Was Mr. Rogers a Navy SEAL or Marine Sniper?

No, the Tale Is Just an Urban Legend, Say Military Officials

Fred Rogers
Was Fred Rogers hiding something under that long-sleeved sweater?. Deborah Feingold/Corbis via Getty Images

An urban legend has been circulating since at least the 1990s that Mr. Rogers — aka the late Fred McFeely Rogers, host of the children's television show, "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood" — was a Marine sharpshooter; some even claim he notched as many as 150 "kills" during the Vietnam War and wore tattoos on his arms to prove it. The viral rumor is false; it's just another urban legend, say military officials.

Read on to discover the facts of Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood.

Posthumous Resurgence

The rumor actually died down in the mid-1990s, but Rogers' death in February 2003 sparked a resurgence of viral postings and emails, but with a fresh twist: Now, he was supposedly an ex-Navy SEAL, instead of a former Marine sniper. This variant widely began circulating after someone attached it to an email hoax that made similar claims about Bob "Captain Kangaroo" Keeshan.

Following is an excerpt from an email that appeared in 2003, which was fairly representative of the rumor:

There was this wimpy little man (who just passed away) on PBS, gentle and quiet. Mr. Rogers is another of those you would least suspect of being anything but what he portrayed. But Mr. Rogers was a U.S. Navy Seal, combat-proven in Vietnam with over twenty-five confirmed kills to his name. He wore a long-sleeve sweater to cover the many tattoos on his forearm and biceps. (He was) a master in small arms and hand-to-hand combat, able to disarm or kill in a heartbeat. He hid that away and won our hearts with his quiet wit and charm.

Analysis: A Gentle Soul

Rogers, a Presbyterian minister, did indeed, win the hearts of minds of children and even adults alike with the calm and friendly demeanor he portrayed in his television neighborhood. And, he always wore a sweater on the show, fully covering his arms. But the sweater was part of the persona Rogers wanted to display on the show.

He was not covering any tattoos.

The story as told in the above email and elsewhere is false. After graduating from Rollins College in Florida with a degree in music in 1951, Rogers immediately embarked on a broadcasting career, which continued uninterrupted for nearly 50 years, even while he was studying for a Bachelor of Divinity degree, by virtue of which he became an ordained minister in 1962. He never served in the military.

Navy Seals Debunks Myth

The Navy Seals, itself, is perhaps the best source for debunking this urban legend. On its own website, the Navy Seals explains:

The Facts:

Firstly, Mr. Rogers was born in 1928 and thus at the time of the US involvement in the Vietnam conflict was too old to enlist in the US Navy.

Secondly, he had no time to do so. Right after finishing high school, Mr. Rogers went straight into college, and after graduating college directly into TV work.

Conclusion:

From the above mentioned reasons, it is clear that Mr. Rogers could never have served in the military. He was purposely choosing long-sleeve clothes to keep his formality as well as authority not only to children but to their parents as well. Surprisingly, nobody called him Fred and he wanted to keep it that way.

Far from hiding a secret past as a trained killer, Rogers was truly a gentle soul who devoted his entire adult life to educating and bettering the lives of children everywhere, and this is how he deserves to be remembered.