Remember the Real Football Heroes on Memorial Day

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Remember the Real Football Heroes on Memorial Day

Football is rooted in militaristic terms: the blitz, bomb, cannon arm, shotgun, trenches, and many others.

Game strategy is often likened to battle strategy: offensive, defensive, the audible.

But football is football—ultimately my favorite game and spectator sport. War is...well, hell, as Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman famously said.

This story is personal. My father was a Marine in World War II in the Pacific on islands such as Iwo Jima and Okinawa. He was one of the first ground troops into Hiroshima and Nagasaki mere weeks after atomic bombs were dropped.

Those days, he said, were among his toughest.

He was one of the lucky ones who came home. As he and almost every war veteran says, "The real heroes are still over there."

My son, 19, is now in the Marines and at Camp Pendleton for his first permanent duty station. He chose this path of his own volition and as a complete surprise to everyone who knows him.

But on this Memorial Day, we remember all those who died serving their country, specifically the nameless and faceless heroes.

Here are some famous football players who died in service.

 

Pat Tillman

The most well-known soldier in this generation, the former Arizona State and Arizona Cardinal linebacker decided along with his brother Kevin to enlist in the Army after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Tillman gave up his multimillion-dollar NFL contract to serve his country and ultimately lost his life in the mountains of Afghanistan to friendly fire.

Tillman's death was both shocking and controversial, as evidence suggests he was murdered by his own troops even though he was always considered one of the most popular soldiers in his unit.  

His death was part of a government cover-up and an investigation that is ongoing.

For more information, read Gary Smith's riveting portrayal of Tillman's story at SI.com.

 

Hobey Baker

A football and hockey star at Princeton (the annual award for the nation's top college hockey player is named for him), Baker served as a pilot and died on a test flight in France just a month after the symbolic end of World War I.

 

Jack Lummus

A football and baseball star at Baylor University, Lummus played at end for the 1941 New York Giants. On March 8, 1945, serving as a lieutenant with the Fifth Marine Division, he led his platoon against entrenched Japanese positions on Iwo Jima despite being wounded by hand grenades.

Lummus engaged in what his citation calls a heroic one-man assault before he was killed by a land mine. He was awarded the Medal of Honor—the nation's highest citation for military valor.

 

Nile Kinnick

An Iowa back who won the 1939 Heisman Trophy, Kinnick was a naval aviator. Kinnick's plane developed an oil leak on a routine training flight, and he could not land on the aircraft carrier Lexington on June 2, 1943.

He followed standard military procedure and executed an emergency landing in the water, but died. His body was never recovered. Iowa's Kinnick Stadium is named after him.

 

Al Blozis

An outstanding tackle for Georgetown and the New York Giants, Blozis died serving with the Army in the Vosges Mountains of France in January 1945.

 

Bob Kalsu

Kalsu played guard for the Buffalo Bills in 1968 and was killed July 21, 1970 in Vietnam serving as a lieutenant with an Army artillery unit.

 

Don Steinbrunner

An end from Washington State who played offensive tackle in 1953 for the Cleveland Browns, Steinbrunner was killed in Vietnam when his plane was shot down on July 20, 1967.

 

Don Holleder

An All-American for Army, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1955 and was drafted by the New York Giants. He never played pro but stayed in the service, where he was killed during the Battle of Ong Thanh in 1967.

 

Here's a list of NFL players who have died serving in war since World War II.

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