Military, WW2

MORE Famous People Who Fought in WW2: A Top 20 List 

The scale of the War was such that the draft was adopted in many nations. As such, many young men who would go on to become celebrities in the decades that followed became veterans of the conflict. Others signed up to join the army voluntarily, and a further few joined their country’s resistance movement against the Nazis. 

This list covers 20 of the the most famous people who fought in the Second World War. 

James Stewart

James Stewart’s family had long been involved in the military. Stewart himself enlisted in 1940, which made him the first major film star in the US to do so. Initially, Stewart was rejected due to his bodyweight being deemed too low – he successfully enlisted a year later, in 1941.

Jimmy Stewart
James Stewart is arguably one of Hollywood’s biggest names to have served during WW2

Stewart was already an experienced pilot at the time and went on to serve in the US Air Corps. Once the War was over, Stewart still reported for regular training and would even fight in the Vietnam War. His time in the air force was 27 years in total. 

Kirk Douglas

Not long after the US joined WW2, Kirk Douglas enlisted in the US Navy.

Kirk Douglas (right) filming “In Harm’s Way” on board Saint Paul in 1964. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

There, he served as a communications officer aboard USS PC-1139, where he specialised in anti-submarine warfare. Douglas was later discharged in 1944 after he was injured in the explosion of a depth charge, which detonated early. 

Paul Newman 

Prior to being discovered as a talented film actor, Paul Newman served in the US Navy as a pilot during the Second World War. He was initially rejected due to being colour-blind (which turned out to be false) and struggling to keep up with the level of mathematics required to be a pilot. 

Audrey Hepburn 

One of the most famous actresses of all time, Audrey Hepburn was involved with the wartime effort in the Netherlands, where she was living at the time.

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It’s even been reported that Hepburn raised money for the Dutch Resistance. This was done through underground performances. Additionally, Hepburn volunteered at a hospital near her home. Her family concealed a British paratrooper in their home throughout the duration of the Battle of Arnhem. Although she never fought her service in WW2 was a great achievement.

Sir Alec Guinness

Sir Alec Guinness alongside Rita Tushingham in Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Alec Guinness enlisted in the Royal Army Navy Reserve in 1941. While he took some time away from the battlefield to perform on Broadway, he would later go on to fly in the Allies’ invasion of Sicily in 1943. 

Josephine Baker 

The American-born Josephine Baker moved to France as a young woman. She later went on to become a superstar in Paris, thanks to her dancing and acting prowess.

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When the Second World War began, Baker was recruited by French intelligence services as a spy and used her high profile to mingle with prominent Japanese, Italian, and Vichy officials, before reporting what they had disclosed to the French Army.

She would reportedly smuggle sensitive information. This was done in her sheet music or underwear when she travelled to perform for troops in different parts of the conflict zone. 

Clark Gable 

At the ripe old age of 40, Clark Gable volunteered for the US Air Force and actually served as a gunner.

Hollywood actor Clark Gable and his Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress in England in 1943.

He was so famous at the time that Hitler offered a sizeable reward for anyone who might be able to capture Gable alive and transfer him to the Nazis. 

Sir Christopher Lee

Best known for his roles in Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, as well as for playing Dracula no less than 10 times, Christopher Lee served with RAF Intelligence during the Second World War.

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After the conflict ended, Lee continued his service for some time and was tasked with hunting down and interrogating Nazi war criminals. This was thanks in part to his being fluent in French, German, and Italian. 

Jason Robards 

One of the most decorated American actors in history, Jason Robards enlisted in the US Navy upon graduating from high school in 1940. Robards’ military career was fairly eventful;

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Robards was serving on USS Northampton when the ship was struck by Japanese torpedoes and sank. Robards had to tread water for hours until he was eventually rescued. 

Mel Brooks 

The popular comedian Mel Brooks enlisted in the US Army in 1944 when he was just 17.

Brooks was studying combat engineering in the US Army and served during the Battle of the Bulge.

He used his experiences in the war as fodder for his writing after the conflict ended. He would go on to satirise the Nazis in his comedy the Producers

David Niven 

Famous for his role in the Pink Panther franchise, as well as Casino Royale, the British actor David Niven actually had a fairly long military career before discovering his love of the screen.

Niven served as a second lieutenant in the British Military after graduating secondary school but quickly grew bored of serving in the army during peacetime. 

Several years later, Britain declared war on Germany. Niven was living in the US at the time. He returned to the UK the very next day to re-enlist in the Army . This was against the advice of the British Embassy.

David Niven and Errol Flynn in The Dawn Patrol (1938) Niven went to serve as a lieutenant-colonel in WW2

He was the only British actor based in Hollywood to do so. Niven went to serve as a lieutenant-colonel, fought in Germany, and helped to establish the BBC Allied Expeditionary Forces Programme. This provided radio entertainment to Allied troops. 

Yogi Berra 

New York Yankees superstar (and the man who reportedly coined the phrase ‘it ain’t over ‘til it’s over’), Yogi Berra actually fought in the D-Day Invasion of 1944.

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Berra and his comrades reportedly fired rockets at German soldiers on the beach throughout the battle. While Berra was grazed by a German bullet during the Invasion, he reportedly declined to be awarded a Purple Heart as he didn’t want to scare his mother back home. 

Lenny Bruce

Lenny Bruce is famous for his stand-up comedy, but what he’s less known for is his career in the US Army. Not long after the Second World War broke out, Bruce dropped out of high school in order to enlist.

He went on to serve as a shell passer and then turret gunner aboard the U.S.S. Brooklyn, which was utilised as a fire support vessel in the Mediterranean and off the coast of North Africa. 

Medgar Evers 

While he would go on to become one of the US’ best known civil rights activists in the ‘60s, Medgar Evars enlisted in the Army in 1943 after dropping out of high school.

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He served with distinction in the 325th Port Company, a segregated unit in Europe that was tasked with transporting supplies across the front line during the invasion of Normandy. 

Roald Dahl

The British children’s author Roald Dahl joined the RAF shortly after World War Two broke out, where he served as a fighter pilot. After a crash left him temporarily blinded, he was sent to the US to work as a spy, where he secretly transmitted intelligence to Winston Churchill. 

Ian Fleming 

Best-known as the writer of the James Bond books, Ian Fleming’s iconic series of spy books were likely directly inspired by his experiences working for British naval intelligence during World War Two. 

Ian Fleming
James Bond author Ian Fleming served in the Royal Navy during WW2. He got the idea of 007 whilst serving in Naval Intelligence .

Fleming was recruited by the Naval Intelligence Division shortly after the war broke out in 1939, and ended up serving as a Lieutenant Commander. He was responsible for the planning of Operation Goldeneye and composed and supervised two intelligence units, known as the 30 Assault Unit and T-Force, respectively. 

JD Salinger 

JD Salinger was still undiscovered as a writer when he was drafted into the US Army in 1942. Reportedly, Salinger was working on his seminal novel The Catcher in the Rye at the time and would even carry pages of its transcript into combat when he fought. 

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Salinger’s fluency in German and French led him to be tasked with interrogating Nazi prisoners of war, and he was present for the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp.

His experiences took a massive toll on his mental health. He was hospitalised in 1945 following a mental breakdown caused by what would today be described as PTSD. 

Joe Louis 

By the time the Second World War broke out, the American heavyweight boxer Joe Louis was world champion in his division.

Joe Louis seen here after being promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant .

Louis dedicated himself to raising funds and publicity for the war effort. In 1942, he fought in a charity exhibition fundraising match, and enlisted as a private in the US Army the day after. 

Marcel Marceau

Easily one of the most famous stage performers ever to come out of France, Marcel Marceau was renowned for his appearances as Bip the Clown, as well as his incredible skills as a mime. 

An equally impressive but perhaps lesser-known fact about Marceau was that he was also a member of the French Jewish Resistance during the Second World War, saving the lives of over a hundred Jewish and French children in the process. He fought the Germans on several occasions.

Marceau even posed as the leader of a boy scout troop and led 70 Jewish children through the wilderness to safety in Switzerland, which was neutral during the conflict. 

Tony Bennett 

The beloved American crooner, Tony Bennett, was drafted into the US Army right after turning 18 in 1944. Bennett served in Europe and fought predominantly in Germany, where he helped to liberate a concentration camp operated by the Nazis at the conclusion of the War. 

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Bennett has relayed that his experiences in WW2 transformed him into a staunch pacifist; he narrowly escaped death several times during his short service, and has described serving in the War as ‘hell.’ He often fought on the front line. However, it was in the Army that Bennett was given the opportunity to perform for his fellow troops as part of one of the Special Service’s bands. 

After returning to the States, Bennett continued to refine his singing technique and eventually went on to become a massive star with his hit I Left My Heart in San Francisco