‘Gomer Pyle, USMC’: Jim Nabors Said Military Enlistment Increased Up to 40 Percent During Show’s Run

by Clayton Edwards

Gomer Pyle, USMC was almost as popular as the show that spawned it. Gomer Pyle and the actor who portrayed him, Jim Nabors, both got their start on The Andy Griffith Show. In the beginning, Gomer was only going to be on the show for a single episode. However, he was so popular with audiences that he became a regular character on the show. At the end of The Andy Griffith Show‘s fourth season, the spinoff series premiered.

Gomer Pyle USMC saw the good-hearted gas station attendant enlisting in the United States Marine Corps. The show was a huge hit with audiences as well as critics. In fact, it debuted in the top-ten-rated shows in the United States. When the show’s final season aired in 1969, it was the highest-rated sitcom on television.

Gomer Pyle USMC was far more than just a popular show. It and its star, the late Jim Nabors, served as an inspiration for many young men across the country. The popularity of the series also allowed Nabors to experience things that many civilians could only dream of. A 2015 article in Honolulu Civil Beat, based on an interview with Jim Nabors laid out just how influential Gomer was on his fans.

Gomer Pyle USMC Caused Marine Enlistment to Spike

Jim Nabors told the Hawaii-based publication that Gomer Pyle USMC had a profound effect on the military. The enlistment rate for United States Marines went up between thirty-five and forty percent during the show’s run. There’s a good chance that young men across the country were seeing Gomer and his fellow Marines and deciding that they wanted a part of that life as well.

Gomer Pyle USMC was so popular with the troops that Jim Nabors was invited to perform at USO shows with Bob Hope. However, that wasn’t the end of the honors that came Nabors’ way after the show ended.

Before his death, the Gomer Pyle USMC star got an opportunity that very few civilians would ever get. He sat at the controls of an F-35 Lightning stealth fighter. Nabors was accompanied by two skilled pilots. They performed a vertical takeoff then walked Jim through a short test flight of the jet. On that day he became the 28th honorary naval pilot.

It goes deeper than that, though. In the late sixties, Nabors was singing at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. After his performance, he was flanked by uniformed Marines who escorted him out of the arena. While leaving, Nabors was attacked by a razor blade-wielding woman. The Marines closed ranks around the Gomer Pyle USMC star. Then, one Marine put himself in the line of danger and punched the blade-swinging lunatic in the face, neutralizing the threat.

When Jim Nabors passed away in 2017, the United States Marine Corps released a short but poignant statement. “Semper Fi, Gomer Pyle. Rest in peace Jim Nabors, one of the few to ever be named an Honorary Marine.”