Famous Veterans: Chuck Norris

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Chuck Norris
From "Invasion USA," starring Chuck Norris. (Cannon Films)

Chuck Norris almost ran off and joined the Navy at age 17, but because his mother wanted him to finish high school before enlisting, he had time to rethink his choice of military branch and joined the Air Force instead.

This isn't just about inter-service rivalry; if Chuck Norris chose the Navy, America -- and maybe the world -- might never have known the man who puts the "laughter" in "manslaughter."

Born Carlos Ray Norris on March 10, 1940, the man who would be Chuck Norris was born and raised in Ryan, Oklahoma. His mother, Wilma, was just 18 years old and, unsurprisingly, spent seven days in labor. When he was born, his skin was blue because his lungs weren't pumping.

Doctors rushed in to jump-start them and, according to his autobiography "Against All Odds," he was "gulping air like a pro."

It was the closest the Grim Reaper ever got to Chuck Norris. It also was the reason his mother was so adamant about Carlos graduating from high school. She believed God had a plan for him -- she might have been right.

Air Force basic training is where young Carlos officially became Chuck Norris, a new name given to him by a fellow airman. He graduated from basic training, married his high school sweetheart and was sent to Arizona for a year. Then, he was sent to Osan Air Base, South Korea, a move he called "a major turning point."

It was there that he pursued martial arts. He joined the base judo team but quickly found it wasn't for him. Then one day, while walking through an alley, he discovered a dojo practicing tang soo do, the Korean art of empty hand fighting. Even with an injured shoulder and in a class full of black belts, he took to the art.

Eight years later, he was a world champion.

He studied tang soo do and taekwondo, both Korean martial arts, and became the first Westerner to be awarded an eighth-degree black belt in taekwondo. He also later studied judo at March Air Force Base (now March Air Reserve Base), California, before being discharged in 1962.

He briefly worked for Northrop Aviation, but moonlighted as a karate instructor and soon was teaching full time and running a number of martial arts schools. He held the world middleweight karate champion title for six years and was named Black Belt magazine's "Fighter of the Year'' in 1969, eventually founding 32 martial arts schools.

Chuck Norris Movies

It was celebrity student Steve McQueen who encouraged Chuck Norris to go into acting. After bit roles, he captured the public's attention with his showstopping turn as Bruce Lee's martial arts opponent in the 1972 film "Return of the Dragon."

By the late 1970s, he was popular enough to headline his own movies and starred in cult classics such as "Good Guys Wear Black," "Delta Force" and "Missing in Action."

He later starred in the long-running TV series "Walker, Texas Ranger." The show's enduring popularity and Chuck Norris' deserved reputation as a real-world martial arts master led to the rise of "Chuck Norris Facts," an early internet meme that exaggerates his tough-guy image to hilarious effect.

Chuck Norris Facts

Here’s a smattering of some of the greatest “Chuck Norris Facts” created by the internet:

  • When Chuck Norris was born, he drove his mom home from the hospital.
  • Chuck Norris can hit you so hard, your blood will bleed.
  • Jack was nimble, Jack was quick, but Jack couldn't dodge Chuck Norris' roundhouse kick.
  • Chuck Norris can unscramble an egg.
  • Chuck Norris once roundhouse kicked a salesman. Over the phone.
  • Chuck can divide by zero.
  • When Chuck Norris plays dodgeball, the balls dodge him.
  • Chuck Norris can speak braille.
  • Chuck Norris can build a snowman out of rain.
  • Chuck Norris makes onions cry.
  • Chuck Norris's blood type is AK-47.
  • Chuck Norris tells Simon what to do.
  • Chuck Norris once went to Mars. That's why there are no signs of life.
chuck norris
Chuck Norris visits Marines in Camp Taqaddum, Iraq in 2006. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Ben Eberle)

Is Chuck Norris Dead?

Norris is still very much alive, probably because death lives in fear that he might seek revenge for that stunt he pulled when Chuck Norris was born.

He often uses his success to give back to the military community. He has been a spokesman on behalf of the Veterans Administration (now Veterans Affairs) and hospitalized veterans. In 1990, he created the Kick Drugs out of America Foundation and has been named "Veteran of the Year" by the American Veteran Awards.

Every once in a while, you can even see Norris on USO tours, visiting deployed troops but letting them win the war.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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