Real Heroes – Professional Athletes Who Served

Many “battles” have been fought on our nation’s professional playing fields. But those battles pale in comparison to the actual fighting on the world’s battlefields where peace and new property lines are drawn between countries. Many of our beloved professional athletes have “given up their day jobs” to go and defend our peace, freedom and way of life.

With this being Memorial Day – the day we pay homage to all who have served our nation and for those who have given their lives so that we can have our “certain inalienable rights.” When the most important “draft” in the land was one that only represented one team – the United States – athletes left the comforts of the playing field in a time of need and usually before Uncle Sam granted them 1-A status. They were proud to serve and according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, 500-plus major leaguers served during World War II – 29 of them became members of the Hall. Five more Hall members served in the Korean War.

Names like Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians – who recently passed away and was the first major leaguer to volunteer for active duty after the Pearl Harbor invasion – used his pitching know how as an anti-aircraft gunner on the battleship Alabama. His wartime took four years out of his 18-year career. Warren Spahn took three years out of his Hall of Fame career to serve as a combat engineer. The Navy welcomed Yogi Berra and he proudly served on a rocket launcher off the coast of Normandy days after D-Day. There were even umpires enlisted as Nestor Chylak earned a Purple Heart and Silver Star as an Army Ranger.

The NFL had 638 players join the call in World War II of which 21 didn’t come home alive. One name you might not know is Al Blozis. In 1942 he was drafted by the New York Giants and became a standout offensive tackle. Within two months of his last game, Blozis was on his first patrol. Regretfully, it was his only one. The twenty-six year old’s career was cut short. He was also a shot-put and discus champion in college and many said he would have been a shoe-in for an Olympic medal.

Many know the Rocky Blier story and his comeback with the Pittsburgh Steelers after war injuries to his legs while serving in the Army in Vietnam. There’s also heroes like Roger Staubach who served there as well. Countless more professional athletes served in military reserve and guard units including names like Cazzie Russell, Bill Bradley, Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan.

Most of these names haven’t suited up on our diamonds, gridirons or hardwood in decades. The most recent athlete of stature to serve – and regrettably lose his life – was Pat Tillman of the NFL Arizona Cardinals. His patriotic story has been retold many times how he walked away from millions after the “invasion” of the Twin Towers in September of 2001.

From the lines of athletic glory to the gore of enemy frontlines, these men fought to win, to protect and preserve. Take a moment away from your grill, away from your favorite sporting event and say a quick prayer of thanks for their real sacrifice and remember them along with the hundreds of thousands of “less famous” soldiers who didn’t hit and run, pick and roll or block and tackle as well as them but served along side.

Thank you to every soldier who has picked up the challenge to keep us all safe and free.

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Mark H. Stowers

Mark H. Stowers

I hail from the land of Faulkner, Grisham and Elvis and love to write about all things, especially sports. Sports writing has been in my blood since 1980 when as a high school junior, I sprained my knee on the basketball court. The local weekly paper needed someone to write up post and preview action of my high school and I jumped at the $5.00 a week opportunity. Full disclosure allows me to tell you I’m an Ole Miss Rebel, Miami Dolphin, Boston Celtic and Indianola Academy Colonel fan but my job makes me write from the facts and not so much the heart most of the time. Now With more than 30 years of professional writing experience, I have worked in automotive, advertising, marketing, public relations, creative and technical, as well as news/sports/entertainment and column writing from Mississippi to California to Michigan and parts unknown in between. In Michigan since 1993, I work with several newspapers, advertising agencies and national and local magazines through my freelance company, Prime Time Penguin Unlimited LLC. 


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