‘Beverly Hillbillies’: What Duties Did Buddy Ebsen Do in the Coast Guard During World War II?

by Evan Reier
Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In between a legendary entertainment career, The Beverly Hillbillies star Buddy Ebsen served in World War II using the talents he had.

While Ebsen’s legacy in 2021 is highlighted through the enduring love of the Hillbillies as well as Barnaby Jones, the actor’s career went from 1928 to 1999. Before his death on July 6, 2003, he spent nearly his entire life working. Initially a vaudeville performer, Ebsen’s dancing and singing skills were how he got his foot in the door.

Before World War II, Ebsen had pretty much made himself a star. Appearing in classic Shirley Temple vehicle Captain January and many other productions, he had essentially “made it.” However, there were two major roadblocks.

One can probably tell that World War II was one of those roadblocks, but Ebsen’s other famous setback happened just before the United States entered the conflict. The future The Beverly Hillbillies star was set to star in The Wizard of Oz before disaster struck.

Tapped as the Tin Man, Ebsen became very ill due to the aluminum dust used for the costume. He was forced to withdraw, and also didn’t get much support while sick. So what does this have to do with his time in World War II?

Well, joining the armed services was the first thing The Beverly Hillbillies actor did after recovering.

The Beverly Hillbillies Star Buddy Ebsen Joins the Coast Guard

When Ebsen joined the war, he had become a great sailor, and actually taught naval candidates how to sail. However, he was repeatedly denied by the Navy once the U.S. was in the fight.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard was happy to accept his application. He was made a lieutenant and given the role of damage control officer on the USS Pocatello. Like many Coast Guard-commanded frigates, the primary duty of the ship’s crew was to monitor weather. The ship patrolled about 1500 miles west of Seattle, Washington.

A damage control officer looked to assist in many ways. As the Coast Guard’s website points out, current duties of the title include everything from firefighting to welding to nuclear-warfare detection.

Ebsen did not talk much about his service later in life, so the specific details of what he did from day-to-day on the Pocatello remains unknown. But considering what’s expected in the job, it’s at least clear that The Beverly Hillbillies star was handy.

After the war was won, Ebsen was discharged in 1946. He made his return to acting before the end of the decade.

With appearances in shows like Bonanza and Maverick, the 1950s saw Ebsen return to stardom. At the start of the 1960s, Ebsen was working often, and would be casted as Jed Clampett in The Beverly Hillbillies.

The rest is hillbilly history.