Athletes Who Are Military Heroes

Athletes who were military heroes represent some of the bravest men and women to ever play professional sports. These Americans gave up the fame and fortune that would have come with being a professional athlete to serve their country. Many sacrificed more than that, giving up their lives on the front lines of World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War and the War in Iraq.

The military hero athletes on this list undoubtably include many names you know as sports stars first and soldiers second or vice versa but each has a story behind their service in the United States Armed Forces.

For some, that story includes leaving professional sports at the peak of their career to serve their country during wartime, such as legendary baseball player Bob Feller, boxer Joe Louis and baseball great Joe DiMaggio. These athletes can be considered military heroes.

Others, such as basketball star David Robinson and Pro Football Hall of Fame member Art Donovan, their military service came before their professional sports careers as they were fortunate enough to return from battle healthy enough to continue.

Sadly, many were not so lucky. In one of the more recent cases, up and coming Arizona Cardinals football player Pat Tillman left the NFL shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to become a U.S. Army Ranger. Tillman made the ultimate sacrifice when he was killed in action in April 2004.

These notable athletes who served in the military may not have all been the best of their respective sports and may not have all been decorated soldiers but each of these fine men and women should be thanked for their service nonetheless.
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  • Patrick Daniel Tillman (November 6, 1976 – April 22, 2004) was an American football player in the National Football League (NFL) who left his sports career and enlisted in the United States Army in June 2002 in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. His service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and subsequent death, were the subject of national attention when he was killed by friendly fire.Tillman joined the Army Rangers and served several tours in combat before he was killed in the mountains of Afghanistan. At first, the Army reported that Tillman had been killed by enemy fire. Controversy ensued when a month later, on May 28, 2004, the Pentagon notified the Tillman family that he had been ...more
    • Profession: Athlete, American football player
    • Age: Dec. at 27 (1976-2004)
    • Birthplace: Fremont, California
    • Schools: Arizona State University, Leland High School
    • Cause Of Death: Friendly fire, Firearm, Gunshot
  • Roger Staubach
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    Roger Thomas Staubach (born February 5, 1942), nicknamed "Roger the Dodger", "Captain America" and "Captain Comeback", is an American former football quarterback in the National Football League (NFL). He attended the U.S. Naval Academy where he won the 1963 Heisman Trophy, and after graduation he served in the U.S. Navy, including a tour of duty in Vietnam. Staubach joined the Dallas Cowboys in 1969 and played with the club during all 11 seasons of his career. He led the team to the Super Bowl five times, four as the starting quarterback. He led the Cowboys to victories in Super Bowl VI and Super Bowl XII. Staubach was named Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl VI, becoming the first of four ...more
    • Profession: American football player
    • Age: 80
    • Birthplace: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States of America
    • Schools: New Mexico Military Institute, Purcell Marian High School, United States Naval Academy
  • Robert William Andrew Feller (November 3, 1918 – December 15, 2010), nicknamed "The Heater from Van Meter", "Bullet Bob", and "Rapid Robert", was an American baseball pitcher who played 18 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the Cleveland Indians. Feller pitched from 1936 to 1941 and from 1945 to 1956, interrupted only by a four-year engagement in the Navy. In a career spanning 570 games, Feller pitched 3,827 innings and posted a win–loss record of 266–162, with 279 complete games, 44 shutouts, and a 3.25 earned run average (ERA). A prodigy who bypassed the minor leagues, Feller first played for the Indians at the age of 17. His career was interrupted by four years of military ...more
    • Profession: Baseball player, Sailor
    • Age: Dec. at 92 (1918-2010)
    • Birthplace: Van Meter, Iowa, United States of America
    • Schools: Van Meter Elementary School
    • Cause Of Death: Leukemia
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    Jack Lummus

    Andrew Jackson Lummus Jr. (October 22, 1915 – March 8, 1945) was a two-sport athlete at Baylor University, a professional football player with the New York Giants, and an officer in the United States Marine Corps. He fought, and died, at the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II and received the Medal of Honor for his valor.
    • Profession: American football player
    • Age: Dec. at 29 (1915-1945)
    • Birthplace: Texas
    • Schools: Baylor University, Texas Military College
    • Cause Of Death: Killed in action
  • James Robert Kalsu (April 13, 1945 – July 21, 1970) was an All-American tackle at the University of Oklahoma and an eighth-round selection in the 1968 NFL/AFL draft by the Buffalo Bills of the American Football League. He later joined the U.S. Army as an officer and was killed in the Vietnam War. He was the last NFL player to be killed serving as a soldier in a war until 2004, when Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan. Earlier, Al Blozis formerly of the New York Football Giants was killed in action in World War II.
    • Profession: American football player
    • Age: Dec. at 25 (1945-1970)
    • Birthplace: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
    • Schools: University of Oklahoma
  • Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra (May 12, 1925 – September 22, 2015) was an American professional baseball catcher, who later took on the roles of manager and coach. He played 19 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) (1946–63, 1965), all but the last for the New York Yankees. He was an 18-time All-Star and won 10 World Series championships as a player—more than any other player in MLB history. Berra had a career batting average of .285, while hitting 358 home runs and 1,430 runs batted in. He is one of only five players to win the American League Most Valuable Player Award three times. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history, and was elected to the Baseball ...more
    • Profession: Manager, Baseball player, Coach, Actor, Writer
    • Age: 97
    • Birthplace: The Hill, St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America