We sometimes overlook the accurate and fantastic portrayals of veterans and troops in fiction, instead criticizing Hollywood’s typical depiction of us as hyper-macho, high-speed ass-kicking machines or broken and fragile husks of human beings.
For a good portion of the armed services, this is far from the truth. This isn’t a grunt versus POG (Person Other than Grunt) thing. It’s a symptom of the civilian-military divide.
There seems to be a perpetual cycle of fiction blowing real military service out of proportion. Civilians who never interacted with service members often believe that fictional portrayal.
Let’s be honest. Veterans are combating the stigma, but it’s an uphill battle.
Hell, most of the stories we tell at bars aren’t helping.
This one goes out to the creators, writers, directors, and actors that gave the world a veteran and stayed away from the stigma. Either intentionally or not, these characters either embody what it was truly like in the service or have exceptional moments that can overlook some of the more silly moments.
If you can think of any others left out, leave them in the comment section.
1. Sgt. Bill Dauterive – “King of the Hill”
Though the 022 MOS doesn’t exist anymore, Bill from “King of the Hill” was a U.S. Army Barber. There are several episodes dedicated to his military service. The 2007 episode “Bill, Bulk and the Body Buddies” even revolved around him trying to get in shape to pass his APFT.
How he manages to go on all the adventures in the show and not be considered AWOL is also a plot point.
2. Capt. Frank Castle, aka “The Punisher” – Marvel Comics
Not every superhero gets their powers from a science experiment, being an alien, or just being super rich.
Frank Castle, The Punisher, learned his skills in the Marine Corps. Sure. He’s an extreme representation of a veteran. But The Punisher earns his spot on this list because of Jon Bernthal’s monologue in Season 2 of “Daredevil.” His performance and his story about his return from a deployment hits close to home for many people.
3. King Robert Baratheon – A Song of Fire and Ice, “Game of Thrones”
Let’s take away medieval fantasy elements of “Game of Thrones” and recognize that Robert Baratheon used to be a proud, respected, and feared soldier on the front lines.
Ever since putting his service behind him, he got fat, grew a glorious beard, spent his time drinking, hunting, and talking about his glory days. Sound like anyone you know from your old unit?
4. Pfc. Donny Novitski and his band — “Bandstand”
A Tony Award winning musical may seem an unlikely place to find a true to life depiction of a WWII veteran, but it’s the only Broadway musical with an official “Got Your 6” certification.
The musical is about a group of young vets returning home who form a band to try to reach stardom (the same half thought out plan we all had while we were downrange).
The lead character, Donny, spends most of the story showing his bandmates and the world their sacrifice and talents.
Veterans who’ve seen the show praise it. At the end of every show, they thank the troops around the world and dedicate each performance to a different veteran.
5. Capt. Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce – “M*A*S*H”
The Capt. Hawkeye character is beloved by many for its accuracy. He was drafted right after his medical residency to deploy to the Korean War. Everything about his character was a fresh change to the ordinary war hero cliche.
He resented the Army for drafting him. Each loss of life affected him as the series progressed. He used humor to help cope with the daily stress of combat.
In the 1978 episode “Commander Pierce,” Hawkeye is temporarily in charge of the 4077th. For one episode, he drastically made the very real change to become the leader that his soldiers needed before reverting back to fit the semi-episodic formula.
6. Capt. Kathryn Janeway – “Star Trek: Voyager”
While on the topic of the burdens of leadership, the character that best exemplifies this is the commander of the USS Voyager. Many of the ongoing struggles in the series revolve around how Capt. Kathryn Janeway deals with the safety of the crew, the dream of returning home, and hiding her internal doubt.
Oh, and she always drinks coffee, and she always drinks it black.
7. Master Sgt. Abraham Simpson – “The Simpsons”
The senile grandpa of the Simpson family is often the butt of many jokes. His long term memory is hazy and his short term memory isn’t any better.
But then there’s the 1996 “Flying Hellfish” episode. Art and story-wise, this episode is vastly different from most, and is regarded as one of the best in the series.
Grandpa Abe and Bart go on an adventure to reclaim the treasure Abe found back in World War II. Back in the day, Grandpa was a very competent and tactful leader.
When his unit, which also included series antagonist Mr. Burns, discover a fortune in stolen Nazi paintings, they place a life bet on who keeps them.
While Mr. Burns is willing to kill for the prize, Abe still holds onto his honor and loyalty to his unit after all those years. At the end, when the paintings are confiscated by police, Abe tells his grandson why he went after the paintings. “It was to show you that I wasn’t always a pathetic old kook,” he said.
8. Sgt. Donald Duck – Disney
The sailor suit he always wears isn’t just for show or stolen valor, Donald Duck legitimately was in the Navy and Army Air Force (hence why, in 1984, he was officially given the rank of sergeant and discharge by the real world Army on his 50th anniversary).
Hear me out on this.
In World War I, Walt Disney attempted to join the U.S. Army but was rejected for being too young. He then forged documents to join the Red Cross.
In France, the cartoons he sketched grabbed the attention of Stars and Stripes, later becoming the icon we all know today. In WWII, his love of country and understanding of how propaganda worked lead Disney to use Donald Duck to help the troops.
The “Buck Sergeant Duck” was used in counter-propoganda cartoons and recruitment shorts, even winning an Oscar for “Der Feuhrer’s Face.”
His time in both the Army and Navy is well depicted in many forms — from cartoons to comics. In “DuckTales,” Donald leaves his nephews because he’s being shipped out, which starts the series. The cartoon “Donald Gets Drafted” shows Donald learning (in an exaggerated manner) that recruiters sometimes tell fibs to get bodies in the door.
Even his short temper, aggression, loud voice, cynical attitude, and unprovoked tantrums aren’t a concept lost on veterans.