In the United States, a tradition of idolizing sports figures as heroes for their on-field accomplishments has been passed down through generations. However, it is often overlooked that many all-stars are heroes for much braver reasons. As we celebrate Independence Day this July 4th, here are a handful of athletes who honorably served their counrty to make the United States of America a safer nation:
1. Ted Williams
The world was in turmoil in 1942. With disaster brewing across the Atlantic, the United States had joined the fight after being attacked on Dec. 7, 1941. Only five months later, Ted Williams enlisted in the Navy as an aviator. For “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived,” there was no reason to do anything more than play for a service team as many other professional baseball players did, but this was simply not enough for the future Hall of Famer. In fact, Williams was so dedicated to the military that it took an order from the Navy to convince him to return to baseball. Williams also served in the Korean War following a promotion to captain in the Marine Corps Reserve.
2. Jack Dempsey
Like Ted Williams, Jack Dempsey was not content being solely a sports-celebrity soldier. Reigning as the world heavyweight champion from 1914-1927 meant that Dempsey had thrived in hard-hitting situations before. “The Manassa Mauler” had never backed down from a fight in his life, and World War II was just another battle on the prolific boxer’s journey. In 1942, he joined the U.S. Coast Guard and served for a decade. Dempsey was present for the invasion of Okinawa, serving on the attack transport USS Arthur Middleton. He was honorably discharged from the Coast Guard in 1952.
3. Bill Bradley
Bill Bradley won an Olympic gold medal in basketball for the U.S. in 1964, led the New York Knicks to NBA titles in 1970 and 1973, served as a U.S. senator, and even ran for president in 2000. There is no doubt that these facts alone would make him one of the most successful athletes ever to serve the nation, but his allegiance to the country runs even deeper. From 1967-1978, Bradley served in the Air Force Reserves, and to this day, he continues to inspire America and its citizens.
4. Arnold Palmer
“The King” is known for his incredible golf career as well as for inventing the famed lemonade-and-sweet-tea beverage that commonly bears his name. But Palmer is also known throughout the Coast Guard as one of its most famous members. Following a fatal car crash involving his college best friend, Palmer needed to escape his everyday life and found a solution in the Coast Guard, where he served from 1951-1954. During that time, Palmer also built his own courses to continue practicing his golfing skills and, following his military career, arguably changed the world of professional golf more than anyone else ever has.
5. Glen Coffee
Following a successful college career at the University of Alabama, it seemed all but certain Glen Coffee’s future would include the NFL. The running back was drafted in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers, but professional football would not hold him. After his first and only season, he retired and found a greater purpose in the United States Army. Coffee decided to become a paratrooper and airborne infantryman, reaching the rank of Specialist (E-4). He completed his service in 2017 and hopes to return to professional football in some form in the future. H&A
Other athletes who served include: Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, David Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Pat Tillman, Doc Blanchard, Paul “Bear” Bryant, Roger Staubach, Yogi Berra, Don Newcombe, Whitey Ford, and Ernie Banks.