Honoring athletes who have served

Memorial Day is often thought of as the kickoff to summer, a day filled with polo shirts, barbecues and sports. But this day is really about remembering and honoring those we lost who have gave the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the freedoms that we take for granted daily.

The sports world does not stop for its fallen heroes, even though there have been many.  The NBA and NHL playoffs roar on towards their championship accumulation, and the MLB is nearly two months into its lengthy season. While our fallen athletes might have never reached their full potential on the field, they’ve done more for our country than they ever could have with a ball or bat.  This Memorial Day, we should remember our former soldiers for their service to our country and honor their teams in their memory.

One of the most notable and recent athletes to abandon civilian life was Pat Tillman.  The All-Pro safety for the Arizona Cardinals was drafted in the seventh round of the 1998 draft. Following the 9/11 attacks, Tillman opted to forgo a three-year, $3.6 million contract to enlist with the Army Rangers.  Tillman was deployed to Iraq, and returned to America to graduate from Ranger School in 2003. He was then redeployed to Afghanistan where he was killed in a friendly fire incident.

Bob Kalsu was another star in the making before he gave up his career to fight for America.  The All-American offensive tackle from Oklahoma started nine games for the Buffalo Bills in his rookie stint in the 1968 season. The following year he enlisted in the Army to satisfy his ROTC requirement. Despite being given the option to join the Reserves, Kalsu insisted on committing to active duty. In November of 1969, Kalsu found himself fighting in Vietnam. Eight months later, Kalsu suffered a severe head injury from a mortar and died just a day before his wife gave birth to their second child.

Andrew Jackson (Jack) Lummus Jr. was a baseball and football standout at Baylor University. Following his graduation, he signed with the New York Giants in 1941, helping them win the Eastern division before losing in the championship game to the Chicago Bears. The game was just a short two weeks after the shocking attack on Pearl Harbor. In January of 1942, Jack joined the Marine Corps.  Lummus rose to the rank of first lieutenant and led troops to storm the beaches of Iwo Jima in what would prove to be one of the most heroic and important battles of World War II.  Lummus was mortally wounded in the battle, losing both legs from enemy grenades.  He continued to lead and inspire his men as they battled in his honor.  He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his courage.

Elmer Gedeon began his athletic career at University of Michigan, where he was a three-sport star earning                     All-American honors in track and field, as well as lettering in baseball and football.  In 1939, Gedeon chose to sign with the Washington Senators and spent only 67 games in the minor leagues before being called up to major league action.  He was given only 15 major league        at-bats and returned to the minor leagues for most of 1940 before being drafted into the Army. There, he worked his way to becoming a pilot.  He survived a plane crash during training and received the Soldier’s Medal for returning to the wreckage to save others.  In 1944, while flying over France, Gedeon’s bomber had just finished its mission when the plane was hit in the cockpit, sending Gedeon and five other soliders to their deaths.

These athletes sacrificed not only their promising careers, but also their lives as Americans. Next time you head to your backyard for a quick pickup game, remember why we have the freedoms that we do.

Hailey Tucker is a sophomore majoring in broadcast and digital journalism. Her column, “Hangin’ With Hailey,” runs every other Wednesday.