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Home / Articles / Columnists / Sports Feature /  4th of July reminds us of Special Sports Heroes
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Tuesday, July 8,2014

4th of July reminds us of Special Sports Heroes

By Mark Tudino  

This one’s for Bleu.. and for anyone else who’s lost a close friend.

Even though the Memorial Day weekend has passed, and we’re in the full throes of summer and all it has to offer, the 4th of July is a special holiday – one where we as a nation take time to remember the freedoms endowed to us – freedoms we must struggle to bear witness to each and every day. We set aside this day to honor ourselves and to feel good about the American experiment which, at times, is simultaneously wondrous while also a challenge.


This got me to thinking about those who have sacrificed so we might enjoy this holiday. Obviously, the men and women who died while serving our nation come to mind - that’s why Memorial Day is such a solemn occasion. There are other state and local holidays which also celebrate, as Abraham Lincoln said, those who gave their last full measure of devotion in the service of a nation. Sports, too, have people who’ve made their share of contributions to the holiday, yet many of their deeds are forgotten or unknown.

The most obvious examples of this are athletes who, in their athletic prime, were called to duty, and as a result lost many of their most productive years. Ted Williams, the “Splendid Splinter”, had to forgo three seasons during WW II and served in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps with distinction. Two years earlier he’d hit .406; then at age 24 he joined the service to fight fascism. Upon his return to the major leagues, he resumed his assault on the record books only to have his career interrupted – again – by the Korean War. He missed most of the ’52 and ’53 seasons while serving as a Marine Corps pilot; and just so you don’t think he was some type of poster boy who never saw action, Capt. Williams served as a marine aviator, and was the wing man for another marine aviator you may have heard of, Col. John Glenn – that’s right, that John Glenn.

Other professional players served with distinction and sacrificed much so we at home could be safe; that list is too long to enumerate, but here are a few names you should recognize. During WW II, pitcher Bob Feller served aboard the USS Alabama; in football, Heisman Trophy winning QB Roger Staubach went directly from the Naval Academy, to serving aboard a ship during the Vietnam War; and infielder, later turned broad caster, Jerry Coleman earned two distinguished flying crosses while serving as a marine aviator, in both WW II and Korea.

Of course, not all professional athletes survive the conflict: former Arizona Cardinal defensive back Pat Tillman volunteered to fight in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger and lost his life there; Buffalo Bill offensive lineman Bob Kalsu was the only active professional athlete to die in Vietnam; and anyone from Iowa will gladly tell you of Nile Kinnick, a war hero whose death was honored when the University of Iowa named its football stadium after him.

So, on the 4th, raise the flag, and kiss those you love, but remember to honor the true spirit of the games – and what it means to be a hero.

God bless America!


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