What You Didn't Know About John Dillinger's Time In The Navy

The bank robber and notorious gangster John Dillinger spent much of his short life in and out of prison. Raised by a strict father and cold stepmother, Dillinger was a bully in his youth, repeatedly getting into trouble for fighting and stealing. He raised so much hell as a young man in Indianapolis that his father decided to move the whole family out of the city, to Mooresville, Indiana, where he hoped the rural scenery might temper his son's wild behavior. However, far from straightening him out, the move only caused John to rebel even more. 

At the age of 20, Dillinger enlisted in the U.S. Navy, but not out of a sense of duty or patriotism for his country. Rather, he got caught joyriding a stolen car through Indiana, and, following a dramatic showdown with the police, he chose to enlist in the service rather than face punishment for his crime, according to History. As you may have guessed, his time in the Navy didn't exactly whip him into shape. From just about the moment he set foot on the USS Utah, Dillinger acted out and was repeatedly disciplined for insubordination.

John Dillinger deserted the Navy after just a few months

Dillinger (pictured above, with his father) lasted a mere 22 days doing backbreaking labor onboard the ship before going AWOL for the first time. According to Together We Served, he returned after a day and was immediately court marshalled for his absence and slapped with an $18 fine, close to a month's pay. Just two days later, however, Dillinger was back in trouble again, this time for leaving his duty post "without authority ... in disobedience of orders." He received an additional punishment of five days in solitary confinement, which was the last straw for him.

In total, Dillinger served less than six months in the Navy before he jumped ship again, this time for good. On December 3, 1923, he departed for a scheduled 24-hour leave and never returned. The Navy listed him as a deserter two weeks later. Officially, he was dishonorably discharged in early 1924, per Together We Served.

Shortly after he deserted, Dillinger returned home to Mooresville and got the idea he could make some quick cash by robbing a local grocer. He was caught, arrested, and sentenced to 10 to 20 years in the Indiana State Prison, according to the FBI. Much like his time in the service, Dillinger's years behind bars only pushed him further into a life of crime and resentment. By the time he was released on parole in 1933, a hardened, embittered Dillinger was well on his way to becoming Public Enemy Number 1.