Did You Know These Famous Athletes Were Military Veterans?
While most people are aware that some famous athletes also served in the military, some are surprised to discover just how extensive that list is. A number of them left careers as professional athletes to voluntarily join the service while others donned a military uniform before focusing on sport. A few were even drafted during times of war.
They all served their country, either at home or abroad, and some even made the ultimate sacrifice along the way.
Just eight months after the September 11 attacks, Tillman left his career, and a $3.6 million contract, with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist. He was an Army Ranger who served in Iraq before being deployed to Afghanistan.
He was killed by friendly fire on April 22, 2004, and was awarded a Silver Star, Purple Heart, and a promotion after his death. The Cardinals and Arizona State have both retired in number.
After playing for the New York Giants as a rookie, Lummus joined the Marine Corps Reserve. He was part of the first wave of troops that landed on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945, remaining after the initial battle to continue the fight against the Japanese.
Lummus helped take down three enemy strongholds even after being wounded by a grenade. He was killed by a landmine, but not before telling the field doctor that “the New York Giants lost a mighty good end today.”
For his actions, Lummus was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
Bleier was drafted into the Army after playing one season with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was sent to Vietnam where he was wounded during an ambush in 1969. Doctors believed he would never play football again due to the shrapnel injury to his leg, but Bleier proved them wrong. After being awarded a Bronze Star and his Purple Heart, Bleier worked for two years to recover and became a starter in the NFL in 1974.
Before the end of his football career in 1980, Bleier had four Super Bowl rings.
Williams spent five years in the Marines during what would have been considered his prime baseball-playing years. He served as a pilot and flight instructor during WWII and was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. In total, he flew 39 combat missions before being disqualified from being able to fly due to an inner ear infection.
As a player with the Boston Red Sox, he twice won the Triple Crown, as the American League MVP twice, and an All-Star 17 times. Ultimately, in 1966, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
DiMaggio’s baseball career is a thing of legend, but he also spent time in the Army Air Forces too between the end of the 1942 baseball season and the beginning of the 1946 season. He served stateside as a physical education instructor and achieved the rank of Sergeant before leaving the service in 1945. 10 years later, he joined the greats in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Louis, the heavyweight boxer, served in the Army, achieving the rank of Sergeant and being awarded the Legion Merit medal. Even during his time in the service, he regularly participated in fights during charity events. He also pushed to help African American soldiers, including Jackie Robinson, gain the ability to enter Officer Candidate School in a timely fashion.
Drafted in 1942, Robinson was ultimately accepted into Officer Candidate school, allowing him to reach the rank of second lieutenant. While he was at one point court-martialed for refusing to move to the back of an Army bus, he was acquitted of the charges. Once he was honorably discharged, Robinson joined the Negro League baseball team, though later became the first player to break the color line when he joined the Dodgers. He also ended up a six-time All-Star, a National League MVP, and a World Series champion. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame and his number, 42, was retired across the entire league in 1997.
While this list does not include every athlete who joined the US military at some point in their life, it does provide an indication of how these two worlds often intertwine.