This has been a tough time for Americans; staying in and not working, and lounging around the house everyday is not what we do! We like to work, and when finished, we like to socialize, be with friends, get out and play sports or watch great athletes in their chosen sport play.
In today’s world we hear our athletes compare their sports to “going to war”. Although that sounds tough, and assigns too much value to what they are doing, it does give us a sense of what athletes THINK they go through. Or does it?
Since I am watching a lot of TV now, I have been observing old games and listening to athletes talk about “going to war” with their rivals, and started wondering how many ACTUALLY did go to war?
Over time, many of our greatest athletes have “gone to war” and given up promising careers to serve their country. I would like to remind readers that many athletes have served their country, and here are just a few of the REAL HEROES who actually answered when called.
Probably one of the most famous athletes to serve was TED WILLIAMS. Ted Williams, “The Splendid Splinter”, is widely regarded as one of the greatest baseball players of all time, and is certainly one of its greatest hitters.
Ted Williams is the last player to hit .400 in a season, and his hand eye coordination served him well when he was a Naval Aviator in WWII.
His career was interrupted twice when he also served in Korea. He flew 39 combat missions and became one of the most decorated athletes to serve in the military.
Born in Van Meter, Iowa, BOB, “THE HEATER FROM VAN METER” FELLER, was one of baseball’s most dominant pitchers. Bob played 18 seasons, had 8 ALL-STAR appearances, led the majors 7 times in STRIKEOUTS, and 6 times A.L. WINS LEADER.
Bob gave up three seasons to serve in the United States Navy during WWII. Bob was determined to serve in a combat position, and served as a CHIEF PETTY OFFICER aboard the USS ALABAMA in the pacific theater, becoming a decorated sailor along the way.
Bob returned to the majors after his service, and pitched 12 more seasons before retiring in 1956.
JOE LEWIS was one of the greatest boxers in history, and a great American. He defended his title 25 times in the ring, but it was his service outside the ring that is most admirable.
Prior to his enlistment in the Army, Lewis donated large chunks of his winnings to the Army and Navy as America was preparing for WWII. As if that wasn’t enough, Joe enlisted and did touring bouts and charity boxing matches to raise money and raise morale.
YOGI BERRA is mostly remembered for his “Yogi-isms”, and his fantastic baseball career. One of the most famous of the Yankee players, Berra, a catcher, was in 18 ALL STAR GAMES and has 10 WORLD SERIES RINGS!
Before his career, Berra was a machine gunner in the Navy and participated in the Normandy Invasion. For his heroism, Berra won numerous medals, Including the Purple Heart, and his unit was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation!
WILLIE MAYS appeared in 24 ALL-STAR games, won a WORLD SERIES, and made one of the greatest catches in Baseball history. Mays missed 260 games while serving in Korea, and thinks if he had not had his career interrupted, he would have been the home run king instead of Hank Aaron. Upon his return to civilian life, Mays played until his retirement in 1973.
NOLAN RYAN is the best pitcher in baseball history who is in the HALL OF FAME, and to have never won a CY YOUNG AWARD! He holds the major league record for NO HITTERS with 7, STRIKEOUTS with 5714, and led the league in STRIKEOUTS 11 TIMES, and played for 27 SEASONS! Ryan’s military career was short lived, but did force him to miss one year while in Vietnam.
There are those too, who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country, men like PAT TILLMAN. TILLMAN is the most famous athlete-veteran since WWII. Pat Tillman’s story is inspiring and tragic.
A former Arizona State Safety, Tillman turned down multiple million dollar contracts (he played for the ARIZONA CARDINALS) and chose the military over professional football.
Following 9/11, Tillman and his brother both enlisted in the Army and became U.S. RANGERS, and both participated in OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM. On his second deployment, this time to AFGHANISTAN, TILLMAN was killed by friendly fire, becoming the only athlete casualty since Vietnam.
If you are like me, you miss seeing live sports on TV, and going to see great athletes in person. We will be able to do that in the future. But, for now as we watch replays of great athletes doing great things, let’s not forget that they are only playing a game.
Let’s not take too much stock in them saying they are suiting up and “going to war” today. Let’s remember the real honest-to-goodness heroes who put country first instead of themselves and really did “go to war”. They are America’s real heroes! That’s the way I see it, from the sidelines!
Contributing columnist Mike Stegall a 27 year former OHSAA high school football official and current Darke County Commissioner