Athletes who understood the true meaning of Veterans Day

College Contributor Network

Arthur Ashe once said "true heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at all cost."

In a sports culture that is as centered on the individual performance as it has ever been, on this Veteran's Day it is important to remember those athletes who have put service above self and defended our country. Many put their professional careers on hold, and some paid what Abraham Lincoln called 'the last full measure of devotion' to protect our country, our values and our right to play and enjoy the sports we love.

During the World Wars and Vietnam, professional athletes were subject to the draft and many were drafted and served, while others enlisted. After Pearl Harbor, hundreds of Major League Baseball players enlisted, 29 of whom became Hall of Famers.

Veterans Day athletes
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Athletes who understood the true meaning of Veterans Day

David Robinson

(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Jackie Robinson

(Photo by James Kriegsmann/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Joe DiMaggio

(Photo by Sports Studio Photos/Getty Images)

Pee Wee Reese

(Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty Images)

Jack Dempsey

(Photo by: The Ring Magazine/Getty Images)

Tom Seaver

(Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images)

Nolan Ryan

(Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB via Getty Images)

Willie Mays

(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Ty Cobb

(Photo Reproduction by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)


Bob Feller was the first Major-Leaguer to volunteer for World War Two after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He volunteered despite having a deferment, which could have made him exempt from service. Feller entered the United States Navy at the age of 23, and served on the USS Alabama as an anti-aircraft gun captain. He was discharged as a Chief Petty Officer when the war ended. Feller received eight battle stars for his service.

After his service, Feller returned to the majors, where he went on to throw three no-hitters, rack up 266 wins and one World Series championship. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962 -- he is the only U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Jerry Coleman, noted broadcaster and former second baseman for the New York Yankees put his professional career on hold to join the United States Marine Corps. Coleman flew a total of 120 combat missions during World War Two and the Korean War, and was highly decorated for his service, including 13 Air Medals. Coleman was quoted as saying "Your country is bigger than baseball."

Rocky Bleier was drafted twice in 1968. First, by the Pittsburgh Steelers, then in December by the United States Army. Bleier was sent to Vietnam in May of 1969, and stationed in Chu Lai. He was injured twice in the same day, shot by a rifle in the left leg, and shrapnel from a grenade hit his right leg when his platoon ran into an ambush.

He returned to the states with a limp, and a desire to return to football. He battled for two years and overcame his injuries to become a key part of four Super Bowl Championship teams and received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service.

Bob Kalsu was a starting guard and Rookie of the Year for the Buffalo Bills in 1968. He was in Vietnam in November of the next year, a part of the 101st Airborne Division. Kalsu's unit came under fire in Thua Thien, South Vietnam, and he sustained fatal injuries. At 25 years old, he became the only professional athlete to die in the Vietnam war.

David Robinson, nicknamed 'the Admiral' during his time in the NBA, was the son of a U.S. Navy sonar technician and attended the U.S. Naval Academy himself. Robinson was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs, but he completed his two years of military service before returning in 1989 to become Rookie of the Year, averaging 21.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.

Most people know John Wooden for his illustrious college coaching years. But many don't know that Wooden was a lieutenant in the Navy in 1942.

Warren Spahn, one of baseball's great pitchers served in the Army. In addition to having the sixth-most wins in baseball history, Spahn was a part of the historic Battle of the Bulge. He received a Bronze Star for bravery and Purple Heart for a shrapnel wound he sustained in combat.

These are just a few of the hundreds of stories of brave athletes leaving the field of play to enter the field of battle. Others include but are certainly not limited to: Pat Tillman, Roger Staubach, Yogi Berra, Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Pee Wee Reese, Charlie Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Willie Mays and Ty Cobb.

So, on this day when we take time to remember those who serve, it is important that we remember these countless men. While many have described sports as a way to escape everyday things, to get away from the bad news on TV, we must remember that these people are not immune to the world around them. Sports are filled with heroes we put on a pedestal for athletic excellence, outstanding performance and efforts on the field. But the real heroes are those who leave the world of athletics to defend our country.

Former New Hampshire Governor Judd Gregg once said "the veterans of our military services have put their lives on the line to protect the freedoms that we enjoy. They have dedicated their lives to their country and deserve to be recognized for their commitment."

Today, we recognize and give thanks.

Annie Moore is a junior at the University of Louisville majoring in Communications with a Sport Administration minor. She believes Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. Follow her on Twitter: @AnyMoreSports
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