Veterans Day

November 11

                       It doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but sports history is dotted with athletes who sacrificed their bodies, and their prime years, to serve their country.

                      Pat Tillman:  in an era of feckless and selfish athletes, his story has been told many times over, and should be for years to come.  He gave up a potential $4 million to serve with the Army Rangers in Afghanistan, where he was hit by friendly fire.  
                     Ted Williams:   He gave up five of his best years to serve in two wars, flying more than 30 combat missions in the Korean War.  This was his greatest accomplishment, not .406

                    Jerry Coleman;  he’s known to this era as the Padres broacaster with a penchant for malaprops.  He’s actually John Wayne.  He’s the only Major League baseball player to see combat in two wars, escaping a crash in the Korean War.  120 combat missions, 13 Air Medals and two Distinguished Flying Crosses.  If you see him, salute him.

                   Rocky Bleier: he served with the Army in Vietnam after just one year with the Steelers.  His platoon was ambushed in 1969 and his leg riddled with flying shrapnel.  Doctors told him he would never play again.  The Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient did play again — and won four Super Bowl rings as a Steeler running back.

                   Tom Landry: he joined the Air Force in World War II and flew over 30 missions, surviving a crash landing in Belgium.  As coach of the Dallas Cowboys, his quarterback was Navy veteran Roger Staubach.

                  Christy Mathewson:  if you’re a baseball fan, you should know more about this man.  He was one of the most highly-regarded players in history, not only for his ability as a pitcher, but for his character.  He enlisted during World War I and while in France, he was accidentally exposed to poisonous gas.  His lungs deteriorated over time and he died in 1925 at the age of 45.

                 Joe Louis:  the Brown Bomber elisted in the Army in World War II.  He fought esxhibition bouts  to raise money for the war effort and was part of a recruitment campaign to encourage African-Americans to sign up.  He also pushed to make more African-Americans candidates for officer’s school, including Jackie Robinson.  The nation showed its’ appreciation by counting the proceeds from his Navy Relief bouts as income, and the IRS levied a tax bill that with interest passed $1 million dollars after the war.  That forced him to return to the ring a couple of times, well past his prime.   He did not complain.

                  Hank Bauer:  He won the World Series as Orioles manager and before that won seven titles as a Yankees outfielder.  He was also one of the most courageous athletes to fight in World War II.  He enlisted in the Marine Corps a month after Pearl Harbor and was injured twice in combat, including the Battle of Okinawa.  He earned two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.

                 Bob Kalsu:  the only active professional football player to die in the Vietnam War.  The 1968 Buffalo Bills Rookie of the Year as an offensive guard, he served with the 101st Airbone to satisfy his ROTC obligation.  Kalsu was killed in action in 1970.  His wife was told of her husband’s death hours after giving birth to their second child, a son.

                Nile Kinnick:  The 1939 heisman Trophy winner from the University of Iowa was killed in Venezuela during a training flight while serving as a Navy aviator in World War II.  He gave one of the most eloquent acceptance Heisman acceptance speeches ever, and was believed to have a bright future in politics.

                His speech before the Young Republicans in 1940 was prophetic:   “When the members of any nation have come to regard their country as nothing more than the plot of ground on which they reside, and their government as a mere organization for providing police or contracting treaties; when they have ceased to entertain any warmer feelings for one another than those which interest or personal friendship or a mere general philanthropy may produce, the moral dissolution of the nation is at hand.”

                Teammates and friends who spoke of him decades later still had tears in their eyes, grieving over the loss of a friend, and someone they thought could have been President someday.

               I could write all night, and not do justice to the list of athletes who have given their all for our nation.  Their sacrifice, and the sacrifice of those less famous, should not be forgotten on this Veterans’ Day.  I wonder if our generation, if called upon, could be as brave as our parents and grandparents were.

               I’m thinking today about my dad, a Marine Master Sgt. who fought in the South Pacific in World War II.  The only thing he would ever mention about the war was the time his unit was able to see Joe DiMaggio play an exhibition game.  A Yankee fan, he was obviously thrilled.  He told me this story as he was two days away from death, stricken with cancer.

              Why do I take such a hard stand against some of our present-day athletes?  Compared to my father’s generation and the athletes on my list, their conduct makes me sick.  They have turned “service” into “serve us.”  They would do well to listen to the words of Nile Kinnick, some 70 years ago.

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2 Responses to “Veterans Day”

  1. matt kellogg Says:

    I know you hate the Yankees, but where is Yogi Berra? He participated in the possibley the single biggest battle in American History – D-Day. He too deserves a tip of the cap 🙂

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