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Salute to Service: Pro athletes who served

With it being Veteran’s Day today, Salute Magazine would like to salute all of those that have served or continue to serve our great country. We thought it would be a great idea to recognize some of the athletes that served our country as well, but we don’t want it to take away from everyone that has served in the military.

A big salute to each and everyone one of you that has served our country and we are beyond grateful for all that you have done or continue to do.

The order that these athletes are placed in does not in any way show their importance/lack of importance to us, but rather is only for listing purposes.

10. Ted Williams (Navy/Marines)

The Red Sox legend was called to action in 1942 but only was involved in training, never deployed. But in 1952, he finally saw action in the Korean War. After a stint of flight school refresher training, he headed to Korea as a member of the Third Marine Air Wing, 223rd Squadron. In between his two active duty periods, he returned to the Red Sox. Williams has a career batting average of .344, 521 home runs and 1,839 runs batted in, but also flew 39 missions in the Korean War.

9. Bob Feller (Navy)

The Cleveland Indians pitcher, who is also known as “Bullet Bob” and “Rapid Robert,” was having a sensational career but decided to enlist in the Navy at the age of 23. He served four years as an anti-aircraft gunner aboard the U.S.S. Alabama and was a highly decorated veteran. Following those four years, which happened during his prime, he went on to gain 266 wins and become the all-time Indians leader in shutouts (46), strikeouts (2,581), innings (3,828) and All-Star appearances (8). His sacrifice cost him a ton of stats, but he served his country nonetheless.

8. Joe Louis (Army)

Louis, a boxing legend, enlisted in the Army during World War II and helped ease racial tensions in military units. The “Brown Bomber” was heavyweight boxing champion for a 12-year period during his career and also served as a physical education instructor in the Army. Between 1946-1949, Louis defended his heavyweight title four times, and he was also given the Legion of Merit medal for his service. Louis died in April 1981 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

7. Pat Tillman (Army)

Tillman enlisted in the Army in 2002 and left behind a career in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals. He is probably the best known athlete on this list (due to being more current), but he also paid the ultimate sacrifice. His death has been embroiled in controversy, but he will always be remembered for leaving the NFL to serve his country, following the 9/11 attacks. Tillman was an Arizona State University alumni, and the school recently honored him on their Salute to Service night. The Pat Tillman Foundation was also established in 2004 in honor of Tillman and creates educational opportunities for veterans and military families.

6. Rocky Bleier (Army)

Bleier was drafted by the Steelers out of Notre Dame in 1968 and he only played one season before being drafted by the Army for the Vietnam War. While in Vietnam, Bleier suffered injuries caused by gunfire and a grenade, and that could have cost him his NFL career. Bleier then made the Steelers’ team in 1972 and won four Super Bowls with the team. He was also given the Purple Heart and Bronze Star awards for his military service.

5. Patty Berg (Marines)

The golfer and one of the founding members of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) served for two years in the Marines as a Procurement Officer (1943-1945) and she gave golf exhibitions to help with military promotion . Berg has 15 major titles, which is the all-time record for major wins by a female golfer.

4. Bob Kalsu (Army)

Kalsu was the Buffalo Bills rookie of the year in 1968, but was called into action with the Army in 1969 during the Vietnam War. He, like some other athletes, was called to action in Vietnam, but Kalsu became the only U.S. professional athlete to die in Vietnam. The 14 games that Kalsu played for the Bills in 1968 were the extent of his career, but he made the most of them.

3. Jack Dempsy (Coast Guard)

The professional boxer known as the “Manassa Mauler” was best known for his violence in the ring, but being tender-hearted outside of it. At the start of his career, Dempsey would travel from mining town to mining town to find fights, but he earned the title of world heavyweight champion in 1919 with a win over Jess Willard. Dempsey would go on to serve in WWII as a lieutenant commander in the Coast Guard.

2. David Robinson (Navy)

The NBA and San Antonio Spurs legend attended the U.S. Naval Academy and then served two tours with the Navy following graduation. Robinson played one year of high school basketball but had a great career at the Naval Academy before being drafted by the Spurs in 1987. Following his two-year military commitment, Robinson would go on to play 14 years for the Spurs and become one of the greatest centers to ever play on the hardwood and in the NBA.

1. Jackie Robinson (Army)

Robinson is mostly known for breaking through the color barrier in Major League Baseball and stealing home as well as other bases. But prior to that event, Robinson broke through the color barriers of the United States Army by refusing to give up his seat on a segregated bus in 1944 at boot camp in Fort Hood, Texas. He was arrested and court-martialed because of the incident, but was later acquitted of the charges and received an honorable discharge. Robinson served as a second lieutenant with the Army but never saw any action. He would then turn to professional baseball and become the first black player to play in the major leagues in April 15, 1947 for the Brooklyn Dodgers.


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