Many athletes have served in the military at some point in their lives, but who among them are the best military athletes of all time? The athletes on this list answered the call to serve their country when the time came. What all three have in common is that they were all great athletes and, more specifically, great Americans. After you check out the list, check more of our heroes in these military videos as well.
- Ted Williams – This Red Sox slugger missed almost five full MLB seasons while serving in World War II and the Korean War. In 1942, the year before he entered service in WW II as a Marine Corps aviator, Williams won the baseball Triple Crown for hitting. The year before that, 1941, he was the last player to bat .400 for a season. Then Williams enlisted and missed the 1943, 1944 and 1945 MLB seasons. Instead of opting for a cushy assignment of playing on a traveling service baseball team, Williams chose to enter into aviator training, eventually becoming so good a pilot that he was chosen to become a flight instructor. He never served in active combat in WW II as the war ended before he was to be deployed in the Pacific theater in the fight against Japan. Upon returning, Williams won a baseball MVP in 1946 and another Triple Crown in 1947. At the age of 34, Williams was was recalled to active service in May, 1952 and went on to fly 39 combat missions in the Korean War until June, 1953. Thought of by many baseball historians as the best pure hitter that ever lived, William’s statistics would have been staggering if he hadn’t missed almost five years due to military service, although the country is indebted to him for that service. Truly, Ted Williams was a great military athlete.
- Pat Tillman – Tillman played safety on the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. He was drafted by the Cards after a great college career at Arizona State University where he had a great career as a smallish linebacker. For the NFL, Tillman had to learn a completely new position, safety, and worked his butt off to finally become a starter by the 2000 season. He finished that breakthrough year with Tillman finished with 155 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 9 pass deflections and 1 interception. Tillman played the 2001 season after the 9/11 attacks but rejected a $3.6 million contract extension by the Cardinals in order to enlist in the Army. Tillman served as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan before being killed by friendly fire in April, 2004. It’s both a sad and uplifting story. The man could’ve easily stayed in the NFL and earned millions, but chose to make the ultimate sacrifice for his county. That’s why Pat Tillman makes the list of great military athletes.
- Bob Feller – Feller, a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, is another great military athlete. As a young phenom, he led the American League in wins in 1939, 1940 and 1941. Then came the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor. The 23-year-old Feller enlisted one day later and volunteered for combat service. He was the first MLB player to enlist after the Pearl Harbor attack. Feller served as a Gun Captain aboard the battleship USS Alabama and missed almost four seasons during his service in WW II. His decorations included five campaign ribbons and eight battle stars. Feller returned to the majors for a few games at the end of the 1945 season (effectively missing 4 full seasons), but in 1946 he was back to his pre-war form and again led the American League in wins. Feller went on to play 10 more years in the majors before retiring in 1956. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962 as a first-ballot inductee. Bob Feller, another great military athlete.