Johnny Carson and Marine fighter pilot Ed McMahon were united by early military ties, long before they met and became late-night television's most famous duo. At age 17, right after graduation, Carson enlisted in the V-5 aviation training program in Kansas City, Missouri, while McMahon enlisted in the V-5 in Boston and fulfilled his greatest ambition as a decorated Marine fighter pilot.
The entertainers' military paths were different. Carson was transferred from the V-5 to the V-12 (USNR) program. He was assigned to the USS Pennsylvania, served as a communications officer in the Marianas, and claimed the highlight of his career was performing magic tricks for Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal. McMahon went the distance in the Marine Corps. He trained at the University of Georgia Pre-Flight campus, earned his wings in 1944, served as a F4U Corsairs flight instructor during WWII and flew 85 combat missions over Korea, earning six Air Medals. When McMahon retired from the reserves as a full Colonel, he claimed his service as a Marine was his "greatest achievement."
Ironically, Carson and McMahon first paired up on a TV show called "Who Do You Trust?" One thing is for certain, their friendship ran much deeper than the playful rapport millions of Americas witnessed on television. McMahon stuck by Carson during his toughest times, and he was forever loyal to his friend 'til the end.