With Veterans Day taking place this Sunday, Nov. 11, I thought it appropriate to stop and remember some of the athletes who have served, given their lives, in defense of their country in times of war and peace.
We know the recent story of Pat Tillman, the Arizona Cardinals’ safety who volunteered after the attacks of Sept. 11, serving in Afghanistan where he was killed by friendly fire in 2004. There are eight others whose services are told in a 2010 story on TotalSports.com.
Some of you who have been around a bit longer than me will likely remember not only the names, but also the nature of their service. Six of these served in World War II.
Cleveland Indians pitching great Bob Feller enlisted after Pearl Harbor, walking away from an already great career, 107 wins at that point, to serve for three and a half years. Warren Spahn won 363 games in 21 seasons with the Boston Braves – tops for left-handers – with most of those coming after he earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star during the Battle of the Bulge.
Hank Greenberg played most of his career in Detroit, hitting 58 home runs for the Tigers in 1938. He was a five-time All-Star, two-time American League MVP, but after receiving a medical exemption from the draft in 1940, volunteered anyway and served in the then Army Air Force, scouting base locations in the Far East.
Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in his 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, after he served in WWII as a lieutenant with the first black tank battalion to see action. “The Splendid Splinter,” Ted Williams, he of the Boston Red Sox and the last player to hit over .400 for a season, was a pilot and flight instructor in WWII and Korea during the prime of his baseball career.
Last but not least, Yogi Berra, remembered today for his “Yogi-isms” and ways of twisting the English language, parodied so well in that Aflac commercial where he says “And they give you cash, and cash is just as good as money.” Berra’s career with the Yankees began after the war where he served as a gunner on a boat that pulled into the Normandy beachhead two days after D-Day.
Two others in the article that served are more familiar to most of us: Roger Staubach and David Robinson. Both Navy-men (making my dad proud) Staubach won the Heisman Trophy and then served as a supply officer in Vietnam before joining the Dallas Cowboys at age 27, quarterbacking the Cowboys to a couple Super Bowl wins.
Robinson’s height limited and proved a challenge to his career as a naval officer, finally serving two years as lieutenant, junior grade and civil engineer at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia. After leaving the military he played his entire career as center for the San Antonio Spurs, winning a titles in 1999 and 2003, MVP in 1995, Defensive Player of the Year in 1992, making 10 All-Star game appearances and being widely considered one of the greatest centers in NBA history.
There are numerous others named in the TotalSports piece, some familiar, many not. There are even more college athletes who have served, many who never returned from remote places in this world unless it was in a pine or metal box.
So this Veterans Day, let’s remember all of those who have served in peace and in war. Some of them have given up a lot more than the rest of us have, or even hope to have, putting aside riches, prestige and fame to take a risk by doing a duty to serve of their country.
I admire them for something I did not do, and thank them for it.
John McCallum can be reached at email@example.com.