Most people, irrespective of whether or not they are sports fans, have respect for athletes. This is not only because athletes are talented and hardworking, but also because of the fact that they represent their countries, counties, states, etc. and contribute to big victories or at least a good fight. Athletes, with their performances, make their motherlands proud. But, many athletes have gone beyond representing their nations on the sports field. They took on the responsibility of fighting for and protecting the land they belong to. These athletes took on the noble profession of serving in the military. Sadly, as it often happens in wars, many of these athletes lost their lives. Let us take a look at Top 10 Athletes Who Lost Their Lives In Military Service.
Athletes Who Lost Their Lives In Military Service
10. Pat Tillman
Patrick Daniel “Pat” Tillman, born on November 6, 1976, was a professional American football player. After a successful college career, he was picked by the Arizona Cardinals in the 1998 National Football League draft and played 16 games in his rookie year. However, following the 9/11 attack, he retired from a potentially successful professional football and joined the army. He served several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan but died on April 22, 2004, in Afghanistan.
Though he was initially reported to have been killed by enemy fire, it was later revealed that he was killed in a friendly fire incident. He was the last known footballer to have died in the war and was posthumously promoted to Corporal. He now holds the 10th position in our list of top 10 athletes who lost their lives in military service.
9. Bob Kalsu
James Robert “Bob” Kalsu, born on April 13, 1945, was an American football player who played for the Buffalo Bills in the American Football League in 1968. He was a tackle in his college days, and then played as a starting guard for an entire season with the Bills in the team’s rookie year. However, after the 1968 season, he entered the Army during the Vietnam War as a Second Lieutenant to satisfy his obligation.
He was sent to Vietnam in November 1969 as a part of the artillery unit of the army. On July 21, 1970, Kalsu was killed in action, when his entire unit was under the mortar fire of the enemy camp at FSB Ripcord near the A Shau Valley. He became the only active professional footballer to die in the Vietnam War. Kalsu now holds the 9th place among the top 10 athletes who lost their lives in military service.
8. Bob Neighbors
Bob Otis Neighbors, born on November 9, 1917, was a professional baseball player who had a short stint in Major League Baseball, for the St. Louis Browns in 1939. He had played fast-pitch softball, but made the transition to baseball smoothly, as he signed with the Siloam Springs, Arkansas Travelers in 1936. Neighbors played for other minor teams. He appeared in 7 Major League matches, in 1939.
Bob returned to the minors in 1940 and played for Toledo Mud Hens and later San Antonio Missions. He joined the Army Air Force in 1942 and served during the Korean War, during which he continued to play for the military teams. He died on a mission in 1952, presumably on August 8, and became the most recent major leaguer killed in the war. Bob now holds the eighth place among the top 10 athletes who lost their lives in military service.
7. Al Blozis
Albert Charles Blozis, born on January 5, 1919, was an American football player. During his college years, he was noted for throwing discus and shot put, as a national indoor and outdoor shot put champion in 1942-42, and world record-holder in the former. He joined the National Football League as an offensive tackle for the New York Giants and played in 1942-43. He then joined the military to serve during World War II but was still to play three games while on furlough in 1944.
Blozis rose to the rank of second lieutenant. He went to look for his missing men, gone scouting enemy lines, in the Vosges Mountains, France. Initially listed missing, he was later confirmed to have died on January 1921, 1945. Besides, he now surely deserves his mention among the top 10 athletes who lost their lives in military service.
6. Harry O’Neill
Harry Mink O’Neill, born on May 8, 1917, was a professional baseball player who played as a catcher his whole career for two innings of one game for the Philadelphia Athletics in Major League Baseball in 1939. He led his school to baseball, football and basketball league championships, and was a distinguished college athlete. After graduation, he chose his hometown’s American League team, after a bidding war.
Harry played two years in minor leagues. He then enlisted for the Marine Corps in 1942. He rose to the rank of lieutenant. Harry was wounded in Saipan, and after being treated for weeks, he was killed in Iwo Jima by a sniper on March 6, 1945. And with that, he became one of the two MLB players killed in World War II. Besides, he now also holds the 6th position among the top 10 athletes who lost their lives in military service.
5. Elmer Gedeon
Elmer John Gedeon, born on April 15, 1917, was a professional baseball player who played in Major League Baseball for the Washington Senators. During his college years, he was a multi-sport athlete, participating in track and field, American football and baseball. After graduation, he joined the Washington Senators in 1939 as an outfielder and had a brief stint with the team during that year. He played in minor leagues for most of 1939 and 1940.
Gedeon was selected by the US Army for World War II in 1941. He was a trained bomber pilot, and served in combat, until the B-26 bomber he was piloting was shot down on April 20, 1944, and killed him, making one of the 2 MLB players to die in the war. Besides, he now holds the fifth place among the top 10 athletes who lost their lives in military service.
4. John Pinder
John J. “Joe” Pinder, Jr., born on June 6, 1912, was a baseball player who played in the Minor League Baseball. He played sandlot baseball till he signed with the Butler Indians, which had just entered the Class D Pennsylvania State Association in 1935. The team consequently became the Butler Yankees, and Joe made eight appearances for them. He also successfully tried out for Sanford Lookouts. The right-handed pitcher was noted for his potential in the sport. He served as an enlisted man in World War II.
During the Battle of Normandy, he was wounded in the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, on his way to Omaha Beach, bringing radio equipment. He refused to waste time in medical attention, and made more trips in waist-deep water, enabling the establishment of vital radio communication. He received the Medal of Honor award. Besides, Pinder now holds the 4th place among the top 10 athletes who lost their lives in military service.
3. Jack Lummus
Andrew Jackson Lummus, Jr., born on October 22, 1915, was a professional football player who played for the New York Giants. During his college years, he was a football and track star. After graduating, he started as the All-Southwest Conference center fielder. He then signed a contract with minor league baseball team Wichita Falls Spudders. He then went to the New York Giants, for whom he played nine games in 1941.
Already enlisted in the Army Air Corps, he enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1942. He joined them after the National Football League championship game. During World War II, on March 8, 1945, a wounded Lummus, serving as a lieutenant, led his platoon against the Japanese on Iwo Jima and was killed by a land mine in a heroic one-man assault. Awarded with the highest citation, i.e. Medal of Honor. He now holds third place among the top 10 athletes who lost their lives in military service.
2. Hobey Baker
Hobart Amory Hare “Hobey” Baker, born on January 15, 1892, was an American amateur athlete. He is considered the first star player of ice hockey, besides being an accomplished American footballer. He excelled in both the sports at the university level and played hockey for the St. Nicholas Club of New York whom he led to a national amateur championship in 1915, as well as for three national championship football teams before graduating from Princeton in 1914.
When the Hockey Hall of Fame was founded in 1945, he was one of the nine inductees. He joined the civilian aviation corps in 1916. Baker served during World War I as a pilot and was promoted to lieutenant in 1918. He died in France on December 21, 1918, at his squadron’s airfield in Toul. Baker now surely deserves his mention among the top 10 athletes who lost their lives in military service.
1. Eddie Grant
American baseball player Edward Leslie Grant, born on 21st May 1883, often dubbed as one of the best players of his time. In his college years, he played both basketball and baseball. After graduating, he started playing for the Cleveland Indians in 1905. He later played for the Philadelphia Phillies as a third baseman. Grant also played for the Cincinnati Red and then for the New York Giants as a utility infielder. he ended his career at the New York Giants.
After retirement, he became one of the first men from the US to join World War I in 1917 and served as a Captain. In a fierce battle, he lost his superior officers. And during a four-day search for the Lost Battalion, he died of a shell explosion on October 5, 1918. He thus holds the top place among our top 10 athletes who lost their lives in military service. Besides, he became the first MLB player to die in World War I.
Apart from the players appearing in the above list of among the top 10 athletes who lost their lives in military service, there are other players, too, who died in service. Don Steinbrunner, who retired from professional American football after only eight games due to a knee injury, was killed when the plane he was aboard was shot down during the Vietnam War and was thus the only other athlete who had played professional football to die in the Vietnam War, besides Kalsu. Another young talent that got obliterated in the war was Nile Kinnick, a college football player, and winner in the 1939 Heisman Trophy, who died at the age of 24 during World War II during which he served as a naval aviator when the plane he was piloting was shot down.