Their sacrifice was no less important than the millions of other men and women who have served or are serving now in the Armed Forces but since we are a sports site we are going to talk about some of the athletes to serve in the military.
The events of 9/11 had a profound effect on Pat Tillman and led to him leaving the NFL to join the Army Rangers. He was killed in Afghanistan in 2004 by friendly fire. The cause of his death was covered up by the military initially and was the subject of a congressional hearing. Please check out The Tillman Story if you would like to know what the government did to dishonor him.
The greatest hitter in baseball history gave 5 seasons of his prime to the U.S. Marines as a pilot during World War II and the Korean War. What would his Hall of Fame career been like with those 5 years?
Feller volunteered 2 days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and spent 4 years of his prime on the USS Alabama. Feller retired with 266 wins and would have probably had over 300 if not for his service to his country.
After his rookie season he was drafted into the Vietnam War in 1968. Wounded during an ambush, he was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star but he was told he would never play football again. It took him 3 years to get his weight back up and his body able to perform but he went on to be a vital member of 4 Super Bowl winning Steelers teams.
5 years before he broke the MLB color barrier in 1947, Robinson was drafted in the Army. Court-martialed for not moving to the back of an Army bus. After being acquitted he was honorably discharged and joined the Negro Baseball League.
The coaching legend and one of the greatest human beings ever, enlisted in the Navy in 1942. He would later go on to win a few basketball games as the coach of the UCLA Bruins.
This next man was not an athlete but after reading a book about Medal of Honor recipients years ago this man stuck out to me.
Sgt. Thomas A. Baker’s Official Medal of Honor Citation (Probably the baddest man ever put on this planet)
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty at Saipan, Mariana Islands, 19 June to 7 July 1944. When his entire company was held up by fire from automatic weapons and small-arms fire from strongly fortified enemy positions that commanded the view of the company, Sgt. (then Pvt.) Baker voluntarily took a bazooka and dashed alone to within 100 yards of the enemy. Through heavy rifle and machinegun fire that was directed at him by the enemy, he knocked out the strong point, enabling his company to assault the ridge. Some days later while his company advanced across the open field flanked with obstructions and places of concealment for the enemy, Sgt. Baker again voluntarily took up a position in the rear to protect the company against surprise attack and came upon 2 heavily fortified enemy pockets manned by 2 officers and 10 enlisted men which had been bypassed. Without regard for such superior numbers, he unhesitatingly attacked and killed all of them. Five hundred yards farther, he discovered 6 men of the enemy who had concealed themselves behind our lines and destroyed all of them. On 7 July 1944, the perimeter of which Sgt. Baker was a part was attacked from 3 sides by from 3,000 to 5,000 Japanese. During the early stages of this attack, Sgt. Baker was seriously wounded but he insisted on remaining in the line and fired at the enemy at ranges sometimes as close as 5 yards until his ammunition ran out. Without ammunition and with his own weapon battered to uselessness from hand-to-hand combat, he was carried about 50 yards to the rear by a comrade, who was then himself wounded. At this point Sgt. Baker refused to be moved any farther stating that he preferred to be left to die rather than risk the lives of any more of his friends. A short time later, at his request, he was placed in a sitting position against a small tree. Another comrade, withdrawing, offered assistance. Sgt. Baker refused, insisting that he be left alone and be given a soldier’s pistol with its remaining 8 rounds of ammunition. When last seen alive, Sgt. Baker was propped against a tree, pistol in hand, calmly facing the foe. Later Sgt. Baker’s body was found in the same position, gun empty, with 8 Japanese lying dead before him. His deeds were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army. [Source: Medal of Honor Recipients, WWII]
Have a safe and happy Memorial Day and thank someone for their service to our country.