When you hear the name of Pat Sajak two associations likely come to mind: Wheel of Fortune and Vanna White. After you read this article, the third that should come to mind is “Pat Sajak: Vietnam veteran.” You heard me right. Long before hitting it big on Wheel of Fortune, Sajak sharpened his entertainment skills in the jungles of Vietnam.
I grew up watching Wheel of Fortune each night. I’m not sure whether my family watched it for the challenge of guessing the correct letters and phrases or simply to watch Vanna White spin those letters; I’ll leave that for the ether to decide. Either way, Wheel of Fortune was always a show that captivated my attention. Little did I know that the unassuming, sometimes snarky man hosting the show was a Vietnam war veteran and one of the men a cult-classic movie was loosely based upon.
From Poverty to Vietnam
Patrick Leonard Sajdak was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1946 to parents Leonard Anthony Sajdak and Joyce Backal. Patrick would later drop the “d” in his last name for professional reasons and to ease pronunciation. Sajak’s parents were by no means wealthy when he was a child. His father worked in a local factory and made just enough each month to pay the family’s bills. Unfortunately, Pat’s father died when he was still a young boy and the family lost a wage earner in addition to a dad. The poverty Pat experienced as a child was made more bearable by the fact that he was wealthy with love from his mother and grandparents, who cared for him and ensured that his needs were met.