George Carlin: A famous comedian once upon a time served in Air Force

by Eric Sof

George Carlin’s military career was interesting as his public life was too. Among the millions of Americans who spent time in the US military, some men become publicly known by another thing. Singers, writers, actors; the list is so long. But, the central figure of this article is precisely one such person.

Controversial George Carlin

Controversial, outspoken, and above all funny, George Carlin stands as one of the comedy greats. Still, given his well-known anti-establishment perspective, it might come as a surprise that he is also a veteran.

George Carlin (George Denis Patrick Carlin) was born in Manhattan to a national advertising manager for the New York Sun and a secretary. His mother, Mary Beary, left her husband when Carlin was still an infant. She had a tumultuous relationship with her son, and he frequently ran from home. Carlin attended Corpus Christi, a Roman Catholic school in his neighborhood of Morningside Heights, where many of his negative attitudes toward religion were born.

Air Force Career

After dropping out of high school in 1954, Carlin joined the Air Force to use the GI Bill to cover the costs of the broadcasting school. He was trained as a radar technician and was stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, Louisiana.

“So I do have this ambivalence. Obviously I’m against militaries, because of what militaries do. In many ways though, the Air Force was unmilitary-like. They dropped bombs on people, but…they had a golf course.” 

Looking back on his service, Carlin was proud to have been generally discharged instead of dishonorably discharged. He was deemed an unproductive Airman and court-martialed three times. As a more constructive outlet for his biting comedy, he worked as a disc jockey for the KJOE radio station while on active duty. Despite his troubles in the service, his work at KJOE helped him jump to other opportunities in the entertainment industry. George Carlin’s military career was one of his remarkable achievements.

George Carlin Military Career
George Carlin Military Career (Photo: XY)

The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show

After working in broadcast for a short while, he moved to California, where he found success in television on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Tonight Show” and later, enduring fame as a cutting-edge comedian. One of the more memorable bits from his later career concerned PTSD, as he decried how the military had taken a simple, succinct term (shell shock) and over time had sanitized it into its current form (post-traumatic stress disorder).

On June 22, 2008, Carlin died at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, of heart failure. He was 71 years old. His death occurred one week after his last performance at The Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

George Carlin was one of many famous persons in US history that served in our military forces. Besides him, there are also Clint Eastwood, Roger Staubach, Rocky Marciano, Bill Cosby, Kris Kristofferson, and many others.

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