8 Famous People You Won’t Believe Are WWII Veterans

8 Famous People You Won’t Believe Are WWII Veterans

Maria - June 22, 2016

The people on this list led inspired lives that made them well-known public figures. Many were involved in the film industry, becoming famous for their art in front of and behind the screen. However, their later careers in the spotlight weren’t the only things these icons had in common. As it turns out, they were also military veterans, who had served their time during WWII.

8. Mel Brooks

8 Famous People You Won’t Believe Are WWII Veterans

With widely-acclaimed work as a writer-director under his belt, Mel Brooks hardly needs an introduction. His uproarious comedies like, “Young Frankenstein,” “Blazing Saddles,” and “Spaceballs” made his name virtually appear in flashing lights wherever you saw it.

But along with his genius in the film industry, he was also rather adept at defusing German mines.

Brooks first enlisted in the army when he was just 17. Serving in the 1104th Engineer Combat Battalion, he was part of an elite unit that took on sniper fire and constant shelling to help build bridges, reopen blocked roads and deactivate landmines before the advancing Allied forces had to deal with them.

This fact just makes his work in 1968’s “The Producers,” including the famous song “springtime for Hitler,” all the more relevant.

7. Lenny Bruce

8 Famous People You Won’t Believe Are WWII Veterans

Another comedian on the list, Lenny Bruce had a penchant for evocative stand-up comedy, making himself a cultural icon by pushing the limits of free speech in entertainment.

However, before his comedy acts, Bruce was a turret gunner on a Navy vessel that spent its time in the Mediterranean. A 16-year-old New Yorker looking for a purpose, Bruce signed up for the US army just as WWII began to break out. He spent a lot of time as a shell passer during his time on the U.S.S. Brooklyn, which also saw action as a fire support vessel in North Africa, not to mention during the Allied invasions of Sicily and Anzio, Italy.

While Bruce was an honorable soldier, the sea life had grown tiresome for him. So, in 1945, he lied to gain an early discharge, suggesting he couldn’t contain his (false) homosexual tendencies. Once he returned stateside, his vulgar comedy routines led him to full-blown fame in the years to come.

6. Sir Alec Guinness

8 Famous People You Won’t Believe Are WWII Veterans

Everyone knows Guinness for his role as Obi Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars film franchise. But before his acting career took off, he was a pilot involved in landing infantry craft in the Mediterranean.

Unlike the last two veterans, Guinness was already a trained thespian. He simply made the decision to take a hiatus from the theater to join the Royal Navy in 1939. A hero was soon made of him, as he managed to land nearly 200 British soldiers on the Sicilian beaches during the Italy invasion, while also moving on to ferry weapons to partisan fighters in Yugoslavia.

He even put his life on the line when he was caught in a violent hurricane, only slightly guiding the ship into a harbor before it was thrown against the rocky shore, damaged beyond repair. Thankfully he survived the ordeal, and went on to portray more military roles on the big screen in films like “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and “Tunes of Glory.”

5. Yogi Berra

8 Famous People You Won’t Believe Are WWII Veterans

A famed New York Yankees catcher, Yogi Berra most notably became a sports icon through playing in 14 World Series matches and acting as a big league manager. He also inspired the name for the famous picnic-stealing animated bear, “Yogi Bear.”

But before his Hollywood fame, Berra led a life of military service. He was a veteran of the D-Day invasion, where he and his fellow sailors had control of a small Navy support craft, shooting rockets at German defenses on Omaha Beach. Even though the all-star baseball player happened to get grazed by a German bullet during the Marseilles invasion, Berra didn’t accept the Purple Heart for his duties, hoping to keep his mother from worrying about him stateside.

And believe it or not, Berra wasn’t the only future ball player in the war. He was among many other greats, like Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial and Jackie Robinson, who were all veterans of WWII themselves.

4. Marcel Marceau

8 Famous People You Won’t Believe Are WWII Veterans

Marceau long had a passion for miming, a fun, and artistic endeavor that later led to popularity and a famed career.

But before he spoke in nothing but body language, Marceau served as a member of the French Resistance. Marceau and his brother, Alain, went about forging documents to save the lives of French children, who otherwise would’ve been susceptible to life in the German labor camps. Even more heroically, Marceau smuggled upwards of 70 Jewish children, posing as a Boy Scout leader and guiding them through the untamed woods to the safe haven of neutral Switzerland.

3. Medgar Evers

8 Famous People You Won’t Believe Are WWII Veterans

Medgar Evers was a famed civil rights activist, who embarked on a fulfilling career as the NAACP’s first field secretary. His main work involved desegregating colleges in Mississippi, a noble feat that he’s now remembered for. Sadly, his efforts led to his assassination in 1963, as turbulent times surrounding the fight for racial equality was raging.

Before these civil issues came to pass, however, Evers was a soldier in the U.S. Army. Enlisting in 1943, he served as part of the 325th Port Company in Europe, a segregated unit of black soldiers. Evers not only delivered crucial supplies during the Normandy invasion, but he took action on the front lines with a supply convoy that hauled fuel and other provisions to General George Patton’s tank units throughout France.

2. Josephine Baker

8 Famous People You Won’t Believe Are WWII Veterans

A beautiful stage performer and a government spy? That’s right, Josephine Baker wasn’t only famous for her talents in the spotlight.

Baker had a sultry air about her, making her a famed stage performer in the 1920’s who surprised everyone with risque dance numbers in revealing outfits. However, Baker – a born American who later became a French citizen in 1937 – decided to serve during WWII as an agent in the French Resistance.

Widely known for her lovely charm and jet-setting lifestyle, Baker made a perfect cover for herself, giving her easy access opportunities to shuttle military intelligence and relay secret messages in her things. Due to her humanitarian work sheltering refugees in her home and her consistent high-risk military service, Baker received the French Croix de Guerre for her bravery.

1. James Stewart

8 Famous People You Won’t Believe Are WWII Veterans

James “Jimmy” Stewart was a household name by the start of WWII, after he had already performed in now-classics like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “The Philadelphia Story.” But the Academy Award winner was also one of the few Hollywood stars to enter the Armed Air Forces in 1941.

Forced to gain weight to meet the Army’s minimum weight requirement, Stewart overcame the obstacles to entering the military and became a squadron commander in the English 445th Bombardment Group. Demonstrating his abilities by serving in 20 combat missions as a B-24 pilot, Stewart was granted the Distinguished Flying Cross and various other medals for successfully leading the way in bombing raids over Germany and France.

Stewart returned to his life as an actor after the war, but he ended his service in WWII as a Colonel, while also staying in the Air Force Reserve.