Both AWOL and desertion are a big deal in the military, and it’s hard to get away with it if you could at all. (We wrote about it and details here.) There had been quite a number of famous deserters in the US military, looking back in time. Here are three of them:

Mark Twain

Mark Twain photo portrait. (Photographer: A.F. Bradley in his studio., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

You might be living under a rock if you don’t know who Mark Twain was. He was an American writer who wrote “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Prince and The Pauper” to name a few. He was also called “the father of American literature.”

Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Missouri at the time when slavery was legal. He trained as an apprentice steamboat pilot in New Orleans in the late 1850s. He then got his pilot license in 1859 and served as a second lieutenant in a Confederate militia for two weeks during the Civil War. In an article written by, it reads:

The Civil War severely curtailed river traffic, and, fearing that he might be impressed as a Union gunboat pilot, Clemens brought his years on the river to a halt a mere two years after he had acquired his license. He returned to Hannibal, where he joined the prosecessionist Marion Rangers, a ragtag lot of about a dozen men. After only two uneventful weeks, during which the soldiers mostly retreated from Union troops rumoured to be in the vicinity, the group disbanded. A few of the men joined other Confederate units, and the rest, along with Clemens, scattered. Twain would recall this experience, a bit fuzzily and with some fictional embellishments, in The Private History of the Campaign That Failed (1885). In that memoir, he extenuated his history as a deserter on the grounds that he was not made for soldiering.

Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen entering his 1962 Ferrari 250 GT Lusso. (Wikimedia Commons)

The American actor who usually played as the antagonist was enlisted in the United States Marine Corp in 1947. He was even promoted to private first class but was demoted not only once or twice but seven times due to his unauthorized absences. His reason? He wanted to chill with his girlfriend. He resisted arrest, which resulted in him being sent to the brig for 41 days. He then fully embraced the Marine life and saved five of his fellow Marine’s lives during an Arctic exercise when a tank slid off a landing craft into the water. He was honorably discharged in 1950 and studied acting two years after. The next thing we knew, he was the “King of Cool.”

George Custer

George Armstrong Custer, U.S. Army major general, killed in battle at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. (George L. Andrews, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

General Custer was a US Army officer and cavalry commander during the American Civil War and the American Indian Wars. Before making his “Last Stand,” where he was killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana while fighting against Native American tribes, Custer was arrested and suspended in 1868 for being AWOL. He abandoned his post to see his wife Libbie back at Fort Riley. As a consequence, as written by, he was suspended without rank and pay for one year.