Tom Selleck’s Important Message for America’s Veterans
Advocacy While most people recognize the iconic television star, few know he served as a member of the California Army National Guard.
Tom Selleck is known as the star of the hit TV series "Magnum, P.I." and "Blue Bloods," but he's also a veteran. Serving in the California Army National Guard during the Vietnam era was challenging, but often for reasons that had nothing to do with his duties. "It was a difficult time," says Selleck, who served from 1967 to 1973. "I was proud to serve my country, but there seemed to be a consensus that we needed to blame the soldier or sailor for government policy. That went away over time, and I think that's a great lesson.”
Staying the course
Still, Selleck encountered bias against Vietnam veterans while starring in "Magnum, P.I."
"When CBS said, 'We love the pilot with those Vietnam flashbacks, but you can't mention Vietnam because that's death to the public,' it was the same thing, to me, as wearing a uniform in 1967," he recalls. "It's hard for Americans to understand that we were sometimes even spit on, and certainly attacked verbally, in those days."
All heroes are flawed and it's interesting to see their flaws, and it's certainly interesting practice to play flawed heroes."
Ultimately, CBS executives had a change of heart. "The Smithsonian Institution recognized 'Magnum' as the first TV show to portray Vietnam veterans in a positive light. I'm proud of that. We've come a very long way in the right direction in that area."
As a National Guardsman, Selleck was activated for service to help contain the Isla Vista riots in Santa Barbara and assist during fire and other emergencies. Though he did not serve in Vietnam, he points out "in every war, including Vietnam, National Guardsmen and Army reservists and military reservists all served in combat and fought and died, so I get a little impatient when people trivialize the National Guard."
Today, Selleck serves as a spokesperson for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. "We're trying to build an education center at the [Vietnam Veterans Memorial] Wall. I have a friend on the Wall. It's really important to me to reinforce the positive nature of our reaction to men and women in the military."
Despite the impact of "Magnum, P.I.," Selleck describes the current treatment of veterans in the media as "a mixed bag."
"Hollywood doesn't want to do what could be considered in any way patriotic. I don't look at it that way. All heroes are flawed and it's interesting to see their flaws, and it's certainly interesting practice to play flawed heroes. But the idea that when the media says something positive about the military that it's just a piece of propaganda, I don't have any patience for that."