What do Pat Robertson, Ted Williams and Captain Kangaroo have in common? We might include Ed McMahon and “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, the Marine Corps has enlisted some most unlikely people. For example, Hollywood and TV have been awash with Jarheads, starting with Tyrone Power (two Bronze Stars). Jonathan Winters was so wacky it’s hard to think of him in Marine Green. Brian Keith, Drew Carey and Glenn Ford were Marines. Remember “Sorry about that, chief”? Don Adams, USMC. Steve McQueen joined the Marines in 1947. He was demoted back to private seven times. George C. Scott will go down in film history as Gen. George Patton, but Scott was a Marine. Gene Hackman won 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.)
“Heeeeere’s Johnny!” That line, which introduced Johnny Carson each night, was spoken by Ed McMahon. During the Korean War he flew 85 combat missions and retired in 1966 at the rank of colonel. Lee Marvin was wounded (in the buttocks) by fire that severed his sciatic nerve during the battle for Saipan in June 1944. He received a Purple Heart and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Bob Keeshan, television’s “Captain Kangaroo,” enlisted in the Marines.
Sometimes the Corps ch anges lives for the better. The late Arthur Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, dropped out school at 17 and joined the Marines during World War II. “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. “I really owe my life to the Marine Corps because I was heading in the wrong direction,” he said. Balleza was made a Marine sniper in Vietnam, at that time probably the most dangerous job in the world.
There have been others in the media who were Marines. Besides Balleza, there were Bernard Shaw of CNN, Jim Lehrer at PBS and Dan Rather of CBS. 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.
I could never see the attraction of Don Imus, but he was a Marine bugler. The late Joe Jamail (the world’s richest lawyer) of Houston 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 WWII as part of a Marine detachment to keep the Nazis from occupying the island. 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 (a Marine raider), Lee Trevino, Leon Spinks and Ken Norton (wonder who taught them hand-to-hand combat?), Roberto Clemente, Tom Seaver and Rod Carew.
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 University of Texax tower sniper Charles Whitman. Both, unfortunately, were excellent shots.
So, as we can see, all sorts of Americans have worn the eagle, globe and anchor, and you’ll never know when and where you will find one. Sunday is the 244th birthday of the Marines. Semper Fi.