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U.S. Army vet
James Earl Jones / U.S. Army
An American actor
Mr. Jones in one of his earlier roles, as Lieutenant Zogg, from Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.  Photo courtesy of The Invisible Hand of Alan Smithee.
James Earl Jones provides the  voice for one of the most recognizable villains in history.  In one of those casting almost-happens, George Lucas originally wanted Orson Welles to provide Darth Vader's voice. However, he felt that Welles' voice would be too recognizable, so he cast James Earl Jones instead, who was not as well known at the time.
Mr. Jones delivers an outstanding performance as Sergeant Major Goody Nelson in the film, Gardens of Stone. His background in professional soldiering was evident in this film. Also pictured are James Caan, and D.B. Sweeney.
James Earl Jones as Ray Murdock, from the film A Family Thing
James Earl Jones as Ray Murdock from the film, A Famiy Thing.  Jones plays the half brother of Earl Pilcher Jr., played by Robert Duvall. 
Mr. Jones portraying G.D.I. commander, General James Solomon from Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun.  Photo from MobyGames.com.
In 1949, James Earl Jones entered the University of Michigan with a plan to study medicine.  He joined the Reserve Officer Training program, and excelled.  He felt comfortable within the structure of the military environment, and enjoyed the camaraderie of his fellow cadets.

In his words: "My only semblance of a social life came in the fraternity of my fellow ROTC cadets in Pershing Rifles and Scabbard and Blade." [1]

During the course of his studies, Mr. Jones discovered he was not cut out to be a doctor.  Instead he refocused himself on drama, with the thought of doing something he enjoyed, before, he assumed, he would have to go off to fight in Korea.

After four years of college, Mr. Jones decided to leave without his degree.  He didn't even take his final examinations at the end of his senior year.  With the war intensifying in Korea, Mr. Jones figured he would be shipped off to the war as soon as he received his officers commission, so why bother.

Graduated from the Ranger course

Quick Takes
Time in service:
3 years
Rank when left service:
1st Lieutenant
Military Occupational Specialty: Infantry Officer

Instead, he went home.  As he waited for his orders to active duty, he found a part-time stage crew job at the Manistee Summer Theater, where he had performed before.  By the end of summer 1953, Mr. Jones received his second lieutenants commission, his official orders, and was off to Fort Benning to attend Basic Infantry Officers School.  While there, he went through Ranger training.  During the 1950s, the US Army saw a need to enhance its light infantry units, so Ranger training was instituted for officers and select soldiers.  The Army believed that after training, these men would return to their units, and pass on their knowledge.  2LT Jones graduated from Ranger training, and received his black and gold arc tab insignia.

His first duty station was supposed to be at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, but his orders changed, and his unit was instead sent to Colorado.

In his words: "The Army planned to establish a Cold Weather Training command at the old Camp Hale near Aspen.  Our regiment was established as training unit, to train in the bitter cold weather and the rugged terrain of the Rocky Mountains.  I took to the physical challenge, so much so that I wanted to stay there, testing myself in that awesome environment, mastering the skills of survival.  I loved the austere beauty of the mountains and the exhilaration of the weather and the altitude.  I didn’t mind the rigors of the work or the pioneer-like existence.  I thought it was a good life." [2]

2LT Jones worked hard, and soon made first lieutenant.  At the same time, he had another decision to make, whether to extend his tour of duty.

In his words: “Are you going to go for another two years? My commanding officer asked me.  “Are you ready to make captain?”

I told him I wasn’t sure.

“Well, is there anything you feel like doing ‘outside’?”

He gave me some fatherly advice.  “We in the Army always have trouble with things on the outside we want to do and do not try.”

“My father is an actor, and I have often thought about acting,” I told him.

“Why don’t you go out and try it,” he said.  “You can always come back. March. Go climb that mountain.”

There was nothing to lose, I thought.  I could use my GI Bill to go to acting school, and if it didn’t work out, I could step back into my Army career." [3]

The rest is history.  Mr. Jones decided to follow in his father's footsteps (actor Robert Earl Jones), and left the Army to go to New York to continue his acting studies.  With the guidance of his commanding officer, James Earl Jones has gone on to become a national icon, and one of our most recognized personalities.  Jones returned to the University of Michigan campus in 1994, as the first inductee of the college's Army ROTC newly formed Wolverine Battalion Hall of Fame.

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A Family Thing (1996) Ray Murdock
Clear and Present Danger (1994) Deputy Director of the CIA Admiral James Greer
Sneakers (1992) NSA Agent Bernard Abbott
Patriot Games (1992) Admiral James Greer
Ivory Hunters (1990) (TV) Inspector Nkuru
By Dawn's Early Light (1990) (TV) "Alice" - SAC Commander aboard Looking Glass aircraft
The Hunt for Red October (1990) Admiral James Greer
Gardens of Stone (1987) Sergeant Major "Goody" Nelson
Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) Lieutenant Lothar Zogg
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Footnotes
[1] The Pershing Rifles are a collegiate level military drill team association, which was founded by General John Pershing in 1894.  The Scabbard and Blade is a joint service honor society that unites cades and midshipmen from all over the country, raises the standard of military education in American colleges and universities, and disseminates military affairs knowledge to the students.
[2] Voices and Silences (James Earl Jones and Penelope Niven), Chapter 5 Loner, page 83.
[3] Voices and Silences (James Earl Jones and Penelope Niven), Chapter 5 Loner, page 83-84.

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