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With more than 2 million African Americans who have served in the U.S. military, none may be recognizable than Morgan Freeman.
After graduating from high school in 1955, Morgan Freeman enlisted in the Air Force, harboring dreams of becoming a fighter pilot like those he watched on film. A talented actor even back then, he turned down a drama scholarship from Jackson State University, opting instead to enlist.
Freeman became a radar repairman in the Air Force while waiting for a chance to become a pilot. He worked on tracking radar stations that would align radar antennae toward an incoming target, such as a missile or aircraft. He spent more than a year sitting at a desk before he got the chance to audition for a pilot’s slot.
When he finally sat behind the stick of an Air Force fighter plane, a feeling of disillusionment came over him. This dream wasn’t going to be what he thought it would.
“When I was getting close to being accepted for pilot training, I was allowed to get in a jet airplane,” he told AARP Magazine. “I sat there looking at all those switches and dials, and I got the distinct feeling that I was sitting in the nose of a bomb. You are not in love with this; you are in love with the idea of this.”
After four years in the Air Force, he was honorably discharged as an airman first class in 1959.
He subsequently moved to Los Angeles and took acting classes at the Pasadena Playhouse. He also studied theatre arts at Los Angeles City College.
Turning his sights back on his acting career, he eventually landed his first on-screen appearance during the 1964 TV soap opera “Another World.” Yet it wouldn’t be until two decades later that Freeman would hit the silver screen in 1986’s “Street Smart.”
Freeman has often brought his military experience with him on set in movies such as:
- In the film “Glory,” he played Army Sgt. Maj. John Rawlins. The film, directed by Edward Zwick, was about the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the Union Army’s second African-American regiment in the Civil War. “Glory” was nominated for five Academy Awards.
- In the 1995 film “Outbreak,” Freeman played a doctor, Army Brig. Gen. William “Billy” Ford. The film, based on the 1994 nonfiction book “The Hot Zone,” is about a virus outbreak in Zaire and later in California.
- In 1990, Freeman provided the voice of abolitionist Frederick Douglass in “The Civil War,” a TV miniseries about the Civil War.
- Freeman also narrated “The True Story of Glory Continues,” a 1991 documentary about the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.
- In the 2002 military and spy thriller, “The Sum of All Fears,” Freeman plays William “Bill” Cabot, director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
- In the 2002 film, “High Crimes,” Freeman plays Charlie Grimes, a former military attorney.
Freeman has become one of the most recognizable faces and voices in Hollywood, snagging the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 2005 for his role in Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby.”
Since then, he’s made more than 100 films in legendary cinematic history and continues to produce works that question concepts considered taboo.
While his home should be cluttered with Oscars, Morgan Freeman is widely regarded as one of — if not the greatest actor of all time.
Freeman has won a Screen Actors Guild Award, an Academy Award, HFPA’s Cecil B. DeMille Award, an AFI and SAG Lifetime Achievement Award, seven Image Awards, a Silver Berlin Bear and a Kennedy Center Honor among many other accolades.