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American history is full of examples of notable athletes who served in the US military. So far, were hundreds of thousands of brave men and women who fought for our country. This list represents famous athletes who were military heroes despite they were fully engaged in professional sports.
These people gave up the fame and fortune that would have come with being a professional athlete to serve their country and defend our freedom. Many sacrificed more than that, giving up their lives on the front lines of World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, and the latest wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Patrick Daniel Tillman was a professional American football player who was enjoying a very successful career in the National Football League (NFL) with the Arizona Cardinals until he enlisted in the United States Army in June 2002 in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. His service in Iraq and Afghanistan and subsequent death were the subjects of much media attention. At one point, he turned down a $3.6 million contract to fight the war on terror.
In 2004, Tillman was tragically killed in Afghanistan in what turned out to be a friendly fire accident after many controversies that followed the case.
Pat Tillman was the first professional football player to be killed in combat since Bob Kalsu, who died in the Vietnam War in 1970. Tillman was posthumously laterally promoted from specialist to corporal. He also received posthumous Silver Star and Purple Heart medals. Today, Tillman who served as a Ranger in 75th Ranger Regiment is a synonym for famous athletes who served in the US military.
Profession: Athlete, American football player
Age: Died at 28 (1976-2004)
Birthplace: Fremont, California, United States of America
Schools: Arizona State University, Leland High School
Cause Of Death: Friendly fire, Firearm, Gunshot
Place Of Death: Spera, Afghanistan
Roger Staubach, better known by his nicknames Captain America and Captian Comeback is a former American football quarterback in the National Football League (NFL). He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1965 and immediately started serving his four-year commitment to the Navy, before joining the Dallas Cowboys in 1969.
Staubach earned his place on the athletes who served in the US military list while serving in Vietnam as a supply officer for one year. Staubach considered staying in the military full-time but found himself missing football.
Profession: American football player
Birthplace: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States of America
Schools: New Mexico Military Institute, Purcell Marian High School, United States Naval Academy
The list of most notable athletes who served in the US military wouldn’t be complete without Bob Feller. He spent six full seasons in the Major Leagues, from 1936-1941, and had a family draft exemption, but when he heard on the radio that the Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor, he knew what he had to do. He was known by his nicknames, nicknamed “The Heater from Van Meter“, “Bullet Bob“, and “Rapid Robert“. Feller was originally assigned to be a physical training
It’s interesting that Feller was originally assigned to be a physical training instructor, but he insisted on going into combat. He eventually was assigned as a gun captain and served that role until he returned to the Major Leagues in 1945 to continue his Hall of Fame career.
When the war ended, Feller was discharged as a Chief Petty Officer on August 22, 1945. Feller was decorated with six campaign ribbons and eight battle stars while serving on missions in both the Pacific and North Atlantic, and he was made an honorary member of the Green Berets later in life. Most notable athletes who served in the US military list wouldn’t be complete without him.
Profession: Baseball player, Sailor
Age: Died at 92 (1918-2010)
Birthplace: Van Meter, Iowa, USA
Schools: Van Meter Elementary School
Cause Of Death: Leukemia
Place Of Death: Cleveland, Ohio, United States of America
Children: Bruce Feller, Martin Feller, Steven Feller
Jack Lummus started his promising professional football career with the New York Giants in 1941 but the war was on the gate so, in 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. He fought his way to glory through many battles. One of the battles was the end of the journey for him.
He fought, and died, at the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II and received the Medal of Honor for his service.
After his death, Lummus’ commanding officer wrote to his mother:
- Jack suffered very little for he didn’t live long. I saw Jack soon after he was hit. With calmness, serenity and complacency, Jack said, ‘The New York Giants lost a good man.’ We all lost a good man.
Profession: American football player
Age: Died at 30 (1915-1945)
Birthplace: Texas, United States of America
Schools: Baylor University, Texas Military College
Cause Of Death: Killed in action
Place Of Death: Iwo Jima, Japan
Bob Kalsu was a professional football player who died in combat. He was tragically killed after being called up to serve in Vietnam in 1969. He had a promising career ahead of him after being named the Bills’ Rookie of the Year in 1968.
Kalsu entered the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant and arrived in Vietnam in November 1969 as part of the 101st Airborne Division. He was killed in action on July 21, 1970, when his unit came under enemy mortar fire at FSB Ripcord near the A Shau Valley.
Profession: American football player
Age: Died at 25 (1945-1970)
Birthplace: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States of America
Schools: University of Oklahoma
Place Of Death: Th?a Thiên–Hu? Province, Vietnam
Children: James Robert Kalsu Jr.
Before Yogi Berra started his famous baseball career with the New York Yankees. During his career, he was widely regarded as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history. His sports career was accomplished when was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.
Another part of his life led him to serve in the U.S. Navy from 1944-1945 where he was involved in the famous D-Day invasion on Normandy Beach during World War II. Berra was responsible for launching rockets at the German defenses on the Omaha beach. His military service led him to a list of notable athletes who served in the US military.
Profession: Manager, Baseball player, Coach, Actor, Writer
Birthplace: The Hill, USA, St. Louis, Missouri
Children: Dale Berra, Tim Berra, Larry Berra
Ted Williams put up some of the most astonishing starts in baseball history and he did of all that while missing numerous years while serving in the military. Williams fought in World War II and in the Korean War. He missed three seasons from 1943-1945 when he served in the Navy as a pilot and gunner. Williams once again returned to the military in 1952 where he saw combat in the Korean War.
Williams flew 39 combat missions in Korea, earning the Air Medal with two Gold Stars in lieu of second and third awards, before being withdrawn from flight status in June 1953 after a hospitalization for pneumonia. This resulted in the discovery of an inner ear infection that disqualified him from flight status.
Nicknamed “The Kid” he earned his place in American history and placed him on most notable athletes who served in the US military list.
Profession: Pilot, Baseball player
Age: Died at 84 (1918-2002)
Birthplace: San Diego, California, United States of America
Schools: Hoover High School
Cause Of Death: Cardiovascular disease
Place Of Death: Inverness, Florida, United States of America
Children: John Henry Williams, Claudia Williams, Barbara Joyce Williams
Warren Spahn played in just four big-league games before he was enlisted into the Army shortly after finishing the 1942/1943 season. Spahn spent three years in Europe, where he served with distinction and took part in some well-known battles and earned a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and a presidential citation for his service. He served as a combat engineer.
He was discharged from the Army in 1946, when he returned to Major League Baseball he won 363 games, more than any other left-handed pitcher in history.
Profession: Baseball player
Age: Died at 82 (1921-2003)
Birthplace: Buffalo, New York, USA
Schools: South Park High School
Place Of Death: Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, United States of America
David Robinson did not receive much attention from major colleges after high school, so he decided to follow in his dad’s footsteps and join the Naval Academy. Robinson developed into one of the best basketball players in the country earning him the nickname “The Admiral.”
The San Antonio Spurs drafted Robinson with the first pick in the 1987 NBA Draft even though Robinson had to fulfill a two-year commitment to the Navy. Robinson fulfilled his commitment and returned to win Rookie of the Year for the Spurs in 1989.
Profession: A basketball player
Birthplace: Key West, Florida, United States of America
Schools: Osbourn Park High School, United States Naval Academy
Children: David Robinson, Jr., Justin Robinson, Corey Robinson
On October 16, 1940, Greenberg became the first American League player to register for the nation’s first peacetime draft.
Hank Greenberg was originally considered for limited duty when entering the Army in 1940, because of his flat feet he was recommended for light duty, but later he was determined to fit for military service. Greenberg was discharged from the military after turning 28 and went back to baseball to continue his Hall of Fame career.
Profession: Baseball player
Age: Died at 75 (1911-1986)
Birthplace: Greenwich Village, New York City, New York, United States of America
Schools: New York University
Cause Of Death: Cancer
Place Of Death: Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California, United States of America
Children: Stephen Greenberg, Alva Greenberg, Glenn Greenberg
Anyone who gives up a career in the professional sport to join the military has my respect and admiration. I don’t think there are many who would do that. Athletes who served in the US military and paused or left behind their professional careers are real patriots.