Five Famous US Navy Veterans
The US Navy has had millions of sailors cross its brow in the past 242 years. US Navy veterans have appeared in politics, film, theater, they’ve become artists, writers, comedians, and even UFC fighters. People often, however, struggle to call to mind some of the Navy’s favorite sons. Hell, I’ve been in the Navy ten years, and aside from a few choice presidents and famous sailors, I couldn’t name more than a couple of Navy veterans.
Well, that’s why we’re here.
Long before stealing America’s heart in The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, Humphrey DeForest Bogart was a troubled student. Like so many young men with poor job opportunities at the time, Bogart enlisted in the Navy in 1918, during World War I. Despite his history of being a troublemaker in school, he was described as a model sailor and became a Chief Quartermaster.
Rumor has it; he even developed his trademark lisp and scar while he was serving. Several stories circulate as to how he acquired the injury, the first being that he was struck by shrapnel while serving aboard the Leviathan. Another theory is that he received the scar when escorting a prisoner to Portsmouth Naval Prison in Kittery, Maine. According to legend, the prisoner asked Bogart for a cigarette, and while he was looking for a match, the prisoner struck Bogart in the face, splitting his lip. The prisoner fled, but was recaptured and successfully imprisoned.
Another story, however, has it that he acquired it as a child and a doctor botched the stitching. In the end, Humphrey Bogart himself might be the only one who knew for sure.
When people think of Montel Williams, their first thought probably isn’t about his military career. In fact, Montel had a pretty long career highlighted by some impressive accolades and is a proud Navy Veteran.
Williams joined the US Marine Corps in 1974, where he rose to the rank of Corporal and became a platoon guide. In 1976, Williams was accepted into the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland and became a midshipman. He graduated as an Ensign with the Class of 1980 as a Restricted Line Officer. Shortly after, he became a Naval Cryptological Officer and served for a year and a half in Guam.
After spending three years aboard submarines and rising to the rank of Lieutenant, he became supervising Cryptological Officer at Fort Meade, Maryland. During this time he found a gift for public speaking, and in 1988 he was asked to speak at a grade school in Kansas City, Missouri about the benefits of active leadership.
Montel Williams left the Navy as a Lieutenant Commander and used his connections to reach out to youth groups, parents, and schools as a public speaker to encourage positive changes in America’s youth. That experience eventually led him to start the Montel Williams Show.
That’s right, the famous Jimmy Carson of The Tonight Show was a US Navy veteran. Through his exploits on his talk show, you get the feeling he would have been a blast to stand a watch with. During the latter years of World War 2, thousands of sailors would get to do just that.
Johnny enlisted in the Navy on June 8, 1943. He volunteered for the V-5 program, hoping to become a pilot, but was instead sent to the V-12 program at Colombia University for officer training. He was assigned to the USS Pennsylvania and arrived on August 14, 1945, coincidentally the last day of the war. Unfortunately, just two days prior on August 12, the Pennsylvania was torpedoed with a loss of 20 sailors. As the junior officer onboard at the time, Carson was the one who had to supervise their removal from the ship.
Johnny was also an undefeated boxer on the Pennsylvania, racking up a 10-0 record during his time onboard. It’s hard to imagine Johnny Carson throwing a mean right cross, but it happened.
Towards the end of his time in the Navy, when he was serving as a communications officer, Johnny met with Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal, known well for being something of a cranky old grump, and during their meeting, Forrestal asked Carson if he intended to stay in the Navy. Johnny replied that he did not and that he wanted to be a magician.
Right then and there, James Forrestal asked Johnny Carson to show him a magic trick, at which point Johnny showed him a card trick. Forrestal enjoyed the performance, and Carson would later reflect the impact this had on him, as he realized he could make even a cantankerous old man like James Forrestal enjoy a card trick, he could entertain anyone.
Jesse Ventura has become a well-known and somewhat polarizing member of the veteran community. He has had quite the array of odd jobs, from a stint in the WWF where he earned the moniker Jesse “the Body” Ventura to a considerable career in Hollywood and politics. Perhaps best known for his acting career, most specifically his iconic (albeit short) role as Blain Cooper in the 1987 film Predator, he was also the governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003. His rough-and-tumble persona, strong jaw, and no-nonsense manner of speaking have made him popular with veterans.
One of the things the Body loves talking about is being a Navy Veteran. He served during the Vietnam War from 1969 to 1975, graduating UDT school in 1970. Underwater Demolitions Teams, or UDT, are the precursors to the US Navy SEALs. Though Ventura didn’t see combat, he earned his place in Valhalla through the incredibly grueling training program that forges all modern SEALs.
John F. Kennedy
President of the United States from 1961 to 1963, JFK is one of the most well-known and well-liked presidents ever to serve. His charismatic and iconic public speaking made him a popular figure all throughout the western world, guiding America and the West through two of the most dangerous years of the Cold War, including the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Kennedy was also, however, a Navy World War II veteran. He joined the Navy in 1941, before the start of the war, and served until 1945, just before the war ended.
His most notable achievement throughout the war (and there were several) were his actions as the commander of PT-109, based at Tulagi Island in the Solomon Islands. PT-109 was an ELCO Patrol Torpedo (PT) boat; a small ship used to fire torpedoes at larger surface combatants.
While on patrol near Tulagi on the night of August 1st, Kennedy was on patrol with PT-109 near New Georgia when he spotted a Japanese destroyer. After turning to attack, PT-109 was cut in half by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri. Two crewmembers lost their lives as their boat sank, and the survivors were left with a difficult choice: surrender or fight. Kennedy then said these words to his men:
“There’s nothing in the book about a situation like this. A lot of you men have families and some of you have children. What do you want to do? I have nothing to lose.”
The survivors of PT-109 rallied, swimming the three miles to shore away from Amagiri, who was unable to spot them. Kennedy himself towed a badly-burned crewmember, holding the strap of his life jacket in his teeth until they were safely ashore, and again to a second island before they were rescued. For this act of bravery, Kennedy and one other officer, Ensign Leonard Thom, would receive the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for bravery, as well as the Purple Heart for injuries sustained during the attack.
All of these men were immeasurably proud of their naval service, speaking of it often. Show your pride with the new Navy Veteran t-shirt, now on shelves at Navy Crow! Our shirts are 100% printed and made in the United States because JFK and Jesse Ventura wouldn’t want their clothing made by no commies, why would you? Check it out here, or click the image below!