16 Pro Athletes And Coaches Who Served In The Military

When you ask most young children who their heroes are, you most frequently hear the names of actors, fictional characters, and, of course, professional athletes. These are the personalities young ones are exposed to who have, at the time, an unparalleled ability to appear larger than life. When the unfortunate experience of conflict sets itself upon the nation, the public looks to different kinds of heroes, built from dedication, commitment and sacrifice. There are instances, however, where those childhood heroes materialize into the kinds of heroes we continue to look up to for the rest of our lives.

We take a look at professional athletes and coaches who have served in the military:

Jackie Robinson, U.S. Army

American baseball player Jackie Robinson (1919 - 1972) during his time with the Brooklyn Dodgers, 28th August 1949. (credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

American baseball player Jackie Robinson (1919 – 1972) during his time with the Brooklyn Dodgers, 28th August 1949. (credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Four-sport collegiate athlete, champion over baseball’s color barrier and lieutenant during WWII. Robinson was drafted in 1942 and served in a segregated Army cavalry unit. After receiving an officer’s commission in 1943, Robinson was assigned to the 761st “Black Panthers” tank battalion.

Tom Landry, U.S. Army Air Corps

 Head coach Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys paces on the sideline during a 1987 season NFL game. Tom Landry directed the Dallas Cowboys to 20 consecutive winning seasons from 1966-85, retiring after the 1988 season. (credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Head coach Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys paces on the sideline during a 1987 season NFL game. Tom Landry directed the Dallas Cowboys to 20 consecutive winning seasons from 1966-85, retiring after the 1988 season. (credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Before coaching the Dallas Cowboys from 1960-1988, the future Coach of the Year served in the 493rd squadron in the 8th Air Force. After earning a commission as a lieutenant, he was assigned to the 493rd Bombardment Group, flying a B-17 Flying Fortress. He completed 30 combat missions and even survived a crash landing when his bomber ran out of fuel over Belgium.

David Robinson, U.S. Navy

: David Robinson sits dressed in his Navy uniform circa 1986 at a press conference. (credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/ NBAE via Getty Images)

David Robinson sits dressed in his Navy uniform circa 1986 at a press conference. (credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/ NBAE via Getty Images)

You may imagine that someone the size of Robinson may have served his time in the Navy on board an aircraft carrier or another large vessel. In actuality, Robinson’s 7-foot frame was stuffed into submarines for two years. He is considered by most to be one of the greatest basketball players to ever play for the Midshipmen. When his service was fulfilled, Robinson had earned the rank of lieutenant, junior grade.

Patty Berg, U.S. Marine Corps

American golfer Patty Berg driving off a sandy area during a competition at the Sandy Lodge Golf Club. (credit: Becker/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

American golfer Patty Berg driving off a sandy area during a competition at the Sandy Lodge Golf Club. (credit: Becker/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

After having won 29 amateur titles, Berg served as a lieutenant in the Marines from 1942-1945. As a procurement officer, she spent three years recruiting for the corps.

Yogi Berra, U.S. Navy

 Portrait of American baseball player Yogi Berra in his New York Yankees uniform with a baseball glove under his arm, New York City. (credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Portrait of American baseball player Yogi Berra in his New York Yankees uniform with a baseball glove under his arm, New York City. (credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

At the age of 18, Berra, just like so many other future pros, put baseball on hiatus in order to serve in WWII. On D-Day, Berra served on a boat as a gunner’s mate, protecting landing troops. He would later receive the Lone Sailor award.

Bob Kalsu, U.S. Army

(credit: YouTube)

(credit: YouTube)

After being named Buffalo Bills Rookie of the Year in 1969, Kalsu was called into active duty in Vietnam. He entered service as a second lieutenant in the legendary 101st Airborne. On July 21, 1970, Kalsu’s unit came under enemy mortar fire in the vicinity of the A Shau Valley. The 25-year-old guard was killed in action on that day.

Bob Feller, U.S. Navy

 Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller waves after throwing out the first pitch before the New York Yankees take on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on July 15, 2007 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (credit: Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller waves after throwing out the first pitch before the New York Yankees take on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on July 15, 2007 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (credit: Doug Benc/Getty Images)

He was the first American professional athlete to enlist in the service for WWII. Feller was already one of the best in baseball when he volunteered for naval service two days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Chief Petty Officer Feller served as a gun captain on board the USS Alabama, serving in both the European and Pacific water theaters. He became an honorary member of the Green Berets some time later.

Jack Dempsey, U.S. Coast Guard

American heavyweight boxer Jack Dempsey (1895 - 1983) strikes a sparring pose for the camera while wearing his boxing gloves. (credit: Keystone/Getty Images)

American heavyweight boxer Jack Dempsey (1895 – 1983) strikes a sparring pose for the camera while wearing his boxing gloves. (credit: Keystone/Getty Images)

Accepting a commission as a lieutenant in the Coast Guard Reserve in 1942, Dempsey had already retired from boxing. After being promoted to commander in 1944, he was on board the USS Arthur Middleton during the invasion of Okinawa.

Hank Greenberg, U.S. Army Air Corps

(credit: YouTube)

(credit: YouTube)

After the draft board denied Greenberg for flat feet in 1940, the five-time all-star nonetheless became the first American League player to be drafted that year. He was honorably discharged two days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and promptly volunteered in the Army Air Corps. As a lieutenant, Greenberg served in the Far East, scouting locations as B-29 bomber bases. He ended his service as a captain.

Ted Williams, U.S. Marine Corps

Baseball legend Ted Williams (1918 - 2002) of the Boston Red Sox swings a bat circa 1955. The 83-year-old Williams, who was the last major league player to bat .400 when he hit .406 in 1941, died July 5, 2002 at Citrus County Memorial Hospital in Florida. He died of an apparent heart attack. (credit: Getty Images)

Baseball legend Ted Williams (1918 – 2002) of the Boston Red Sox swings a bat circa 1955. The 83-year-old Williams, who was the last major league player to bat .400 when he hit .406 in 1941, died July 5, 2002 at Citrus County Memorial Hospital in Florida. He died of an apparent heart attack. (credit: Getty Images)

In WWII, Williams served as a Navy reservist as an aviator. Upon his release in 1946, he remained in the reserves with the Marine Corps. In 1952, Williams returned to service as a fighter pilot, taking part in an air raid in Pyongyang, as well as 38 other missions. He left the service a captain.

Roger Staubach, U.S. Navy

Quarterback Roger Staubach #12 of the Dallas Cowboys rolls out of the pocket during a Cowboys game in the 1979 season. (credit: Allsport/ALLSPORT)

Quarterback Roger Staubach #12 of the Dallas Cowboys rolls out of the pocket during a Cowboys game in the 1979 season. (credit: Allsport/ALLSPORT)

His color-blindness, discovered during his junior year at the Naval Academy, allowed Staubach to serve at home during Vietnam. However, the 1963 Heisman winner opted to serve overseas as a supply officer on a one-year tour of duty, commanding 41 enlisted men.

John Wooden, U.S. Navy

 John R. Wooden walks off the court after the championship game of the Wooden Classic tournament between the UCLA Bruins and the Alabama Crimson Tide at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, California. UCLA defeated Alabama 79-57. (credit: Adam Pretty/Allsport)

John R. Wooden walks off the court after the championship game of the Wooden Classic tournament between the UCLA Bruins and the Alabama Crimson Tide at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, California. UCLA defeated Alabama 79-57. (credit: Adam Pretty/Allsport)

In 1942, the Wizard of Westwood joined the Navy and served as a lieutenant in WWII. He served primarily as a physical education instructor and followed up that part of his life by becoming athletic director and what is now Indiana State University.

Warren Spahn,  U.S. Army

 Baseball player Warren Spahn is shown wearing the team uniform of the Milwaukee Braves in this portrait circa 1955. Spahn, a 14-time National League All-Star, died at his home November 24, 2003 in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. (credit: Getty Images)

Baseball player Warren Spahn is shown wearing the team uniform of the Milwaukee Braves in this portrait circa 1955. Spahn, a 14-time National League All-Star, died at his home November 24, 2003 in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. (credit: Getty Images)

After completing 1942 in the minor leagues, Spahn enlisted in the Army. As a combat engineer, Spahn saw action in the Battle of the Bulge, earning a Purple Heart and a battlefield commission. He returned to the majors in 1946.

Joe Louis, U.S. Army

US heavyweight boxer Joe Louis (1914 - 1981) (right) is presented with the Legion of Merit medal by Major-General Clarence H Kells during a ceremony at Port Hamilton. The award is in recognition of Louis' 'exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services' during his tour of army camps and hospitals. (credit: Keystone/Getty Images)

US heavyweight boxer Joe Louis (1914 – 1981) (right) is presented with the Legion of Merit medal by Major-General Clarence H Kells during a ceremony at Port Hamilton. The award is in recognition of Louis’ ‘exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services’ during his tour of army camps and hospitals. (credit: Keystone/Getty Images)

After being assigned to a segregated unit, the Army discovered Louis’ ability to ease racial tensions within the branch. He was subsequently assigned to a Special Services Division, staging boxing exhibitions. His various services in the Army earned him the rank of technical sergeant in 1945, and he was awarded the Legion of Merit for his contributions to morale.

Bobby Jones, U.S. Army Air Corps

American champion golfer Bobby Jones (1902 - 1971) driving off at St Andrews where he won the British Open Golf Championship with a record score of 285. The Royal and Ancient golf club at St Andrews was founded in 1754 and recognised as the Governing Authority on the rules of the game in 1897. There are now more than 100 countries and associations affiliated to the famous club. (credit: Kirby/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

American champion golfer Bobby Jones (1902 – 1971) driving off at St Andrews where he won the British Open Golf Championship with a record score of 285. The Royal and Ancient golf club at St Andrews was founded in 1754 and recognised as the Governing Authority on the rules of the game in 1897. There are now more than 100 countries and associations affiliated to the famous club. (credit: Kirby/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

The pro golfer entered the U.S. Army Air Corps to serve during WWII. His unit was ultimately converted into an infantry unit to help storm the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. He was promoted to major and trained as an intelligence officer.

Pat Tillman, U.S. Army

 Safety Pat Tillman #40 of the Arizona Cardinals looks on during a game against the Oakland Raiders at the Sun Devil Stadium October 4 1998 in Tempe, Arizona. Tillman, a U.S. Army Ranger and former Arizona Cardinals strong safety was reportly killed in Afganstan while serving as an Army Ranger. Tillman, 27, enlisted in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, choosing to walk away from a 3-year, $3.6 million contract extension with the Cardinals. (credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Safety Pat Tillman #40 of the Arizona Cardinals looks on during a game against the Oakland Raiders at the Sun Devil Stadium October 4 1998 in Tempe, Arizona. Tillman, a U.S. Army Ranger and former Arizona Cardinals strong safety was reportly killed in Afganstan while serving as an Army Ranger. Tillman, 27, enlisted in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, choosing to walk away from a 3-year, $3.6 million contract extension with the Cardinals. (credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

An impressive 2000 season indicated a standout future for Tillman. The defensive back made 109 tackles that year and was likely to receive big contracts, as well as all the comforts that go along with being big-name NFL player. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Tillman finished out the season, and then left the league to serve as a U.S. Army Ranger. After taking part in the initial stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Tillman’s unit was sent to Afghanistan. In April of 2004, Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Sperah. He was posthumously awarded the rank of corporal.

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