Pynchon's time in the Navy is evident in many of his major works: V. follows the misadventures of a recently-discharged Navy sailor in early-60s New York. Gravity's Rainbow, which takes place in World War II's European theater and revolves around Nazi Germany's V-2 missile program, is particularly rife with military-related themes and characters.
Hugh Hefner got his start in publishing while in the US Army.
Before Playboy existed, Hefner had a successful career in the military.
In 1944, after graduating high school, Hefner enlisted in the Army as an infantry clerk.
He frequently contributed cartoons for various military newspapers before he was discharged in 1946.
Bea Arthur was a typist and truck driver in the Marines.
According a personal account detailing her reasons for joining, a then 21-year-old Arthur said she "heard ... that enlistments for women in the Marines were open, so decided the only thing to do was to join."
Norris, who had broken his shoulder a week into training, was on a walk when he observed villagers executing spinning heel kicks and other moves.
"I was mesmerized by their incredible ability. I wanted to ask them what they were doing, but they looked very intense," he said. "So I returned to the base and described what I had seen to my judo instructor, Master Ahn. He said it was called Tang Soo Do. I told him that I'd love to try it, since I couldn't do judo with my injured shoulder."
By the time he left Korea, Norris had his black belt in Tang Soo Do and brown belt in judo.
Johnny Carson entertained fellow troops with magic acts during World War II.
The future television host and comedian joined the US Navy in 1943, starting as an apprentice shipman and eventually a midshipman assigned to the USS Pennsylvania in the Pacific Ocean.
The then 20-year-old entertained his fellow Navymen with magic and comedy while aboard the ship.
Carson briefly continued his military career as a communications officer in charge of decoding encrypted messages.
Bill Cosby worked with seriously injured Korean War soldiers while in the Navy.
Actor Bill Cosby joined the Navy in 1956 as a hospital corpsman, serving at at least five marine bases throughout his four-year service.
At a 2011 Navy ceremony designating Cosby as an honorary chief petty officer, the entertainer spoke about his time in the armed services.
"The years I spent in the Navy and so many moments remembering that the Navy gave me a wake-up call. The Navy showed me obedience and that's the thing that pushed me to realize the mistakes I had made in my young life at 19-years-old and that I could do something with myself and become somebody," he said.
Ice-T served in the Army for four years after selling drugs on the streets of L.A.
After high school, Tracy Lauren Marrow — aka Ice-T — found himself without many opportunities, often dealing drugs on the streets of Los Angeles to support himself.
"And when I had my daughter I was like, man, I'm going to go to jail, I got to do something, and I went to an enlistment office," he told NPR.
Ice-T then spent four years in the 25th Infantry Division at the Tropic Lightning Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.
Elvis Presley was already a huge rock star when he was deployed to Germany.
Elvis Presley was drafted in December 1957, and entered into the United States Army in March 1958 — two years after his songs "Hound Dog" and "Heartbreak Hotel" hit the airwaves and turned an unknown Mississippi boy into America's King of Rock and Roll.
“The army can do anything it wants with me,” he said. “Millions of other guys have been drafted, and I don’t want to be different from anyone else.”
Presley was stationed in Fort Hood, Texas before being deployed to the 1st Medium Tank Battalion, 32d Armor in Friedberg, Germany. It was there that he met his future wife, Priscilla Beaulieu.
Clemente, who earned his 3,000th hit in what would become the last plate appearance of his career, was killed in a plane crash while helping to deliver relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua in December of 1972. The Baseball Writers of America waived the five-year eligibility requirement for Hall of Fame induction for Clemente, who entered Cooperstown in 1973. He would also be elected to the Marine Corps' Sports Hall of Fame 30 years later.
After being expelled from college, Mr. T excelled while serving in the U.S. Army.
Mr. T (Laurence Tureaud) became a military policeman in the Army after being expelled from college.
The future "The A-Team" actor was also elected "Top Trainee of the Cycle" and later promoted to squad leader.
Maynard James Keenan was once headed for West Point.
Before his long-form experimental rock band sold 12 million albums and garnered an obsessive worldwide following, the Tool frontman was an army enlistee hoping to get through art school on the GI Bill. He distinguished himself enough to make it into West Point's preparatory school and was even offered a spot in the prestigious US Military Academy — something that would have all but secured him a long, successful career in the armed forces.
Keenan turned it down. He finished out his enlistment, but songs like "Intolerance" — supposedly written about his time at West Point — betray a personal discomfort with at least some of the institution's values.
Montel Williams served in the US Navy Reserve for 22 years.
Montel Williams enlisted in the US Marines Corps in 1974. After graduating the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, he was appointed as a midshipman in the Navy.
Williams served as a cryptologic officer for naval intelligence in Guam, and in 1983 was transferred to the National Security Agency in Maryland. It was there that the then-lieutenant first began counseling his team and servicemen's families, a service that paved the way to further public speaking and "The Montel Williams Show."
When Williams left the Navy, he had received the Navy Achievement Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, and the Navy Commendation Medal.
Montel continued to support sailors, marines and their families throughout his two decades on television, and was awardedThe Department of the Navy Superior Public Service Award in 2008.
Kurt Vonnegut was a prisoner of war during World War II.
Those sections of Slaughterhouse-Five about the allied firebombing of Dresden drew from personal experience. Captured during the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944, Vonnegut was confined in a German prisoner of war camp near the city during the February 1945 aerial campaign. Some view the novel as an extended metaphor for what is now recognized as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Vonnegut received a Purple Heart for his service in World War II, along with three bronze service stars. The horrors he witnessed as an infantryman and POW would feed the simultaneously jaundiced and uncannily heartfelt view of humanity on display in novels like Breakfast of Champions and Cat's Cradle.
Sidney Poitier acted insane to find a way out of the Army.
After moving from the Bahamas to the United States as a teenager, Poitier had a hard time finding work. New York City's bitter winter temperatures were a drastic change of environment for the now Academy Award-winning actor.
So, in November 1943, at the ripe age of 16, he lied about his age and entered the Army.
Poitier served as a medical attendant at a mental hospital in New York, but eventually grew tired of Army life. Instead of admitting his real age, he faked insanity, though he eventually came clean upon threat of shock treatments.
After talking to a psychiatrist for several weeks, Poitier was eventually granted release from the Army.
Clint Eastwood escaped from a sinking aircraft while serving in the Army.
Clint Eastwood got his acting start in Western flicks, but his time serving during the Korean War presented the actor with the adventure of a lifetime.
Hendrix was later discharged from the Army due to a ankle injury sustained in a parachute jump. The rest is Rock 'n' Roll history.
Jerry Garcia had a brief stint in the Army
The founder of the greatest rock band of all time might have a had much different path in life if he hadn't received a general discharge for poor conduct nine months into an army enlistment in his late teens — a stint that actually included basic training at California's Fort Ord.
"I was 17 and the army came there and they took one look at me and they said, Melvin, you're our guy. They issued a test, the army specialized training reserve program test. If you pass this test, I think it was like how much is one and one, you know?" he said. "And I nearly failed because I said, well, side by side they're 11, but they took me anyway."
Thereafter, he attended the Army Specialized Training Program at the Virginia Military Institute.
He served in the United States Army as a corporal during World War II, a service that had him defusing land mines and fighting in the Battle of the Bulge.
Pat Sajak was a disc jockey for armed forces radio.
On The Military Channel's "An Officer and a Movie," Sajak later admitted to accidentally botching President Nixon's 1969 Christmas broadcast to the troops, cutting it off too early.
Tom Selleck's National Guard unit was activated during Los Angeles' Watts Riots.
"Magnum, P.I." actor Tom Selleck served in the California Army National Guard, and his unit was activated for the Watts riots in Los Angeles in 1965.
He is now a spokesman for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
Alan Alda served in the military years before he got the lead part in Korean War-set "M*A*S*H."
Long before Alan Alda had the fictional role as Hawkeye Pierce in "M*A*S*H," a CBS series about a team of medical staff stationed at a surgical hospital in South Korea during the Korean War, he had his own personal military experience.
After serving in Fordham University's Reserve Officers' Training Corps, he found his way into the Army Reserve, where he was deployed for six months.
Alda later spoke toSouthern Connecticut State University about his stint in the military, saying, "They had designs of making me into an officer but, uh ... it didn't go so well. I was in charge of a mess tent. Some of that made it into the show [M*A*S*H]."
You saw where 19 celebrity veterans started their careers ...