The children of literary icons and Hollywood stars who spent time in Vietnam

Joel Searls Avatar

People watching the Vietnam War on television. (Photograph by Warren K. Leffler / Courtesy Library of Congress)

Many children of famous writers, actors and celebrities have led interesting lives while others have lived a quiet life outside of the press. These sons of successful American icons such as John Steinbeck, Gregory Peck and Errol Flynn chose to go into the heart of danger with the Vietnam War. Some served in the military while another was a photo journalist. Nonetheless, they led impactful lives outside of the norm for people having known the comforts of stardom, wealth and success.

Here is a list of children of literary icons and Hollywood stars who spent time in Vietnam

1. John Steinbeck IV

john steinbeck IV
John Steinbeck IV with his father John Steinbeck (center) and President Johnson in the Oval Office on May 16th, 1966.

John Steinbeck IV was the second child of Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck. Steinbeck IV was drafted into the Army in 1965 and served in Vietnam. His service included working as a journalist for Armed Forces Radio and TV and as a war correspondent for the Department of Defense. Steinbeck IV returned to Vietnam after his service with Steve Flynn, Errol Flynn’s son, as a photojournalist.

During this period he and Flynn both learned more about the in-depth story of the My Lai Massacre and the Con Son Island prison “tiger cages.” He later wrote about his experiences in Vietnam in his memoir In Touch, which further goes into his experiences with the Vietnamese and GIs during the war.

2. Steve Peck

steve peck hollywood stars vietnam war
Steve Peck is the CEO of U.S. VETS on the left and during his time in the Marines in Vietnam.

Steve Peck is the CEO of U.S. VETS which is a nonprofit dedicated to helping homeless veterans through services and housing. His father was the American star Gregory Peck, known for such films as To Kill a Mockingbird, Roman Holiday, The Omen and Cape Fear. He attended Northwestern University in the 1960s and post his graduation joined the U.S. Marine Corps as an officer. He was designated an artillery officer and spent time in the country in 1969. He was a Forward Observer with India Company, 3/7 and completed one tour in Vietnam.

Peck returned home stateside and became a documentary filmmaker. One of his documentaries is titled “Heart of a Warrior” filmed in 1989 in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, Vietnam and the U.S. It even featured Mujahideen from Afghanistan. In 1993 he began his employment with the VA as an outreach worker to help homeless veterans and from there he joined U.S. VETS in 1996 and leads the 500-employee organization to this day.

3. Thomas Steinbeck

thomas steinbeck
Thomas Steinbeck.

Thomas Steinbeck is yet another son of the great John Steinbeck that served in the Vietnam War and was a writer. His service was with the US Army, first as a helicopter door gunner and then later with the Armed Forces Radio and Television branch in Vietnam. He was a combat photographer and then completed his tour as a television production specialist.

Post-service, and like his brother John Steinbeck IV, he returned to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia as a journalist and photographer. Upon returning home he published numerous works of fiction such as short stories and novels. He also wrote screenplays for a few of his father’s books.

4. Sean Flynn

sean flynn hollywood stars vietnam war
Sean Flynn in Vietnam.

Sean Flynn was the only son of famous actor and Golden Era Hollywood icon Errol Flynn. He did work as an actor from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s until he decided to become a freelance photojournalist for Time magazine. Although not a service member, he did work specifically with US Army Special Forces during the Vietnam War as a photojournalist. Flynn also worked with Nung mercenaries and was attacked by the Viet Cong while on a patrol with the Green Berets.

He was handed an M-16 and helped the group fight their way out of the situation. Flynn also made a parachute jump with the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division in December 1966 in Vietnam. He covered the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. Flynn even inspired Dennis Hopper’s film portrayal of a photojournalist character in Apocalypse Now. Flynn disappeared while on assignment with Dana Stone, a fellow journalist, in Cambodia on April 6th, 1970.