Celebrity Airmen

Celebrating the Air Force’s 68th birthday

The Air Force is the youngest of the military branches, having been created out of Army Air Corps just 68 years ago today. But during that time it has seen quite a few now-famous figures serve in its ranks. Some are well known Air Force veterans, such as former president George W. Bush, but a few others might surprise you.

Hunter S. ThompsonHST_1

The man who coined the phrase “gonzo journalism” and became a cultural icon served as an Airman First Class in the early and mid 1950s. While Thompson was serving at Elgin Air Force Base, Col. William S. Evans, chief of information services, wrote that Thompson was immensely talented, but added that "this airman, although talented, will not be guided by policy ... Sometimes his rebel and superior attitude seems to rub off on other airmen staff members." He was thus given an honorable discharge.

Bob RossBobRoss

The man who taught countless people how to paint happy little trees actually honed his craft while serving in the Air Force. He joined the Air Force after dropping out of school in the ninth grade, and began his love of painting at a USO in Anchorage, Alaska. He spent 20 years in the service, reaching the rank of Master Sergeant, which is one reason why he was always so calm and quiet. "I was the guy who made you scrub the latrine, the guy who made you make your bed, the guy who screamed at you for being late to work,” he once said about his time in the military. “I promised myself that if I ever got away from it, it wasn't going to be that way anymore."

Johnny CashJohnnyCash

Actually born J.R. Cash, he chose the name “John” when he enlisted for the Air Force in 1950. (Turns out the Air Force required at least a full first name, not just an initial.) It was in the Air Force that he formed his first band, The Landsberg Barbarians, named after Landsberg Air Force Base in Germany where they were stationed. He served until 1954, and was honorably discharged with the rank of Staff Sergeant.

Robin QuiversRobinQuivers

For three decades, Quivers has been the co-host of Howard Stern’s incredibly successful radio show, but before that she served as a nurse in the U.S. Air Force. She joined in 1975 as a lieutenant, and earned the rank of captain before being discharged in 1978; but she continued to serve her nation in the Air Force Reserves up until 1990.

Mickey HartMickeyHart

Before spending nearly 50 years on a non-stop tour as the drummer for the Grateful Dead, Hart served in the Air Force from 1960-65. He had dropped out of high school and joined the branch’s drum and bugle corps, where he honed his skills. Two years after leaving the military he joined the Grateful Dead and the rest is rock-and-roll history.

Willie Nelson

Nelson had the shortest stint in the military of anyone on this list: a total of nine months due to a medical issue with his back. Without that setback, however, he might never have gone to the amazing musical career he has had ever since. He also still advocates strongly for those who serve, championing improved care and benefits to veterans.

Happy birthday, Air Force! And thank you to everyone, celebrity or otherwise, who has "aimed high!"


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