The U.S. military was well-represented in the Sochi Olympics in February highlighted by Captain Christopher Fogt (brakeman) and Army veteran Steven Holcomb (driver) taking home the bronze in the four-man bobsled. They are part of a distinguished group of elite athletes who have served in our Armed Forces. Here is a list of just a few of America’s great military sportspeople.
Jackie Robinson – The legendary Jackie Robinson who broke racial barriers to become the first African American to play in major league baseball, served as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1944. He never saw combat though because in 1944, before his tank battalion was going to be deployed, Robinson was arrested and court-martialed for refusing to move to the back of a segregated Army bus. He was eventually acquitted and received an honorable discharge. Watch The Jackie Robinson Story to learn more about his fascinating life.
Jesse “The Body” Ventura – Pro-wrestler-turned-Minnesota-governor Jesse Ventura served as a Navy SEAL during the Vietnam War. He was stationed at Subic Bay in the Philippines and did not see combat, but did earn a Vietnam Service Medal for his contributions to the war effort. Ventura was honorably discharged in 1973.
Leon Spinks – Prior to winning an Olympic gold medal in boxing and becoming the only man to take a title away from Muhammad Ali, Leon Spinks was a member of the Marine Corps. The heavyweight champion joined the All-Marine boxing team and became one of the top amateur boxers in the world, turning pro in 1977.
Pat Tillman – Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Arizona Cardinals’ Pat Tillman left his professional football career to enlist in the Army. He became an Army Ranger serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was killed by friendly fire on April 22, 2004. The Cardinals retired his number and he was awarded a Silver Star and Purple Heart. Nightline profiled Pat Tillman in The Real Pat Tillman Story.
Rocky Marciano – Heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano was drafted into the Army in 1942 and was assigned to the 150th Combat Engineers who received service stars for Normandy, North France, Rheinland, Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe. During his time in the Army, Marciano started boxing, eventually winning the 1946 Amateur Armed Forces tournament. He was honorably discharged in 1946.
Sergeant Vincent Hancock – Sgt. Hancock holds numerous national records in Men’s Skeet and is currently a member of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit in Fort Benning, GA. Among his many prestigious awards are gold medals in the 2010 and 2012 Olympic Games, the 2011 Pan American Games, and the 2010 and 2012 National Championships. He is the first skeet shooter to win consecutive Olympic gold medals in the same event.
Shauna Rohbock – Rohbock was a member of the Utah Army National Guard, a professional soccer player with the San Diego Spirit, and an Olympic athlete. In the 2006 Winter Olympics she earned a silver medal in the two-woman bobsled event. She also holds numerous World Championship medals in bobsled.
Tim James – An NBA player who played with the Miami Heat, Charlotte Hornets, and Philadelphia 76ers, Tim James left his professional basketball career in 2007 at age 31 to join the U.S. Army. He completed a tour of duty in Iraq and was honored by the Miami Heat at a pre-game ceremony in March 2011.
Willie Mays – In 1952, right after he was named “Rookie of the Year,” famed New York Giants baseball player Willie Mays was drafted to serve in the Korean War. Although he missed the 1953 baseball season due to his military service, he returned to the sport in 1954 to become a two–time National League MVP, a Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, and one of the most memorable players in the history of the game.
Yogi Berra – Just one year before joining the New York Yankees and having a record-breaking baseball career, Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra participated in the D-Day invasion at Normandy. He was a U.S. Navy gunner’s mate serving aboard a rocket-launching craft and provided anti-aircraft cover. This video from the YES Network features Yogi Berra discussing his role in D-Day.