‘The Andy Griffith Show’: ‘Barney Fife’ Actor Don Knotts Was Actually a Decorated Soldier in Real Life

by Matthew Wilson

Before he was everyone’s favorite deputy, Barney Fife, on “The Andy Griffith Show,” actor Don Knotts actually served in the military. The actor was in the U.S. Army during World War II.

Knotts’ service lasted from 1943 until 1946. The future actor was a non-combatant during the War. But Knotts became a highly-decorated soldier before leaving the military. The Army awarded Knotts multiple accolades including the World War II Victory Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, a Marksmanship Badge, and an Honorable Service Lapel Button.

The military also gave Knotts a chance to work on his comedy routine. Everyone could use a laugh even in and especially during times of war. During his stint in the Army, Knotts joined the Stars and Gripes. It was an Army-sponsored variety show that toured the Pacific Islands. The experience kept Knotts’ dream of one day being a comedian alive.

Don Knotts Follows His Dreams

Born on July 21, 1924, in Morgantown, West Virginia, Jesse Donald Knotts found solace in comedy and humor. Knotts had something of difficult childhood and an unstable relationship with his father. Knotts’ father had diagnosed with schizophrenia and also was an alcoholic. The man became known for severe rages and episodes of anger and violence that threatened his children’s lives. For instance, Knotts’ father once even threatened him at gunpoint.

During the day, Knotts worked as a chicken plucker on a factory line, defeathering the poultry before it was sent out. In his spare time, he began to practice comedy and performed at school or church events. One of Knotts’ early acts involved a dummy and ventriloquism.

Before going to college, Knotts moved to New York City to pursue comedy. Unfortunately, he failed to make his dreams a reality and returned to West Virginia. But after the Army, Knotts graduated college and moved back to NYC to pursue his dream once again.

Knotts eventually would shoot to stardom after landing a role on “The Andy Griffith Show.” His comedic timing and chemistry with Griffith impressed producers, who gave him a five-year contract on the show. After leaving the show, Knotts pursued a career in movies, making multiple comedies as well.