Throughout the history of the US Marine Corps, there’ve been many Leathernecks who’ve gained fame through impressive feats of bravery and valor. There are also those who went on to achieve fame in the a traditional sense following their discharge. Many women and men, some of whom have become household names, boast a history of having served in the Marines, and these are some of the most famous.
Comedian and actor Rob Riggle, known for his roles in 21 Jump Street (2012), Saturday Night Live (1975 – present) and The Daily Show (1996 – present), spent over 20 years in the US Marine Corps. He enlisted in April 1990 and served nine years of active duty before going into the reserves.
Riggle became a Public Affairs Officer and served with a number of different units. During his service, he was deployed to Liberia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. He was so committed to his service, in fact, that he managed to put in the requisite time with the US Marine Corps Reserves, despite his burgeoning acting career. This included an August 2007 visit to Iraq on behalf of The Daily Show, wherein he also entertained troops with the USO.
In 2013, Riggle retired from the service as a lieutenant colonel, and he’s since become one of the most famous actors to have served in the Marines. Over the course of his 23 years with the US military, he earned a number of decorations, including the Meritorious Service Medal with one gold star, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with one gold star, and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with one campaign star, among many others.
Comedian and gameshow host Drew Carey is another famous marine, enlisting with the US Marine Corps Reserve in 1980. He served for six years as a field radio operator with the 25th Marine Regiment in Ohio, reaching the rank of sergeant, and it was during his years with the Marine Corps that Carey began performing comedy. He made $10 for each joke he wrote for stand-up shows.
For Carey, the Marines offered him stability and resources when he was at one of the lowest points of his life. Dropping out of university and with no job prospects, the service offered him support and a family, and taught him the skills and discipline he continues to exercise today.
Despite it being decades since his discharge, Carey continues to show his support for the US military by performing overseas with the USO.
Famous televangelist Pat Robertson also served in the Marines, but his service has been called into question by fellow veterans. When the draft was reinstated in 1948, he enlisted, so he could continue to attend school, participating in summer bootcamps in Quantico, Virginia during his enrolment.
Robertson was deployed to Japan in 1951. His account suggests he participated in combat during the Korean War, serving with the First Marine Division and receiving three battle stars. However, others have alleged that his father, Sen. Absalom Robertson (D-VA), went to great lengths to keep him from having to actually engage with the enemy. Instead, it’s alleged he held a position that kept him stationed in Japan.
Gene Hackman was once considered Hollywood’s hardest-working man. What many might not know is that he served with the US Marine Corps before embarking on his illustrious acting career. The 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions, the 3rd Marine Regiment and the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion were just some of his unit assignments during this time.
A 16-year-old Hackman dropped out of high school and lied about his age to enlist in the service – but not for the reason you’re thinking. “I couldn’t get laid, ya know…,” he explained in a 1988 interview with David Letterman. After undergoing basic training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, he was deployed to China as a radio operator. This led to him becoming a DJ for the Armed Forces Network (AFN).
Hackman’s time with the Marines wasn’t all positive, as he became rather infamous for getting into fights with his comrades. He would also leave his post without permission, resulting in him being demoted three times.
Hackman later pursued film, with his crowning achievement being 1971’s The French Connection. On multiple occasions, he portrayed military figures, including an admiral in Behind Enemy Lines (2001) and a submarine captain in Crimson Tide (1995).
Jamaican-American reggae singer and rapper Orville Burrell – better known by his stage name, Shaggy – served in the Marines before adopting the lifestyle of the rich and famous. He enlisted after being unable to find steady employment and served between 1988-92, participating in Operation Desert Storm.
Shaggy served as a field artillery cannon crewman with the Field Artillery Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment. While serving, he never stopped pursuing his love for music, and the two worlds collided when he was twice demoted for going AWOL. Despite retiring from active service, he’s never stopped supporting fellow Marine veterans.
Late actress Bea Arthur acted in the long-running sitcom Golden Girls (1985-1992), and she served as a Marine before breaking through into acting. She enlisted just five days after the US Marine Corps called upon women to enlist, submitting a letter, which showcased her dedication to the cause. “I was supposed to start work yesterday, but heard last week that enlistments for women in the Marines were open, so decided the only thing to do was join,” she wrote.
After undergoing basic training, Arthur was sent to Washington, DC to serve as a typist. She later requested a transfer to the Motor Transport School at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, which was subsequently approved. This led to her becoming a driver and dispatcher at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point.
Arthur kept her military service a secret her entire life, going so far as to deny it in various interviews. It wasn’t until her records were made public that the long-withheld details were revealed.
Famous actor Henry Keitel served as a marine between 1956-59. He was just 17 years old when he enlisted, later attending night combat school. He deployed to Lebanon as part of Operation Blue Bat, with his actions as a fire team leader earning him a medal.
Keitel considers his time in the Marines to have been life-changing, saying, “It taught me how to endure, taught me how to endure hardships, it taught me what real camaraderie was like. It taught me what sacrifice was really like and what loyalty was.”
Following his discharge, Keitel worked as a court stenographer, before making the leap into acting. Since then, he’s wracked up quite the resume, starring in such films as Taxi Driver (1976), Thelma & Louise (1991) and Reservoir Dogs (1992), among many other hits.
Montel Williams, of The Montel Williams Show (1991 – 2008), enlisted in the US Marine Corps in 1974, as soon as he graduated from high school. While attending the US Naval Academy Preparatory Course, he proved his prowess, and was accepted as the first African-American marine into the officer training program at the institution.
Williams committed 22 years to the military. He served 18 months as a cryptologic officer for naval intelligence, after which he became a supervising cryptologic officer with the Naval Security Fleet Support Division at Fort Meade, Maryland, where he also worked with the National Security Agency (NSA). Williams was later involved with Operation Urgent Fury, the US invasion of Grenada.
The talkshow host retired from the Navy as a lieutenant commander, having received a number of decorations, including the Navy Achievement Medal, two Meritorious Service Medals, two Humanitarian Service Medals and the National Defense Service Medal, among others.
Steve McQueen, famous for being the King of Cool, enlisted in the US Marine Corps in 1947. He was promoted to private first class and assigned to an armored unit. In classic McQueen rebellious fashion, the future actor was demoted seven times. One incident involved him going AWOL for two weeks to visit his girlfriend, resulting in 41 days in the brig.
Following his bout of rebelliousness, McQueen decided to turn his military career around, later going on to say, “The Marines made a man out of me. I learned how to get along with others, and I had a platform to jump off of.” This change in attitude was evident in his saving the lives of five other marines during an Arctic exercise, pulling them from their tank before it fell through the ice.
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McQueen was also assigned to the honor guard, tasked with guarding the yacht owned by US President Harry Truman. Following his honorable discharge in 1950, he went on to star in a number of popular films, of which many had a military theme: The War Lover (1962), The Great Escape (1963), Soldier in the Rain (1963) and The Sand Pebbles (1966).