Veterans Day, a day when we celebrate not just the brave soldiers who have died in the defense of our country's principles, but to honor those that have served and are still serving in the military so we here at home can enjoy the blessings of the liberties for which they have sacrificed so much. My cousin served a tour in Iraq and five in Afghanistan so that I have the ability to coach soccer and write a weekly column about recreational sports in Carroll County.
Our history is filled with famous athletes who have forgone part of or all of their athletic careers to serve our country in the armed services. Nearly 95 percent of Major League Baseball players served during World War II, 29 of which went on to the Hall of Fame. Another five were inducted in the HOF that also served in the Korean War.
Ted Williams, the best hitter in baseball history, was a decorated Marine fighter pilot in WWII and Korea. Hoyt Wilhelm pitched a no-hitter for the Orioles against the Yankees in 1958 and won the Purple Heart for wounds from the Battle of the Bulge before beginning his 20-year career. Warren Spahn, who has the record for the most wins among left-handers with thirteen 20-win seasons, won both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
Baseball hasn't cornered the market on veteran athletes. I had the opportunity to meet one of my boyhood idols, Notre Dame and Steelers football star Rocky Bleier who was awarded both the Purple Heart and Bronze Star during the Vietnam War before playing 12 years and winning four Super Bowls with the Steelers. You only have to look to the tragedy of Pat Tillman for an example of bravery and sacrifice. How many of our current athletes, really how many of us, would forgo our "normal" lives to follow Tillman's path to serve his country with the most precious gift he had - his life?
There are so many veterans we need to be equally thankful for, men and women who came home from wars not to a glorious sports career, but to the daily lives that so many of us take for granted. Soldiers that assimilate back into society, pack their lunch every day to go to work and come home to their families like the rest of us. Citizens like my father Don Brown, with a 26-year career and tours in Korea and Vietnam, who become coaches, referees, and volunteers and hope to provide a better life to their families.
And a special thank you to those far too many young men and women that come back from foreign lands having lost a leg or an arm in battle, and refuse to let that define their lives. They strap on their prosthetic or orthotic devices and get back into the heat of battle, this time as Paralympians to continue their service to our country.
The great French General and Emperor Napolean Bonaparte said, "When soldiers have been baptized in the fire of a battlefield, they have all one rank in my eyes." In the world of sports, we call them MVPs.
God bless veterans on this, their day and every other day.
Reach Robert Brown at 410-857-8552 or email@example.com