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11 Quotes From Famous American Veterans

Veterans Day, observed annually on November 11 in the United States, is a federal holiday dedicated to honoring all military veterans for their service and sacrifice. Originally known as Armistice Day, it was established to commemorate the ceasefire agreement that was signed on November 11, 1918, that effectively ended World War I.

In 1954, following World War II and the Korean War, the holiday was renamed Veterans Day to honor all American veterans, living and deceased, who have served in any branch of the armed forces.

According to 2021 U.S. Census data, there are roughly 16.5 million living veterans in the United States, representing around 6.4% of the nation’s adult population. As we contemplate the significance of Veterans Day, here are 11 quotes from some of the most famous U.S. veterans reflecting on their military experiences.

I was a naval aviator, a fighter pilot. I completed all facets of my training, including my qualifying landings on a carrier. I was all ready to go, and when the enemy heard that I was headed for the Pacific, they surrendered. That was the end of World War II.
Bob Barker

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The longtime host of The Price Is Right and Truth or Consequences left college in 1943 to train as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He trained at eight military bases and learned to fly eight different airplanes, but as he notes in this quote, he never saw combat.

The Marines gave me discipline I could live with. By the time I got out, I could deal with things on a more realistic level. All in all, despite my problems, I liked my time in the Marines.
Steve McQueen

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The legendary actor known as the “King of Cool” for his brooding, rebellious persona served in the Marine Corps from 1947 to 1950. McQueen was promoted six times during his military service, only to be demoted to private seven times for various infractions. After leaving the Marines, he used the money he earned from the G.I. Bill to fund his acting education.

I was supposed to start work yesterday, but heard last week that enlistments for women in the Marines were open, so decided the only thing to do was to join.
Bea Arthur

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Before Maude and The Golden Girls, Bea Arthur served 30 months in the Marine Corps. She seemingly enlisted on a whim in 1943 — just a few days after the Marines began recruiting women — and was honorably discharged in September 1945, having achieved the rank of staff sergeant.

[Serving aboard the U.S.S. Essex] was a teamwork operation, certainly. We had very few occasions when we would do anything on a solo basis. Almost everything we did as teams, and in our case we usually liked flights of four at least, to help each other out.
Neil Armstrong

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As commander of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission to the moon, Armstrong made history on July 20, 1969, when he became the first person to set foot on the moon. But he began his flight career as an aviator in the U.S. Navy, serving from 1949 to 1952 and flying 78 combat missions during the Korean War.

I was the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work. The job requires you to be a mean, tough person, and I was fed up with it. I promised myself that if I ever got away from it, it wasn’t going to be that way anymore.
Bob Ross

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It may seem hard to believe, but the soft-spoken painter who provided us with countless uplifting sentiments such as, “We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents,” spent 20 years in the Air Force, achieving the rank of master sergeant before retiring in 1981.

People were expecting me to mess up, to goof up in one way or another. They thought I couldn’t take it and so forth, and I was determined to go to any limits to prove otherwise, not only to the people who were wondering, but to myself.
Elvis Presley

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Elvis Presley had already established himself as the “King of Rock ’n’ Roll” when he was drafted into the Army at the very end of 1957. After a brief deferment to finish filming King Creole, he served from 1958 to 1960, spending 17 months in Germany (where he met his future wife, Priscilla) and achieving the rank of sergeant before being honorably discharged.

As a soldier, you can continually serve. It is a calling to be a soldier and there is a great sense of pride and camaraderie in serving.
Ann E. Dunwoody

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Born into a military family, Dunwoody received an impressive number of awards and accolades over an Army career that spanned nearly four decades of service. In 2008, she became the first woman to earn the rank of four-star general in any of the U.S. armed forces.

The things a man has to have are hope and confidence in himself against odds … And he must be ready to choose death before dishonor without making too much song and dance about it. That’s all there is to it.
Clark Gable

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Clark Gable was 41 years old and already a bona fide Hollywood star when he decided to assist in the war effort by enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Forces (the predecessor of the modern U.S. Air Force) in 1942. He attended aerial gunnery school and flew five combat missions over Europe, achieving the rank of major by the time he resigned his commission in 1947.

The main thing I got out of my military experience was the realization that I am completely opposed to war.
Tony Bennett

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Like many young men during World War II, Anthony Dominick Benedetto received his draft notice at the end of 1944, shortly after he turned 18. He called his combat in Germany a “front-row seat in hell” and committed his life to being a pacifist when he returned to the U.S. in 1946.

It didn’t have to be the military, but I just thought service of some kind is important … for citizenship. I just think it’s important to give back, whether it’s locally in your own community or statewide or national.
Rob Riggle

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An actor and stand-up comedian known for his work on The Daily Show, Saturday Night Live, and Modern Family, Riggle served 23 years in the Marine Corps before retiring as a lieutenant colonel on January 1, 2013.

I have to admit I love the damned Army. It was father, mother, brother to me for years. It made me somebody, gave me self-respect.
Audie Murphy

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Born in 1925 on a sharecropper farm in Texas, Murphy falsified his birth certificate to enlist in the Army. After becoming one of the most decorated soldiers of World War II, he went on to become a successful actor and songwriter, even starring as himself in the 1955 film adaptation of his memoir about his time at war, To Hell and Back.

Featured image credit: Horace Abrahams/ Hulton Archive via Getty Images

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About the Author
Kristina Wright
Kristina is a coffee-fueled writer living happily ever after with her family in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia.
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