Nowadays, few people don't recognize Milo Ventimiglia. The actor is in the hugely popular TV show "This Is Us," and has been a part of two other big shows you might have heard of: "Heroes" and "Gilmore Girls."
So, it was pretty cool for a lot of Defense Department employees when he recently visited the Pentagon. Ventimiglia met with military leaders and DOD personnel to come up with ways to strengthen the civilian-military connection. It turns out he has a few good reasons to do so.
His dad, Peter Ventimiglia, served two tours of duty in Vietnam as a soldier. Milo Ventimiglia said he has friends who were in more recent conflicts, too, and that he almost went into the Navy himself at age 18. While he chose a different path, that military connection stayed with him.
"And just the general awe of what the reach of our military is, I think that's kept me involved," he said.
"A lot of what I heard about my dad's service in Vietnam was wrapped up around the men that he served with and the locals in Vietnam that he got to know," Ventimiglia said.
That helped him with his "This Is Us" character, Jack. The actor said it made sense to him to play the character as a Vietnam vet, even though producers weren't initially sure if they wanted that to be the case. But, it turns out, that did become the storyline in the show's third season.
"It was very easy to reflect on stories I'd heard of my father and then kind of tie things together," he said. "It very much informed who Jack became — coming from combat, coming from war, looking out for his brother and really looking after the guys that he served with."
Ventimiglia has been visiting military bases with the USO for about a decade. He joined Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in December during his last holiday tour.
"We did 10 shows over six days, covering I think 17,000 miles, 18 flights, five countries and eight time zones," the actor said. "It was the first tour that I've been on where we were actually putting on a show."
When it was his turn to perform, he would ask a service member to join him onstage to do a scene from "This Is Us."
"Hands flew up. Guys and gals would kind of rush the stage," he said. "A lot of times I would pick the biggest dude. He would get up on stage, and I'd be like, 'OK, you'll be playing my wife. Her name's Rebecca, and she's pregnant, and she does a seductive dance for me every birthday.' It's the opening scene of 'This Is Us.'"
The crowd loved it.
"It was fun, and I think that's what those entertainment tours should be," Ventimiglia said. "It's all of us together."
In a way, Ventimiglia said the military and Hollywood both have a similar mystique.
"People want to know what's going on, on the inside. But, of course, they're both very protected worlds," he said.
He believes more Americans need to remember and take an interest in the people who serve our country — including service members' families. He said his spotlight can help.
"People out in the public take an interest in what I have to say. If I could just tweak the light over to [the] military … and say, 'Hey, let's just consider these people right here who are giving so much for our country … let's just consider that first and foremost, and then go from there,'" he said.
While Ventimiglia couldn't say if he's involved in any military projects in the near future, he said he's "sure" he will be eventually. Until then, he'll remember his trip to the Pentagon fondly.
"I'm grateful to be here," Ventimiglia said. "It's an honor."