What do Pat Robertson, John Glenn and Captain Kangaroo have in common? We might include Ed McMahon, Ted Williams, “Golden Girls” Bea Arthur and Montel Williams. They were all United States Marines. Odd, since we tend to think of Leathernecks as more like John Wayne, who played Marine Sgt. John M. Stryker in “Sands of Iwo Jima,” but never served in the military. Actually, over the centuries the Marine Corps has enlisted all sorts of people, some most unlikely. For example, Hollywood and TV have been awash with Jarheads, starting with Tyrone Power (two Bronze Stars). Jonathan Winters was so whacky it’s hard to think of him in Marine Green. Remember “Sorry about that, chief”? Don Adams, USMC. Steve McQueen joined the Marines in 1947. He served in an armored unit and was demoted back to private seven times. His troubles reached a breaking point when he stretched a weekend pass into a two-week tryst with a girlfriend. Later, on a training exercise in the Arctic, a sandbar caused McQueen’s ship to jolt several tanks off of the deck. McQueen jumped into the water and saved five lives. At least that’s what his bio says.
George C. Scott will go down in film history as Gen. George Patton, but Scott wasn’t in the army, he was a Marine. Gene Hackman had a movie career that spanned more than six decades. He was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning Best Actor in “The French Connection” and Best Supporting Actor in “Unforgiven.” He once told the story of the time when he was a struggling wannabe actor and was working as a doorman at a New York City hotel, and who would walk by but his old Marine drill instructor. He took one look at Hackman and said, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.” (Hackman’s net worth is now estimated at $80 million.) Glenn Ford, Brian Keith, Drew “The Price Is Right” Carey and George Peppard all joined the Corps. “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” That line, which introduced Johnny Carson each week night, was spoken by Ed McMahon. World War II ended before he shipped out. He later served as a reserve officer but switched back to active duty during the Korean War where he spotted for batteries and fighter bombers in a Cessna O-1. He flew 85 combat missions and retired in 1966 at the rank of colonel.
Lee Marvin enlisted in the U.S. Marines, saw action as a private first class in the Pacific during World War II, and was wounded (in the buttocks) by fire which severed his sciatic nerve during the battle for Saipan in June 1944. He received a Purple Heart, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery next to Joe Louis. Bob Keeshan, later famous as television’s “Captain Kangaroo,” also enlisted in the Marines, but too late to see any action during World War II. Bob Bell played Bozo the Clown on TV. Although he was certifiably blind in his right eye, he succeeded in passing the Marine Corps physical in 1941 by memorizing the eye charts. Less than a year later, however, he was given a medical discharge.
Sometimes the Corps changes lives for the better. The late Arthur Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, dropped out school at 17, and joined the Marines during WWII. “Before I entered the Marines, I was a lazy good-for-nothing,” he once told his mother. “The Marines woke me up.” KPRC-TV news anchor Bill Balleza, said he was headed for trouble with San Antonio gangs until he enlisted in the Marines, which totally turned him around. “It was overnight. In fact, I really owe my life to the Marine Corps because I was heading in the wrong direction,” he said. “You think you’re such a tough guy, then they show you just how tough you thought you were. They straightened me out.” In turn, Balleza must have impressed the Corps: He was made a Marine sniper in Vietnam, at that time probably the most dangerous job in the world.
The media is heavy with Leathernecks. Besides Balleza, there was Bernard Shaw of CNN, Jim Lehrer at PBS and Dan Rather. Political humorist Art Buchwald served. There were several popular authors, including Robert Ludlum who wrote “The Bourne Supremacy,” “The Bourne Identity,” etc. etc. selling between 300 and 400-million copies.
Don Imus served as a bugler. The late Joe Jamail (the world’s richest lawyer) of Houston was an enlisted man and fought in the South Pacific. Houstonian and former Secretary of State and Treasury James Baker was an officer. Another Secretary of State and Treasury was George Schultz. He was sent to Iceland early in WW II as part of a Marine detachment to keep the Nazis from occupying the island. On that barren, wind-swept frost he was ordered: “If you see a tree move, shoot it.” James Carville, who coined the term, “It’s the economy, stupid,” was in the Corps. Only one Marine ever got much traction running for President, astronaut and Sen. John Glenn. In sports we have the aforementioned Ted Williams, along with Bum Phillips, Lee Trevino, Leon Spinks and Ken Norton (wonder who taught them hand-to-hand combat?). Roberto Clemente, Rod Carew, Tom Seaver and Hank Bauer (Marine raider, two Bronze Stars).
Drummer Buddy Rich served in the Corps. Both Everly Brothers joined. So did Freddy Fender and George Jones. Another musician was John Philip Sousa. His father was a trombonist in the Marine Band, and he enlisted Sousa in the United States Marine Corps as an apprentice at age 13 to keep him from joining a circus band. But we must remember two other Marines: Lee Harvey Oswald and UT Tower sniper Charles Whitman. Both, unfortunately, were excellent shots.
So we can see that all sorts of Americans wore the eagle, globe and anchor, and no telling where you may find them. November 10th was the 244th birthday of the Marines. Semper Fi.
Lance Corporal Ashby is AWOL at firstname.lastname@example.org