On this day of remembrance for those that have served our country, lest we forget that servicemembers hail from all walks of life. They are teachers, plumbers, scientists, truck drivers, astronauts, and engineers among other things. They are also athletes.
Throughout the course of history, numerous athletes have served in the military in a variety of capacities. Whether it was with boots on the ground, in the air, as a technician, specialist, or as a reservist, these men epitomized the definition of courage and honor, placing service to their country over personal aspirations, no matter what the cost.
So before you brush your teeth, put your pajamas on, and get ready for bed, take some time to check out these 10 athletes that answered the call of duty.
1. Hank Greenberg
Perhaps the most decorated athlete to serve, Hank Greenberg was already the first player in league history to win an MVP award at two separate positions. He was initially classified as undraftable due to his flat footedness (a shortcoming that he worked hard to overcome as an athlete), but he petitioned to be reexamined and was approved for service. When he was drafted in 1940, his salary was cut from today’s equivalent of $916,000 annually to $300 per month, and instead of gripe, Greenberg was famously quoted as saying, “I made up my mind to go when I was called. My country comes first.”
After serving for most of the 1941 season, he was honorably discharged two days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, which caused him to promptly reenlist in the United States Army Air Forces. By the end of his service (from 1941-1945), Greenberg became commissioned as a first lieutenant and promoted to Captain, scouted bombing locations for B-52’s in the China-Burma-India Theater, and served 47 months, longer than any athlete.
Greenberg finished his major league career with a .313/.412/.605 slash line, 331 homeruns, and 1,276 runs batted in. Had he not missed nearly five seasons due to military service, he would have very likely surpassed the benchmark barriers of 500 home runs and 2,000 RBI.