When you look at war movies and see the actors portraying the gruesome experiences involved you can’t help but think how the guys who were actually there in the war must’ve felt like, knowing that for them there’s no director to say “Cut!” so they can take a break. And likewise, that there would be no break in the relentless effort by the myriad devices trying to end them at the hands of the enemies that wielded them. That the pain and fear is real and not an Oscar worthy performance.
Those same guys, if they made it home, might appreciate a good “portrayal” of war by an actor or two or might sneer at such an attempt and laugh at the diluted things it presents to its viewers.
But in some cases, there are actors who would know how the real thing feels or at least be able to empathize with one such soldier due to similar experiences. I’m talking about those actors who’ve served in wars.
So, let’s take a look at 13 war veteran actors.
1. Clark Gable
Big screen darling of women everywhere, Clark Gable, referred to as The King of Hollywood and known for too many movies to count (The Misfits, Gone With The Wind, Mutiny On The Bounty to name a few) was also a pilot and flew in World War II on five missions for the Allies. As an interesting twist, Hitler was one of his fans (he was also a huge Karl May fan) so he promised a reward if Gable was captured alive!
2. Mel Brooks
Is best known as a classic of comedy with hits like History Of The World Part 1, Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs and many others. But he had more to do with explosives than just his energetic, explosive performances on set. Because he served in World War II disarming mines for the Allies as an engineer. And he also participated in the famous Ardennes Counteroffensive (or Battle of the Bulge as it later became known), in which the US incurred their most casualties in a single operation in the whole span of the war.
3. Paul Newman
Another Hollywood superstar (Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, The Sting etc.), and famous for his piercing blue eyes, he pierced the airwaves and the air as a radioman an gunner for the US navy in the Pacific during World War II and narrowly escaped the fate of the rest of his unit who died in its entirety due to a kamikaze attack, because his pilot had an ear infection and they were ordered to stay behind.
4. Charles Durning
He was a colleague of Paul Newman on the set of The Sting and his colleague in WWII as well. Where, Durning performed acts of bravery during the three years he served which resulted in him being awarded several honors, including the Purple Heart, Silver Star and Bronze Star. When you think that he also became a big movie star, despite his first roles coming after the age of 40, that sounds like an over-achiever if there ever was one.
5. Alec Guinness
Since Star Wars The Force Awakens is about to launch in cinemas everywhere, a look at the past installments of the 70s is probably on many people’s to-do list. And they will get to (re)watch Alec Guiness as the now legendary Obi-Wan Kenobi. But long before he played the iconic character, Guiness was a navy man part of the invasion of Elba and Sicily during World War II.
6. Christopher Lee
A great actor, with a diverse repertoire, an author and also a singer, in case you didn’t know. And knighted by the Queen of Britain. If you thought his skill in portraying Saruman in Lord of The Rings and many other villains during the course of his 70 year career was grand, then perhaps it will surprise you to know that in real-life he was pretty much the hero. As a volunteer with the Finnish in the Winter War and later on as a fly-boy (read pilot) for the Royal Air Force during World War II.
7. James Doohan
And since were talking about great fiction, let’s go to science-fiction and James Doohan, the actor who portrayed Scotty in the 70s and 80s. He had the misfortune of first entering combat on the tragic D-Day, the desperate effort the Allies put together to attack the Germans on the coast of Normandy. As the number of Allied casualties and injuries were appalling during this assault, it’s no wonder that Doohan was shot six times and required one of his fingers to be amputated.
8. Charles Bronson
His tough guy image wasn’t just an image. He didn’t just play the tough guy on-screen. He was one in real life. As demonstrated by his three years spent as a gunner for the US Air Force in World War II and the Purple Heart he got in recognition of his valor. Oh and the wounds he got in the process of demonstrating said valor.
9. Denholm Elliott
Here’s an interesting example of how life can set you on unexpected paths. Elliot wasn’t even interested in acting (which he later became famous for, especially for starring in Indiana Jones movies), until he received a book with a Shakesperian work from the Red Cross. You see, he was a gunner for the Royal Air Force in World War II, he got shot down and taken to a prisoner camp, where he spent the rest of the war.
10. Michael Caine
Sir Michael Caine has played anything from gangsters to refined English gentlemen and a great many other roles in between. And he credits his love of life and Carpe Diem! attitude on a near-death experience he had while in the Korean War. He served England between 1952 and 1954 in the British Army’s Royal Fussiliers. He once declared that if youth today would still have to perform compulsory national service they wouldn’t feel inclined towards violence in their free time anymore.
11. Rod Serling
He is best known for Twilight Zone. But in World War II he participated in the battle that would oust the Japanese from the Philippines – The Battle of Leyte. He was a paratrooper for the US Army.
12. Dennis Franz
But it’s not just the World War I and II period that gave us veterans who would later become stars. Dennis Franz served in the Vietnam war with the 82nd Airborne division for 11 months in what has been described as hell on earth by those who returned from the war. So when he later became the guy known for playing the tough cop from NYPD Blue (among other roles), it must have seemed like a cinch to him.
13. Rob Riggle
Participating in the most recent wars on this list, Rob Riggle the actor and comedian was also a combatant in the Kosova War and then Afghanistan as a Marine. He is a United States Marine Corps Reserve Lieutenant Colonel in case you were wondering about his rank.