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Athletes Who Served in the Military

Updated June 14, 2019 34.3k views25 items

Athletes are often considered heroes for what they do on the field. However, it is what some athletes have done off the field that truly makes them heroes. Many of the athletes who served in the military on this list voluntarily left their sport to go serve and defend their country. Some left in the prime of their careers, while others turned down big money to do battle on a completely different field.

Many of the athletes who were soldiers on this list were also drafted into the military and were forced into service. But what may surprise you is that these athletes did not take the easy road out while serving their time. Ted Williams, who is arguably one of the best baseball players of all time, was a fighter pilot. Jackie Robinson was breaking down color barriers in the Army before doing so in professional baseball, and Yogi Berra was involved in the D-Day invasion.

One of the most famous stories involving an athlete in the military is Pat Tillman. Tillman famously turned down a $3.6 million NFL contract to defend his country and fight the war on terror. Read more about him and other athletes, all with different stories and backgrounds, who have served in the military.

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  • Warren Spahn
    Photo: Metaweb (FB) / Fair use

    Warren Spahn played in just four big league games before he was drafted into the Army in 1943. Spahn spent three years in Europe, where he was involved in some well-known battles and earned a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and a Presidential Unit Citation for his service. He was discharged from the Army in 1946. When he returned to Major League Baseball, he won 363 games, more than any other left-handed pitcher in history.

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  • Yogi Berra
    Photo: Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916 / flickr / CC-BY-ND 2.0

    Before Yogi Berra started his famous baseball career with the New York Yankees, he served in the U.S. Navy from 1943-1946. Berra was involved in the famous D-Day invasion on Normandy's beaches during World War II. Berra was responsible for launching rockets at the German defenses at Omaha Beach.

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  • Roger Staubach
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Roger Staubach graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1965 and immediately started serving his four-year commitment to the Navy, before joining the Dallas Cowboys in 1969. Staubach also served one year in Vietnam as a supply corps officer. Staubach considered staying in the military full-time, but found himself missing football.

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  • Ted Williams
    Photo: Apex Photo Company / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Ted Williams put up some of the most astonishing stats in baseball history, and he did of all that while missing numerous years while serving in the military. Williams missed three seasons from 1943-1945 when he served in the Navy as a pilot and gunner. Williams once again returned to the military in 1952 when he saw combat in Korea.