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Steve McQueen: U.S. Marine King of Cool

Written by  Chriss Street

Steve McQueen, famously known as the “King of Cool”, is more than just the anti-hero persona presented in his movies; he also served honorably the United States Marine Corps from 1947 to 1950.

McQueen lived a rather tumultuous childhood that involved his father’s leaving him and his mother when he was just six months, living with his grandparents until he was eight, being physically abused by his step father, living life on the streets with his mother for a certain period, and being sent to the California Junior Boys Republic where he started to grow into the man he was supposed to be.

After jumping from one job to another, he joined the Marines. He was promoted to private first class quickly and was assigned to an armored unit as a tank driver. But because of repeatedly succumbing to his rebellious nature, he was busted back to private seven times. Shore patrol caught him after two weeks of staying with his girlfriend carrying an expired weekend pass resulting in unauthorized absence. He also resisted arrest which led to his spending time in brig for 41 days.

 

McQueen finally decided to embrace the Marines Corps’ discipline and to improve himself. Over the next three years he conducted himself to be a true military man. He risked his life saving five Marines in an Arctic exercise by pulling them from a tank before it broke through the permafrost and sank into the icy depths of the sea. As reward for his exemplary service, he was also assigned as an honor guard for former President Harry Truman’s yacht.

After his honorable discharge in 1950, he used his G.I. Bill benefits to study acting at the Sanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse in North Hollywood, California and took on various acting jobs that eventually led him to fame.

Steve McQueen’s greatest role was "The Cooler King" in The Great Escape, a 1963 American film about an escape by Allied prisoners of war from a German POW camp during World War II. The film cost $3.8 million, an enormous amount of money at the time. But the profit was considered colossal when the film earned $11,744,471 at the box office. Steve McQueen died a U.S. Marine in his heart in 1980 at the age of 50.