Famous Veteran: Tom Selleck

Tom Selleck
Actor Tom Selleck, who served in the California National Guard, is proud of his service and a big supporter of the military. (Courtesy photo)

Raised by hard-working parents, Tom Selleck learned the values of the U.S. military from an early age. Selleck was born in Detroit, but his father's dissatisfaction with carpentry led him to move his family to California, where he sought success in real estate. This move helped pave the way for Selleck's success as an actor and member of the U.S. military.

Selleck graduated from high school in 1962. He wanted to enroll in the University of Southern California but couldn't afford tuition. He enrolled in Los Angeles Valley College, worked hard and saved money to enroll in USC in his junior year. He was helped by a basketball scholarship. While attending university, Selleck worked as a model to bring in extra money.

It was at USC that Selleck entered the world of acting. He majored in business administration, but a drama coach suggested he give acting a shot. He appeared on "The Dating Game" and earned a role in a Pepsi commercial. Twentieth Century Fox soon approached him to join its talent program. He signed on and worked hard to learn the art of acting.

"When I went to Fox, I was on my own with no frame of reference, no connection," Selleck said. "I'd never done a play in my life. I started at about 35 bucks a week, and every six months, you either got fired or renewed. If you got renewed, you got a raise on their term contracts."

During the Vietnam War, Selleck was issued draft orders. To take some measure of control over the situation, he joined the California National Guard in the 160th Infantry Regiment. He served from 1967-73. He later appeared on California National Guard recruiting posters.

The military left a strong impression on Selleck, who recalls his service with pride. "I am a veteran; I'm proud of it," he said. "I was a sergeant in the U.S. Army infantry, National Guard, Vietnam era. We're all brothers and sisters in that sense."

Upon returning to civilian life, he was dropped from his contract with Fox.

"And then I was going to be drafted, and I got into an infantry National Guard unit and did six months active duty in the middle of my time at Fox," Selleck said. "I had my job when I came back, and then they fired me [laughs]."

Related: Get complete military-to-civilian transition support at the Transition Center.

Despite missing future opportunities with Fox, Selleck remained unperturbed. He continued to pursue acting and settled down with a family. He worked on six pilots for television shows that were never sold. Although he earned a living, he had yet to find a solid platform for success. That changed in 1980 when he was offered a leading role in "Magnum, P.I." By that time, Selleck was in his 30s, and it had been 11 years since Fox released him.

"Magnum, P.I." helped rocket Selleck's career forward. The show was instantly successful and ran for eight seasons, with Selleck becoming a star. During production, Selleck was considered for the role of Indiana Jones in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," but due to scheduling conflicts, he turned it down. The part went to Harrison Ford.

After "Magnum, P.I." ended, Selleck enjoyed other roles in series like "Friends," "The Closer" and "Jesse Stone." One of his biggest post-Magnum roles is Police Commissioner Frank Reagan on the CBS cop drama "Blue Bloods."

Although Selleck hasn't been in the military for decades, he maintains a strong sentiment and support for U.S. troops. "We learned a lesson as a country over time, that we need to welcome our troops home," he said. "Regardless of whether you have political problems with whatever mission they're on, they just served and we need to thank them for it."

Selleck has volunteered for numerous public-service announcements that document the National Guard's contributions to the U.S. He's also promoted recruitment and retention for the military and is a spokesperson for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

Want to Learn About More Famous Veterans?

Whether you want to learn more about other famous veterans, polish up your resume, find veteran job fairs in your area, or connect with employers looking to hire veterans, Military.com can help. Sign up for a free Military.com membership to have job postings, guides and advice, and more delivered directly to your inbox.

Story Continues