest is history.
2. Dr. Ruth Westheimer, American sex therapist, author, TV/radio host and media personality
Tiny, grandmotherly Dr. Ruth Westheimer began her life as Karola Ruth Siegel in 1928. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family in Weisenfeld, Germany, Nazis took away Westheimer’s father one week after Kristallnacht in 1938. Fearing for her safety, Westheimer’s mother shipped her to a Jewish orphanage in Switzerland shortly after that. As a result, she was the only person in her family who survived the Holocaust.
At 16, now-orphaned Westheimer emigrated to Jerusalem and joined Haganah (now known as the Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF). She then trained to become a scout and sniper, hitting her targets with surprisingly lethal accuracy. “I could hit the target smack in the center further away than anyone could believe,” recalls Westheimer. “Not just that, even though I was tiny and not even much of an athlete, I was incredibly accurate throwing hand grenades, too. Even today I can load a Sten automatic rifle in a single minute, blindfolded.” She’s definitely one of the celebs you’d least expect to have a military background, but wait… there’s more! Westheimer’s military career ended in 1948 after an exploding shell sent cannon ball shrapnel into both legs, seriously wounding her. Westheimer then moved to Paris, attended the Sorbonne and emigrated to the U.S. in 1956.
3. Bea Arthur, Broadway actress and star of TV sitcom, The Golden Girls
We all loved Bea Arthur’s roles in Mame on Broadway and TV sitcoms such as Maude and The Golden Girls. But decades earlier, a young Jewish woman named Bernice Frankel decided to serve her country during World War II. In early 1943, the United States Marine Corps established its first Women’s Reserve branch. This allowed women to enter the ranks so that male Marines could join combat units fighting at the front. Frankel enlisted in the Marine Corps on February 18, 1943, working in noncombat roles such as truck driver and dispatcher. After rising to the rank of Staff Sergeant, Frankel received an honorable discharge in September 1945. She spent her two-year military career at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, North Carolina. In 1947, she married a fellow Marine and changed her name to the one that made her famous: Bea Arthur.
4. M.C. Hammer, rapper, dancer, entrepreneur, record label CEO and ordained minister
Stanley Kirk Burrell’s launched just as many business ventures as more famous music-industry celebs, like Puff Daddy or Lil’ Wayne. Burrell tried out for the San Francisco Giants, but failed to win a spot on any professional baseball team. However, this time period’s when he earned the nickname “Hammer” (due to his resemblance to baseball legend Hank Aaron). After a short stint in college, Burrell enlisted in the United States Navy during the early 1980s. Stationed at NAS Moffett Field in Mountain View, CA, Burrell served with Patrol Squadron VP-47. He worked as an aviation storekeeper while also occasionally performing Master of Ceremonies duties while serving in the Navy. Burrell received an honorable discharge three years later, combined his two nicknames to become the rapper known as M.C. Hammer.
5. Drew Carey, improv comedian, The Price Is Right game show host and sitcom actor
Long before he made us laugh on TV, Drew Carey told jokes for $10 in the Marine Corps Reserves. Cleveland native Carey joined the Reserves in 1980 after spending three years studying at Kent State University. During his six years in the military, Carey served as a field radio operator for Ohio’s 25th Marine Regiment. After several successful military stand-up performances, Carey then won an open mic contest in 1986. He then became Master of Ceremonies at the Cleveland Comedy Club, eventually making his way into show business full-time.
But Carey’s devotion to the military didn’t end after his discharge from service. In 2003, Carey performed several USO shows for American troops during the Iraq War with fellow celebs Kathy Kinney and Bruce Willis.
6. Ice-T, rapper, record producer, author and star of TV’s Law and Order: Special Victims Unit
At 17, Tracy Lauren Marrow lived on his own while attending Crenshaw High School in South Los Angeles, CA. After both parents passed, Marrow received Social Security benefits in 1975 that paid for his apartment. Shortly after the birth of his first daughter, Marrow joined the United States Army in October 1977. Marrow served several years as a soldier in the 25th Infantry Division, but struggled with some legal trouble. Marrow later deployed to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, serving as a squad leader until his honorable discharge in December 1979.
Marrow’s Ice-T moniker comes from his lifelong ability to quote famed African-American author, Iceberg Slim, plus his first initial. During his Hawaii deployment, Marrow purchased cheap stereo equipment along with two Technics turntables and a mixer. His self-taught rapping and turntablism skills soon led Ice-T to a successful music and acting career.
7. Robin Quivers, author, radio newscaster and co-host for The Howard Stern Show
Maryland native Robin Ophelia Quivers has an extensive Air Force military service record that officially ended in 1990. After graduating from the University of Maryland School of Nursing in 1974, Quivers worked as a shock-trauma intensive care nurse. Then, she briefly worked at the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services System. Shortly afterwards, Quivers joined the Air Force in July 1975. Quivers entered active duty on January 11, 1976, rising to the rank of First Lieutenant six months later. After two years’ service, Quivers received the rank of Captain one month before her honorable discharge in June 1978. However, Quivers stayed on as an off-duty member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve until 1990.
Like many celebs discharged from military service, Quivers returned to Maryland in order to start a new career. In 1979, Quivers studied at the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland in Baltimore before securing her first newscaster job. Just two years later, Quivers became the on-air newscaster for The Howard Stern Show in March 1981.
8. Adam Driver, stage, television and film actor
After graduating from high school in Mishawaka, Indiana in May 2001, Adam Driver then applied to Juilliard for drama. However, the exclusive New York City arts conservatory rejected his application. Shortly after that, the horrifying events of September 11 compelled Driver to enlist in the United States Marines Corps. Assigned to Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, Driver served as an 81mm mortar man. But less than three years into his service, Driver broke his sternum during a mountain-biking accident. This resulted in his medical discharge without getting the chance to deploy or see any combat action overseas. Driver held the rank of Lance Corporal at the time of his discharge from the USMC.
In 2006, Driver and his wife, Joanne, founded the non-profit organization, Arts in the Armed Forces (AITAF). The Brooklyn, NY-based non-profit brings free arts programming to active-duty service members, veterans and military support staff around the world.
9. Shaggy, reggae musician, singer, rapper, DJ and actor
Born in Kingston, Jamaica on October 22, 1968, chart-topping Shaggy started out life as Orville Richard Burrell. At age 18, Burrell moved to Brooklyn where his mother lived and started singing lessons. Just one year later, Burrell – nicknamed for the Scooby Doo character – had two #1 hits on New York’s reggae charts. But work and money didn’t come easy to him, despite this early success. Shaggy then enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1988 at age 20 as a field artillery cannon crewman. In 1990 Shaggy deployed overseas, serving with the 10th Marine Regiment’s field artillery battery division during the Persian Gulf War. He eventually rose to the rank of Lance Corporal before ending his military career to focus on music.
10. Rob Riggle, comedian, actor and former TV correspondent for Comedy Central’s The Daily Show
You might recall Rob Riggle’s reports on the ground in Iraq as a Daily Show correspondent in August 2007. In addition, Riggle entertained troops at several USO shows throughout the region. While he was joking around, Riggle did join the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve after getting his pilot’s license in 1990. His military service history includes nine years on active duty as a Public Affairs Officer. Riggle attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and served in units deployed to Afghanistan, Kosovo, Liberia and Albania.
Unlike most other celebs on our list, Riggle’s a highly decorated war veteran who received the following honors:
- 2 Meritorious Service Medals
- Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal
- Joint Service Achievement Medal
- 2 Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals
- Combat Action Ribbon
- 2 National Defense Service Medals
- Kosovo Campaign Medal
- Afghanistan Campaign Medal
- Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
- Humanitarian Service Medal
- Armed Forces Reserve Medal
- NATO Medal
Riggle officially retired from service in the United States Marine Corps Reserve on January 1, 2013.