In observance of Veterans Day, we present this gallery of athletes who served in the military.
1 of 26Heinz Kluetmeier; Larry Burrows
A 14th-round pick out of Notre Dame in 1968, Bleier had been drafted into the Army December of that year, after his rookie season, and was sent to Vietnam in May 1969. Bleier recovered from gunshot and grenade injuries for which he received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, and returned to the Steelers after his service. After several seasons fighting for a roster spot, he became a starter in 1974 and went on to win four Super Bowl rings with Pittsburgh, playing in the backfield alongside Franco Harris.
2 of 26AP
"Teddy Ballgame" entered active duty with the Navy in 1943, one year after winning the AL Triple Crown. Williams served three years and was certified as a Naval Aviator in 1944. Eight year later, at the age of 33, Williams was recalled to active duty for service in the Korean War, where he flew 39 combat missions. The Red Sox great hit 521 home runs and had a lifetime .344 batting average.
3 of 26John Rooney/AP
The Hall of Fame Yankee catcher didn't play major league baseball in 1944 or 1945 due to his time in the Navy, when he served as a gunner's mate during the D-Day invasion. Once he got to the big leagues, though, he had a fruitful career spanning 19 years, including 18 All-Star game selections and 13 World Series championships.
4 of 26U.S. Army Air Force/AP
Two years after his record 56-game hitting streak, DiMaggio enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1943, and rose to the rank of sergeant. The star Yankees outfielder never saw combat, and was released on medical discharge in 1945.
5 of 26AP
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Feller became the first American professional athlete to volunteer for combat. Although he had been granted an exemption, Feller requested that he serve in combat missions. He was assigned to the USS Alabama, where he served as Gun Captain. Upon returning to baseball in 1946, Feller pitched 11 more seasons and made four more All-Star games. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962.
6 of 26AP
After a debut season in which he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, Ford missed the 1951 and 1952 seasons while serving in the Army during the Korean War. Once he returned to baseball, the star Yankee pitcher picked up where he left off, making 10 All-Star games, winning six World Series and winning the 1961 Cy Young.
7 of 26Keystone/Getty Images
In the middle of his 140-month reign as World Heavyweight Champion, Louis voluntarily enlisted in the Army. Although Louis was originally assigned to a cavalry unit, the Army eventually placed him in the Special Services Division -- ensuring he would not see combat action -- in an effort to raise troop morale. Louis went on a celebrity tour along with fellow boxer Sugar Ray Robinson and staged boxing exhibitions around the world for his fellow soldiers. Louis was awarded the rare Legion of Merit in 1945, which qualified him for immediate release from the military.
8 of 26Neil Leifer
Staubach won the Heisman trophy in 1963 as the quarterback at the Naval Academy. Although he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, he still had to perform his required post-graduation service time. Staubach served in the Navy Supply Corps from 1964 to 1968, which included a tour of duty in Vietnam. After his service, Staubach joined the Cowboys and led them to two Super Bowl victories, in 1972 and 1978.
9 of 26AP
Mays was drafted in 1952 and assigned to Fort Eustis in Virgina, which caused him to miss the remainder of that year and the entire 1953 season. Like many athletes, Mays primarily participated in exhibitions for morale and publicity purposes. Mays played for 20 years and hit 636 home runs after he returned to baseball in 1954. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979.
10 of 26AP
Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, and Hugh Casey
Reese, Rizzuto and Casey served three years in the Navy, from 1943 to '45, and saw combat in the Pacific Theater. Reese, most known for his support of and friendship with Jackie Robinson, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984 on a vote from the Veterans' Committee. Rizzuto was inducted in '94.
11 of 26AP
Five years before breaking Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947, Robinson was drafted into the Army. Robinson eventually joined the 761st "Black Panthers" Tank Battalion. Like his professional baseball career, his military service was marked by incidents of racial discrimination. Robinson was honorably discharged in 1944. Although his 761st battalion was the first black tank unit to see combat, Robinson was never deployed overseas.
12 of 26Courtesy of Jan Kalsu-McLauchlin
Kalsu was an All-America tackle at Oklahoma before being drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1968. After playing his rookie season, he enlisted in the army as a Second Lieutenant and arrived in Vietnam in 1969. He was killed in action on July 21, 1970. Kalsu was the only active professional football player to lose his life in Vietnam.
13 of 26Gene Lower/Slingshot; Courtesy of the Tillman Family
Tillman stands as the most famous example of a 21st century athlete giving up his playing career for military service. The former Cardinals safety enlisted in the Army Rangers with his brother Kevin in 2002. On Tillman's second tour of duty, in Afghanistan, he was killed in a friendly fire incident. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart, among several other military honors.
14 of 26Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Hall took an unusual path to professional football. He wasn't recruited heavily by colleges out of high school, so he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He rose to the rank of sergeant, and saw time in Kosovo and Afghanistan. After he processed out, Hall attended the University of Texas on the G.I. Bill and walked on to the football team, where he became an effective starter. After graduating, he went undrafted, but the Tennessee Titans signed him as a free agent. Over his six-year career, Hall garnered 24 rushing attempts and 73 receptions, while blocking for three 1,000-yard running backs.
15 of 26Bill Ballenberg
Robinson starred at the Naval Academy, winning college basketball's highest honors, the Wooden and Naismith awards, his senior year. The San Antonio Spurs selected him with the first overall pick in the 1987 NBA draft, but Robinson had to perform his two years active-duty service before he could join the team. After graduating, Robinson became a civil engineering officer at the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia. Robinson went on to an illustrious NBA career that saw him win two championships, one MVP and make the All-Star game 10 times.
16 of 26Alison Wise/AP
The Wizard of Westwood served in the Navy during World War II as a physical education instructor. His aptitude for teaching stuck with him as he became one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time. His UCLA teams won 10 national championships, including seven in a row.
17 of 26Wendell Teodoro/WireImage
Seaver joined the Marine Corps Reserves after high school, at age 18. He served a six-month active duty stretch before moving on to a city college, USC and the major leagues. In 20 seasons with the Mets, Reds, White Sox and Red Sox, Seaver won 311 games and threw an incredible 231 complete games.
18 of 26Rick Yeatts/Getty Images
Ryan, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, missed the 1967 season with the New York Mets due to service with the Army Reserve. He was back in 1968 and made it through his first full major league season. He went on to have a Hall of Fame career, in which he made eight All-Star teams, won one World Series and retired as MLB's all-time strikeouts leader.
19 of 26Neil Leifer
The legendary Cowboys coach served in the Army Air Corps from 1942 to 1945, and rose to the rank of Second Lieutenant. During his enlistment, Landry completed 30 combat missions and survived a crash landing in Belgium. After the war, Landry went on to play football for the University of Texas and the New York Giants, before coaching the Dallas Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories over 29 years.
20 of 26AP
Doby served in the Navy from 1944 to '46 and saw combat in the Pacific theater. After his discharge, he broke the American League's color barrier when he signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1947. The Hall of Fame outfielder played 13 major league seasons and hit 254 home runs.
21 of 26AP
In the winter before the 1959 season, Clemente enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve and served his six-month active duty commitment at bases in South Carolina, North Carolina and Washington, D.C. The 15-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973.
22 of 26Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images
Cobb served in the Army Chemical Corps in France in 1918. Other baseball players in that division included Christy Mathewson and George Sisler. After being honorably discharged, Cobb played for 10 more seasons, before being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936.
23 of 26Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images
In 1918, Mathewson enlisted in the Army Chemical Corps at 38. During a training exercise, he was accidentally exposed to poisonous gas and subsequently discharged. He struggled with health problems for the rest of his life, before dying at 45 in 1925. The 373-game winner was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936.
24 of 26Kevin Higley/AP
After high school, Anderson served four years in the Marine Corps. It was there that an assistant coach at Mt. San Jacinto, a junior college, noticed Bell playing touch football. After two years of JUCO, Bell played for the University of Utah, where he was a two-time all-conference player. The Denver Broncos drafted him in the sixth round, and Anderson rewarded them with a 1,487-yard, Offensive Rookie of the Year season.
25 of 26Neil Leifer
Bradley served six months in the Air Force Reserves before joining the New York Knicks in 1967. Bradley's 10-year career included two Knicks championships and one All-Star game appearance. After retiring, Bradley served three terms as a senator representing New Jersey.
26 of 26Hy Peskin
Sharman served in the Navy during World War II, from 1944 to '46. In the NBA with the Boston Celtics, Sharman made eight All-Star game appearances and won four titles. He teamed with Bob Cousy to form one of the league's best backcourts.
You May Like
Sign Up for our Newsletter
Don't get stuck on the sidelines! Sign up to get exclusives, daily highlights, analysis and more—delivered right to your inbox!