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Memorial Day: 15 Black Celebrities Who Served in the Military

Memorial Day: 15 Black Celebrities Who Served in the Military

As we celebrate Memorial Day, we pause to honor and remember those who have served in the military.

For many with family members in the U.S. Military, this day is a solemn occasion to reflect on those who have sacrificed their lives in service. 

This January was particularly poignant for the families of Spc. William Jerome Rivers, Spc. Kennedy Ladon Sanders, and Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, who endured the heart-wrenching experience of receiving the remains of these soldiers, tragically lost in an attack in Jordan.

Included among those we honor are several black celebrities who wore the uniform and dedicated significant portions of their lives to their country.

Happy Memorial Day! Or for most Black folks, Another Excuse to Throw Somethin’ on the Grill Day.

This article highlights 15 of these individuals, whose military backgrounds may come as a surprise to many.

Morgan Freeman

Before becoming an Academy Award-winning actor, Morgan Freeman served in the Air Force from 1955 to 1959. He turned down a drama scholarship to work as a radar technician and later as a pilot.

 Montel Williams

The famous TV host served in both the Marine Corps and the Navy. After enlisting in the Marines, he was recommended for the Naval Academy, where he graduated with a degree in engineering.

Jimi Hendrix

The legendary guitarist served in the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army in 1961. He enlisted as an alternative to serving time for a minor offense and was eventually granted an honorable discharge.


Born David Adkins, the comedian served in the Air Force as a boom operator. Post-military, Sinbad pursued comedy and acting, landing roles in various TV shows and movies.


Before he was a rapper and actor on “Law & Order: SVU,” Ice-T served four years in the Army. His time in the military helped him develop discipline that would later be crucial in his entertainment career.


Before his musical career took off, Shaggy was a Marine who served with a Field Artillery Battery in the 10th Marine Regiment during the Persian Gulf War.

Charley Pride

The country music legend served in the Army in the late 1950s, before embarking on his pioneering music career, becoming one of the first African-American performers to achieve significant success in the genre.

James Earl Jones

This iconic voice and stage actor served in the Army during the Korean War. He attended the Reserve Officer Training Corps and achieved the rank of first lieutenant.

Sammy Davis Jr.

Davis served in the Army’s entertainment unit during World War II. Despite facing severe racism during his service, he found solace and escape in performance.

Marvin Gaye

In 1956, a 17-year-old Marvin Gaye dropped out of high school and enlisted in the United States Air Force as an Airman Basic. Like many of his peers, he quickly became disillusioned with the service when he found himself performing menial tasks instead of working on jet airplanes as he had hoped.

Richard Pryor

Richard Pryor served in the U.S. Army from 1958 to 1960, but nearly all of his time in the military was spent in an army prison. A 1999 profile in The New Yorker details that Pryor was incarcerated following an incident during his stationing in West Germany.

These celebrities not only made significant contributions to entertainment and culture but also to the defense and service of their country.

Their memorial day adds an admirable layer to their public personas, reminding us of the diverse paths that can lead to fame and the common thread of duty that connects all who serve.


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