“It was all very pleasant just lying in the sun and watching the girls go by, but one day I suddenly felt bored with hanging around and went and joined the Marines.”

Steve McQueen’s time in the Marines was not exactly stellar–he was promoted six times, demoted seven times. And he spent 41 days in the brig for being AWOL. But when bravery was called for, McQueen stepped up.

After his stint in the brig, McQueen was assigned to a tank unit and shipped on a training mission to the Arctic. Once again a private, he had the lowliest jobs: cleaning heads, mopping compartments, stripping asbestos from steam piping. Upon reaching its destination, the transport ship, with tanks aboard, prepared for a landing exercise. Approaching the shore, the ship hit a sand bar and listed violently, throwing tanks with their crews into the icy water. Men in the tanks could not escape, and many drowned. McQueen jumped into the water and saved five men.

McQueen’s bravery was recognized–he finished his enlistment as part of the Color Guard for President Truman’s Presidential Yacht, then went on to study acting under the GI bill. In his many roles as actor, McQueen played a captain in the Army Air Corps, a naval petty officer, an army private, but never a Marine. He died at the age of 50 from mesothelioma, likely a result of his work with asbestos when he was a Marine.

“A coward turns away, but a brave man’s choice is danger.”