Taking a look at some real sports heroes
Most everybody in Arizona is familiar with Pat Tillman, who gave up a multi-million dollar contract with the Cardinals to join the Army Rangers and died in 2004 when he was hit by friendly fire in Afghanistan.
But there is a long history of sports figures who have served this country.
According to one report, the Baseball Hall of Fame identified 29 Hall of Famers who served in World War II and about 500 major-leaguers in all, including Yogi Berra, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Bob Feller, Pee Wee Reese and Joe Garagiola.
There were even more pro football players who served during WWII, such as Tom Landry and Art Donovan, and 21 lost their lives.
In honor of Memorial Day, here is just a small sampling of real sports heroes to whom we owe our gratitude:
Jack Lummus, WWII
The Giants end received the Congressional Medal of Honor after knocking out three enemy emplacements despite being wounded twice by grenades on Iwo Jima.
Lummus, a Marine Reserve, stepped on a mine and suffered fatal wounds, telling a doctor “the New York Giants lost a mighty good end today.”
Bob Kalsu, Vietnam
The only pro athlete to die in combat during the Vietnam War, Kalsu enlisted in the Army after his rookie season with Buffalo. He died in a 1970 enemy mortar attack.
Rocky Bleier, Vietnam
After his rookie season with the Steelers, Bleier was drafted and volunteered for a tour in Vietnam. His Army patrol was ambushed and he was shot in the left leg, then wounded in the lower right leg by shrapnel from a grenade. He received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
He was waived twice after returning, but persevered and won four Super Bowl rings.
Hank Bauer, WWII
Before a major-league career that saw him win seven World Series titles playing for the Yankees and another as manager of the Orioles, Bauer was hit by shrapnel on Okinawa. He won 11 campaign ribbons, two Purple Hearts and a pair of Bronze Stars.
Al Bumbry, Vietnam
Before winning the AL Rookie of the Year award in 1973 Bumbry led an infantry platoon in Vietnam and won a Bronze Star. Not one soldier who served under him died.
Ted Williams, WWII and Korea
A Marine aviator, Williams served as a flight instructor during WWII, missing three years in his prime. He later flew 39 combat missions in Korea.
Warren Spahn, WWII
Spahn was pitching in the minor leagues when he enlisted in the Army in 1942. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and went on to win 363 games in the majors.
Charley Paddock, WWI and WWII
A Marine field-artillery officer during WWI, Paddock won two gold medals and two silvers while competing in track during three Olympics. He then fought during WWII, dying in a 1943 plane crash.
Hoyt Wilhelm, WWII
The first closer inducted into the Hall of Fame first fought in the Battle of the Bulge and won a Purple Heart.
Jerry Coleman, WWII and Korea
Coleman flew 120 Marine combat missions and was awarded 13 Air Medals and two Distinguished Flying Crosses. He went on to win four World Series titles with the Yankees and is a Hall of Fame broadcaster.
Jeremy Staat, Iraq
A teammate of Tillman’s at Arizona State, Staat played in 30 games with the Steelers and Rams before joining the Marines and serving a tour in Iraq.
Monday, he finishes a 100-day, 4,163-mile cross-country bicycle ride at the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., to raise awareness of veteran’s issues such as suicide.
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