Famous Americans Killed in World War II

From American Actors to Journalists and Sports Figures

The World War II memorial is on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
World War II Memorial, National Mall, Washington DC. Stephanie Hohmann/EyeEm/Getty Images

Many famous Americans answered the call to serve the United States Army, Navy, and Marines during World War II, either performing active duty or as part of home front efforts. This list remembers famous Americans, journalists, musicians, and sports figures who were enlisted voluntarily and were killed while serving their country in one fashion or another during the Second World War.

How Many People Served and Died in World War II?

According to the Department of Defense's Directorate of Information, Operations and Reports, a total of 16,112,566 people served in the American forces. Out of those, 405,399 were killed, including 291,557 in battle and 113,842 in non-battle situations. A total of 670,846 people received non-mortal wounds from the war, and 72,441 service men and women are still missing in action from the conflict.

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Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr.

John F. Kennedy sitting next to his brother Joseph Kennedy Jr
John F. Kennedy sitting next to his brother Joseph Kennedy Jr, whose plane was shot down in World War II. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. (1915–1944) was the elder brother of United States politicians John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Ted Kennedy. Joe was the first born son of a well-to-do family in Massachusetts. His father was the well-known businessman and Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., and Joseph Sr. expected his eldest son to go into politics and become president one day. Instead, it was Joe's brother John who would become the 35th president of the United States; brother Bobby who would be John's Attorney General and a presidential candidate; and brother Ted who became a U.S. Senator and presidential candidate.

Even though the Kennedys were early supporters of Adolph Hitler, after the Nazi conquest of Europe began, Joseph Jr. enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve on June 24, 1941. He entered flight training and became a Lieutenant and a naval aviator in 1942, completing several missions in England between 1942 and 1944. Although he was due to go home, he volunteered to be part of Operation Aphrodite, which involved loading modified B-17 bombers with explosives. The crews would fly over a target, bail out, and use radio controls to trigger an explosion on the ground. None of the flights was particularly successful. 

On July 23, 1944, Kennedy was to bail out of a plane full of explosives but the explosives detonated before he and his co-pilot could bail out; their bodies were never recovered.

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Glenn Miller

Major Glenn Miller as part of the Army Air Corps
Public Domain/US Government Photo

Iowan Glenn Miller (1904–1944) was an American bandleader and musician, who volunteered for military service during World War II to help lead what he hoped would be a more modernized military band. After he became a Major in the Army Air Force he took his 50-piece Army Air Force Band in the first tour across England.

On Dec. 15, 1944, Miller was set to fly across the English Channel to play for Allied soldiers in Paris. Instead, his plane disappeared somewhere over the English Channel and was never found. Miller is still officially listed as missing in action. Numerous theories have been put forward as to how he died, the most common of which is he was killed by friendly fire.

As a service member who died on active duty whose remains were not recoverable, Miller was given a memorial headstone in Arlington National Cemetery. 

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Ernie Pyle

Ernie Pyle Smoking With Marines
Columnist Ernie Pyle rests on the roadside with a Marine Patrol, Okinawa, April 8, 1945.

Corbis / Getty Images

Ernest Taylor "Ernie" Pyle (1900–1945) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist from Indiana, who worked as a roving correspondent for the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain. Between 1935 and 1941, he delivered articles describing the lives of ordinary people in rural America. 

After Pearl Harbor, his career as a war correspondent began when he reported on the military fighting men, first concentrating on state-side service activities and then from the European and Pacific Theaters. Known as "the GI's favorite correspondent," Pyle won a Pulitzer Prize for his war reporting in 1944.

He was killed by sniper fire on April 18, 1945, while reporting on the invasion of Okinawa. Ernie Pyle was one of only a few civilians killed during World War II who were awarded a Purple Heart.

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Foy Draper

Jesse Owens (left), Ralph Metcalfe (second left), Foy Draper (second right) and Frank Wykoff (right)the USA 4x100 metres Relay Team at the 1936 Olympic Games
Jesse Owens (left), Ralph Metcalfe (second left), Foy Draper (second right) and Frank Wykoff (right).

 Public Domain/WikiCommons

Foy Draper (1911–1943) was a track and field star at the University of Southern California, where he held the world record for the 100-yard dash. He became part of the gold medal relay team alongside Jesse Owens at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. 

Draper enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1940 and joined the 97th Squadron of the 47th Bomb Group at Thelepte, Tunisia. On Jan. 4, 1943, Draper flew off on a mission to strike German and Italian ground forces in Tunisia, taking part in the Battle of Kasserine Pass. His plane was shot down by enemy aircraft, and he was buried in the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial in Carthage, Tunisia. 

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Robert "Bobby" Hutchins

Our Gang - A Pictorial History of the Silent Screen
The cast of 'Our Gang'.

 Public Domain/WikiCommons

Robert "Bobby" Hutchins (1925–1945) was a popular child actor from Washington state who played "Wheezer" in the "Our Gang" movies. His first movie was in 1927 when he was two years old, and he was only eight when he left the series in 1933. 

After graduating high school, Hutchins joined the US Army in 1943 and enrolled in the Aviation Cadet Program. He died on May 17, 1945, in a mid-air collision during a training exercise at Merced Army Airfield Base in California. His remains were buried in the Parkland Lutheran Cemetery in Tacoma, Washington.

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Jack Lummus

Jack Lummus in uniform

 United States Marine Corp History Division/Public Domain/WikiCommons

Jack Lummus (1915–1945) was a collegiate and professional athlete from Texas who played baseball for the Baylor University Bears. He enlisted in the Air Corps in 1941 but washed out of flight school. He then signed on as a free agent for the New York Giants and played in nine games. 

After Pearl Harbor, and after playing in the championship game in December 1941, Lummus enlisted in the US Marine Corps in January 1942. He took officer's training at Quantico, after which he was commissioned as a First Lieutenant. He was assigned to the V Amphibious Corps and was among the first wave of troops onto the island of Iwo Jima.

Lummus died during the battle while spearheading an assault leading Company E's third rifle platoon. He stepped on a landmine, lost both legs, and died in a field hospital as a result of his injuries. He won a posthumous Medal of Honor for risking his life above and beyond the call of duty. He was buried in the Fifth Division Cemetery but later moved to his home cemetery in Ennis, Texas. 

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Harry O'Neill

Pennsylvanian Henry "Harry" O'Neill 500 (1917–1945) was a professional baseball pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics, playing in one professional ball game in 1939. He turned to teaching high school and continued to play semi-professional ball with the Harrisburg Senators, and semi-pro basketball with the Harrisburg Caissons. 

In September 1942, O'Neill enlisted in the Marine Corps and became a first lieutenant that fought in the Pacific Theater. He lost his life, killed by a sniper, along with 92 other officers including Foy Draper during the Battle of Iwo Jima.

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Al Blozis

Albert Charles "Al" Blozis (1919–1945) was an all-round athlete from New Jersey, who won AAU and NCAA indoor and outdoor shotput titles three years in a row while at Georgetown University. He was drafted to play football in the 1942 NFL Draft and played offensive tackle for the New York Giants in 1942 and 1943, and a few games while on furlough in 1942. 

Blozis was 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 250 lbs when he started attempted to enlist in the army and therefore considered too big for the army. But eventually, he convinced them to ease their size limitations and he was inducted in December of 1943. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant and was sent to the Vosges Mountains in France.

In January 1945, he died while trying to search for two men from his unit who had not returned from scouting enemy lines in the Vosges Mountains of France. He is buried in the Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial, Saint-Avold, France.

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Charles Paddock

Charles Paddock

Materialscientist /Public Domain/ Wikimedia Commons

Charles (Charley) Paddock (1900–1943) was an Olympic runner from Texas, known as the "World's Fastest Human" in the 1920's. He broke several records during his career and won two gold and one silver medal at the 1920 Summer Olympics and one silver medal at the 1924 Summer Olympics. 

He served as a Marine during World War I and served as an aide to Major General William P. Upshur beginning at the end of the war, and continuing into World War II. On July 21, 1943, Upshur was conducting an inspection tour of his command in Alaska when his plane went down. Upshur, Paddock, and four other crewmen were killed in the crash.

Paddock is buried in the Sitka National Cemetery in Sitka, Alaska.

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Leonard Supulski

Leonard Supulski (1920–1943) was a professional football player from Pennsylvania who played for the Philadelphia Eagles. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a private in 1943 and completed flight navigation training. He received his commission as a first lieutenant and was assigned to the 582nd Bomb Squadron for training at McCook Army Air Field in near North Platte, Nebraska. 

Two weeks after reaching McCook, Supulski and seven other airmen died on August 31, 1943, during a routine B-17 training mission near Kearney, Nebraska. He is buried in Saint Mary's Cemetery of Hanover, Pennsylvania.

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Kelly, Martin. "Famous Americans Killed in World War II." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/famous-americans-killed-world-war-ii-105521. Kelly, Martin. (2023, April 5). Famous Americans Killed in World War II. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/famous-americans-killed-world-war-ii-105521 Kelly, Martin. "Famous Americans Killed in World War II." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/famous-americans-killed-world-war-ii-105521 (accessed May 31, 2023).