On this solemn day, it is a time to remember the servicemen and women that made the greatest sacrifice possible. Throughout history, there are a handful of patriots who were both heroes on the frontlines, and in between the lines. In honor of Memorial Day, we will look at some notable athletes who risked their lives for our country.
Pat Tillman, defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals
In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Pat enlisted in the Army to serve his country. He passed up an opportunity to sign a 3-year deal worth $3.6 million with the Cardinals to enlist. Pat served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, and he was subsequently deployed to Afghanistan. Pat tragically lost his life in 2004 due to friendly fire in the Khost region, near the Pakistan border. In the wake of his death, his family started the Pat Tillman Foundation, which provides aid, resources, and scholarships to support veterans.
Ted Williams, outfielder for the Boston Red Sox
Ted fought in two wars. After winning the Triple Crown in 1941, Ted was required to miss the prime years of his career due to selective service during WWII. Ted joined the Navy Reserve on May 22, 1942, and went on active duty in 1943 as an aviator. After returning to baseball, he was again recalled for service during the Korean War when he was in his 30’s.
He almost lost his life on one of his missions in Korea; he flew over a village and his plane was met by small arms fire. As his plane bled fuel, he refused the protocol to eject. He believed that if he ejected, he would damage his legs due to his large frame. His decision to land the plane was a precarious one… As he descended, his landing gear malfunctioned and his plane slammed into the runway. The husk of what was the fuselage skidded for more than a mile on the runway, but it came to a stop at the edge with feet to spare.
Rocky Marciano, Boxer
The heavyweight boxing champion was one of the few athletes to get his start in his respective sport from his time in service. He was drafted in 1943 and served with the 150th Combat Engineers on the European Front. He boxed regularly in amateur matches towards the end of his tenure in the Army. After he failed to break out of the Chicago Cubs’ minor league system, he began his career as a professional boxer.
Yogi Berra, catcher for the New York Yankees
Yogi enlisted after the Pearl Harbor attacks in 1941 as a Gunner’s Mate in the Navy. At this time, his minor league career was picking up traction, but he still made the decision to enlist. He was among the many who stormed the beaches in Normandy on D-Day. He earned a Purple Heart for his actions and finally made his major league debut in 1946.
David Robinson, center for the San Antonio Spurs
As a first-round pick out of the U.S. Naval Academy, David was widely considered the best athlete in the 1987 NBA Draft. There was one caveat the Spurs drafted him with— it was that his mandatory military obligations could span up to five years. David spent most of his time at a submarine base in Georgia, but he trained often while on duty. He participated in some international basketball tournaments, and managed to stay in shape for his eventual NBA career. In the end, he only served two years of active duty, and in 1989 he was allowed to join the San Antonio Spurs.
Arnold Palmer, Golfer
Arnold served in the Coast Guard from 1951 to 1953. He joined as a means of escaping the pain associated with the loss of his college roommate, who died in a car accident while the two were enrolled at Wake Forest. In the Coast Guard, he served as a photographer but spent his weekends golfing.