The Enumerative: Athletes Turned Soldiers

Welcome to our incredibly innovative feature, The Enumerative. ↵Because lists are awesome, plus effective time killers, in this space ↵we'll provide a top five based loosely on something that has recently ↵occurred in the sporting world.
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As you hopefully noticed, Tuesday is Veterans Day. With that in mind, we here at The Sporting Blog found it fitting to celebrate just a few of the great athletes of the past who courageously served our nation during wartime. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, and in such a category, there are no top fives or top 10s. So consider these just five notable stories among the too many to count as a tribute across the generations to our brave men and women in uniform. And no, you will not find Kellen Winslow, Jr.'s name amongst these ranks: ↵

↵5. Roger Staubach (NFL Hall of Famer) -- Vietnam
↵Roger the Dodger is probably the most famous athlete to serve in the Vietnam War. A Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at the Naval Academy, Staubach was drafted by the Cowboys in 1964, but had to fulfill his military requirement before joining the NFL. Given his stature at the time, he certainly could have opted for a cushy Stateside assignment, but he was not that kind of dodger. Instead, he opted for a tour of duty in ‘Nam, which he served primarily in Da Nang. ↵

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↵4. Barney Ross (World Champion fighter in three divisions) -- WWII
↵The story of Barney Ross’ life is one of the great, little-known sagas of the American 20th century, a tale that involves Al Capone and an early friend and sparring partner named Jack Ruby. In 1941, Ross was 33 years old, retired from the ring, a proud Jewish-American who had been outspoken against Hitler since the dictator’s rise in the early 30’s. After Pearl Harbor, Ross enlisted in the Marines, and eventually distinguished himself at Guadalcanal, single-handedly fighting a squadron of Japanese soldiers over the course of an entire night and then carrying a fellow soldier, all 200 pounds of him (Ross was a welterweight to his death), to safety and saving his life. For his efforts, he was awarded the Silver Star and a Presidential Citation, presented to him personally by FDR in a ceremony at the White House. ↵

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↵3. Hank Bauer (Baseball great of the 50’s) -- WWII
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Bauer, who would later become famous as a fixture on the great Yankees’ teams of the 50’s, was a young up-and-comer in the minors in 1941. He enlisted immediately after Pearl Harbor and served heroically in the South Pacific, earning two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts, and serving as a platoon commander in the bloody Battle of Okinawa, where as one of the few survivors he suffered a shrapnel injury that sent him home for good. ↵

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↵2. Pat Tillman (NFL All-Pro safety) -- Afghanistan
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With all the ugly controversy surrounding Tillman’s death, let us hope that his status as an American hero always will remain his primary legacy. Tillman was a throwback to another era in the U.S., when young men felt the call to duty stir within themselves to serve their nation in a time of need regardless of their class or station in life. Of his own accord, he traded life as an NFL star for the arid, remorseless terrain of Afghanistan. The mind boggles at such a sacrifice. ↵

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↵1. Ted Williams (Baseball Hall of Famer) -- WWII, Korea
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All told, Teddy Baseball lost three full seasons to the Second World War and the majority of another two to Korea. And he still finished his career with 521 non-‘roid-aided home runs. Maybe the greatest pure hitter baseball has ever known, Williams was also a great fighter pilot who was a flight instructor at the Pensacola Naval Air Station during WWII. He was re-upped into duty during Korea, where he flew a total of 38 combat missions. Despite having five of his prime years as an athlete taken from him by wartime, he never complained, never went on about what might have been. In this way and in many others, he was without question one of the great standard-bearers among athletes of The Greatest Generation. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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