Interesting Facts About Military Enlistment: 50 Surprising Stories

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Discover a fascinating array of interesting facts about military enlistment that reveal the extraordinary and often surprising stories of individuals who have served in the armed forces. From famous personalities to everyday heroes, these enlistment tales span centuries and continents, showcasing acts of bravery, unique motivations, and remarkable circumstances. Whether it’s a child enlisting to save a life, a celebrity volunteering under a false identity, or an entire community signing up together, each fact provides a glimpse into the diverse and compelling world of military service. Dive into this collection of 50 fascinating tales of military enlistment that highlight the courage, creativity, and determination that define military history.

1 Survivor’s Revenge in Vietnam

Survivor's Revenge in Vietnam

Eliahu Itzkovitz, a Romanian Jew who witnessed a guard kill his family in a concentration camp, enlisted in the French Foreign Legion after the war. While deployed in present-day Vietnam, he joined the same battalion as the guard and murdered him.

2. Nancy Bentley enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy in 1920 at the age of 6, making history as Australia’s first female sailor. Her father rowed her to the HMAS Sydney after a snake bit her on shore, as the nearest medical assistance was many miles away. She was enlisted by the ship’s doctor to provide medical treatment. She served for six days with the official rank of ‘mascot.’

3. During World War I, the Navy rejected popular American painter Norman Rockwell because he was 8 pounds underweight. He successfully enlisted the next day after spending the night consuming bananas, liquids, and doughnuts.

4. In 1861, the entire student body of the University of Mississippi enlisted in the Confederate Army as a single company. They suffered a 100% casualty rate during the Civil War.

5. After the Tacoma Bridge collapsed in 1940, its designer, Clark Eldridge, enlisted in the Navy. The Japanese captured him and sent him to a POW camp for three years. During his imprisonment, a Japanese officer recognized him and remarked, “Tacoma Bridge!”

6 WWI Ambulance Drivers: Kroc and Disney

WWI Ambulance Drivers: Kroc and Disney

McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc and Walt Disney both served as ambulance drivers in the same unit during World War I, having lied about their ages to enlist.

7. During World War I, the British created a campaign to shame men into enlisting. Women handed out white feathers to men not in uniform, labeling them cowards. The campaign was so successful that it led the government to issue badges to men in critical occupations to prevent harassment.

8. North Korea enlists around 2,000 women for a ‘Pleasure Squad’ to provide entertainment and sexual services for top officials. One defector who was in this squad claimed Kim Jong-il was “sentimental when drunk and even shed tears.”

9. A man didn’t know that he was drafted by the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles drafted Norm Michael of Syracuse University in 1944 but could not reach him because he had already enlisted in the US Army. Michael only learned what had happened in 1999 when reading about other Syracuse NFL players.

10. A Turkish sniper killed Henry Moseley, the scientist who invented the concept of the atomic number, when he volunteered for combat duty in World War I. His death led to a policy prohibiting scientists from enlisting in the military.

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11 Admiral Boorda’s Tragic End

Admiral Boorda's Tragic End

After facing accusations of wearing two unauthorized service ribbons, US Navy Admiral Boorda, the first person to rise from the enlisted ranks to become Chief of Naval Operations, committed suicide.

12. In 1787, British authorities hanged a man for deserting and re-enlisting in the British Army 47 times in an attempt to repeatedly claim the large bounty given upon joining.

13. American Samoa, with a population of less than 60,000, has the highest rate of military enlistment of any U.S. state or territory. The local Army recruitment station in Pago Pago ranked #1 in production out of 885 Army recruiting stations in both 2014 and 2015.

14. Golden Girl Bea Arthur enlisted in the Marines in 1943 as one of the first members of the Women’s Reserve, and served as a typist and truck driver.

15. At birth, Johnny Cash was named J. R. Cash. When he enlisted in the United States Air Force, officials required him to use a full first name, leading him to change it to John R. Cash. In 1955, after signing with Sun Records, he began using the name Johnny Cash.

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16 Vietnam War ‘Fragging’ Incidents

Vietnam War 'Fragging' Incidents

During the Vietnam War, authorities investigated over 800 murders or attempted murders of superior officers by enlisted soldiers. The term ‘fragging’ emerged due to the frequent use of fragmentation grenades in these attacks.

17. When Sir Peter Ustinov enlisted in the British Army during World War II, he requested tank duty because, he claimed, “you can go into battle sitting down.” His superiors concluded that they couldn’t put him in charge of others and instead assigned him to the infantry.

18. Chuck Yeager enlisted as a private, worked as an aircraft mechanic before becoming a pilot, was shot down over France but escaped, achieved 11.5 aerial victories, broke the sound barrier and multiple speed records as a test pilot, and retired from the US Air Force after 34 years as a brigadier general.

19. Deborah Sampson became the first female American soldier to enlist in the Revolutionary War under her deceased brother’s name. After suffering a wound, she cut a musket ball out of her own leg to prevent doctors from discovering her gender.

20. The youngest American serviceman in World War II, Calvin Graham, enlisted in the U.S. Navy at age 12. During the Battle of Guadalcanal, he sustained wounds and received a dishonorable discharge due to his false enlistment age. Later, Congress restored his veterans’ benefits.

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21 Audie Murphy’s Military Acceptance

Audie Murphy's Military Acceptance

The Marines rejected actor Audie Murphy after he enlisted in 1942 for being too short, and the Navy rejected him for being too skinny. The Army accepted him, but initially hesitated to send him into combat because he appeared so young. He went on to receive every Army military valor award available.

22. Upon enlisting in World War II, the US Army hired comic book legend Stan Lee as one of nine “playwrights.” Among the other playwrights were Dr. Seuss and director Frank Capra.

23. Ernest “Boots” Thomas, one of the U.S. Marines who raised the flag on Iwo Jima, managed to enlist despite being color-blind by memorizing another man’s test results.

24. Yoshio Nakamura, an American citizen of Japanese descent, was sent to an internment camp during World War II but later enlisted in the Army and fought in Italy to break the German line. He used his GI Bill to earn a degree to become a teacher, but school districts refused to hire him due to his heritage.

25. During the Battle of the Bulge, suspicious American guards asked David Niven, the only British star in Hollywood to enlist during World War II, who had won the World Series in 1943. He responded, “Haven’t the foggiest idea… but I did co-star with Ginger Rogers in ‘Bachelor Mother’!”

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