Do us Proud Soldier: Eleven Athletes who served America.
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Today is September 11 of the year 2011. Ten years ago on this exact date, a tragedy befell our country. A tragedy the likes of which we were unprepared for.
To honor the memory of those that fell on that fateful day, and as a proud member of the US Army Reserves, and former member of the Active Duty, I ask we give remembrance to these 11 great athletes.
All of these players gave some, some of these players gave all.
11. Joe Louis
Joe Louis was the world heavyweight boxing champion from 1937 to 1949, and he is arguably considered the greatest heavyweight of all time.
Louis succeeded Jack Dempsey as the next-great heavyweight, and he helped elevate boxing by being a likeable, honest, hardworking champion. In addition to be internationally recognized as one greatest heavyweights of all time, Joe Louis is also ranked No. 1 on The Ring's list of 100 Greatest Punchers of All Time.
Despite never seeing combat, and facing issues with racial segregation, Joe Louis was an instrumental force in recruitment for World War II. His charity bouts, while financially devastating, were nevertheless needed as America prepared itself for the War.
Louis said it best of the war effort at a 1942 Relief Fund Dinner: "We'll win, 'cause we're on God's side." His popularity surged from the comment, and for a brief time racial segregation tensions were lax, and Louis was treated not as a negro, but instead as a hero.
10. Roger Staubach
Roger Staubach was one of the greatest players to ever step onto the National Football League gridiron. In 1963, Staubach was the recipient of both the Heisman Trophy and the Maxwell Trophy, as the best player in college football.
Staubach would lead the Cowboys to their first Super Bowl victory in Super Bowl VI as well as be named the game’s Most Valuable Player. Roger Staubach was elected to six Pro-Bowls and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
Roger Staubach served in the United States Navy, from 1964 until 1969. This stint included a tour of duty in Vietnam.
9. Joe DiMaggio
Best known for his 56-game hitting streak, DiMaggio was also a three-time (MVP) Most Valuable Player and played in thirteen consecutive All-Star games in thirteen seasons. Joe Dimaggio was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955.
Dimaggio was a member of the Armed Forces from 1943-1945, where he served as a Physical Education Instructor.
8. Jackie Robinson
Robinson the man was instrumental in bringing an end to racial segregation in professional baseball, which had lasted over six decades. As a player, he won the 1949 Major League Baseball Most Valuable Player award in 1949. Robinson was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, and his jersey retired for good by all teams in 1997.
Jackie Robinson was drafted into service in 1942 and served in an Army cavalry unit at Fort Riley, Kansas. Robinson applied for admission to an Officer Candidate School, and despite several setbacks, was commissioned as a second lieutenant in January 1943. After receiving his commission, Robinson would be reassigned to Fort Hood, Texas, where he joined the 761st "Black Panthers" Tank Battalion.
7. Ted Williams
Williams was a two-time Major League Baseball (MLB) Most Valuable Player and 19 time All-Star, as well as an MLB Triple Crown winner—not once, but twice.
Ted Williams was the last player in Major League Baseball to bat over .400 in a single season, when he batted .406 in 1941. Ted was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966, and still today he is considered one of, if not “The” greatest baseball player that ever lived.
Williams served as a pilot during World War II and again during the Korean War. He could have received an easy assignment and played baseball for the Navy, but he instead chose to defend this great nation as a Naval aviator.
Williams flew 39 combat missions during Korea before a bout with pneumonia forced him to hang up his flight wings.
6. Warren Spahn
Warren Spahn is one of the greatest pitchers in Major League Baseball history, winning 363 games in his career. Spahn won 20 games in each of his 13 seasons, including a Cy Young Award in 1957. Warren Spahn was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973.
Spahn enlisted in the United States Army in 1942, following a stint in the minor leagues. He was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for bravery, for his actions at Ludendorff during the Battle of the Bulge. He received a battlefield commission. Warren Spahn returned to Major League Baseball in 1946.
5. Jerry Coleman
Jerry Coleman, who spent his entire career as a member of the New York Yankees, spent six years in the minor leagues before his big call up in 1949.
Coleman batted .275 his rookie year and led all second basemen in fielding percentage. He would go to finish third in MLB voting for the 1949 Rookie of the Year. He made the All-Star team in 1950, and earned the BBWAA's Babe Ruth Award as the series' most valuable player.
Coleman earned his nickname "The Colonel," after being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel as a Marine aviator. He also served in the Korean War. While serving as a Marine Corps aviator, he flew 120 combat missions, where he would receive a plethora of well-deserved honors to include two Distinguished Flying Crosses. Injuries forced him to retire following the 1957 season.
4. Brian Stann
Brian Stann is a current Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight title contender. He enlisted in the United States Naval Academy in 1999, where he was a linebacker for the Midshipmen. On May 8, 2005, Captain Stann’s unit was ambushed by insurgents.
He and his fellow Marines held out for six days under heavy fire. Captain Stann coordinated air and tank support that allowed them to escape. Each of the 42 Marines under Cpt. Stann’s command survived the ordeal, earning him the Silver Star for valor in combat.
Stann would train as a professional fighter in his spare time, culminating in a victory over Doug Marshall in 2008 to become the WEC Light Heavyweight Champion. Brian “All American” Stann is scheduled to face Chael Sonnen in a middleweight title eliminator match, at UFC 136.
3. Rocky Bleier
Bleir, a member of the 1966 Notre Dame National Champions, was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1968. He spent one year with the team before volunteering for duty in Vietnam.
On August 20, 1969, Bleir was hit in the left thigh by an enemy round following an ambush. While down, he would be hit with shrapnel from an enemy grenade in his lower right leg. Bleir was awarded both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for Vietnam.
One year after being injured, Bleir returned to Steelers’ camp, where he would become an integral part of the Steelers’ champion teams of the 1970’s. In 1976, both he and teammate Franco Harris rushed for over 1,000 yards.
2. Pat Tillman
An undersized linebacker at Arizona State University, Tillman was nonetheless named the 1997 PAC-10 Defensive Player of the Year. The 226th overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals in the 1998 NFL Draft, Tillman switched to safety, where he was named to Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z's All-Pro Team in 2000.
In 2002, mere months after the September 11th attacks, but only after completing the final fifteen games of the NFL regular season, Tillman turned down a three-year, $3.6 million contract with the Cardinals. He chose instead to enlist in the U.S. Army, where he and his brother joined the Army Rangers.
Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire, on the 19th of March, 2007, while serving in Afghanistan.
1. Bob Kalsu
Bob Kalsu was an eighth-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills. An All-American guard who played for the University of Oklahoma, he started in 1968 and was named the Bills’ Rookie of the Year.
Kalsu entered the service in 1969 to fulfill an ROTC commitment. He joined the illustrious 101st Airborne Division. On the 21st of July, 1970, Robert Kalsu was Killed in action near the A Shau Valley.