by Ryan Skolrud
Article originally posted May 25th, 2015
It’s a holiday weekend. Many people are going out camping, having friends over to fire up the grill, or just enjoying some time off from work. As Americans, we do not need much of an excuse to kick back, relax, or throw a party. Retail stores and chains herald Memorial Day weekend by enticing customers in with extra savings and huge sales, all while waving the red, white and blue outside their doors.
However, the flag has a far greater significance this weekend to many families across the country. For them, Old Glory means something different. Once covering the body of a loved one, it now sits on a mantle next to a photo of a soldier, folded in a triangle. Former soldiers will recall their lost comrades, honoring their brothers-in-arms above all.
Since this website is dedicated to football, this Memorial Day weekend I would like to take a moment to pay homage to those NFL players and coaches who, after their football days were over, joined the armed forces to serve our country and paid the ultimate price in that service.
Many of you know the name of Pat Tillman, the Arizona State University linebacker who moved to safety after being drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. After the September 11 attacks, he finished out the 2001 season and enlisted in the military. He became an Army Ranger and served in both Iraq and also Afghanistan, where he lost his life in a friendly fire incident. Tillman is the most recent person to lose his life in battle after playing in the NFL, and the only NFL player or coach to have perished in service to our country since Vietnam.
James Robert “Bob” Kalsu was the Buffalo Bills team rookie of the year in 1968. He was an All-American tackle at the University of Oklahoma and moved to guard after being drafted by the Bills. To satisfy his ROTC obligation, he entered the army and arrived in Vietnam in November of 1969. On July 21st, 1970, Kalsu was killed in action by enemy mortar fire. He left behind a daughter and a wife, who gave birth to their son, James Robert Kalsu Jr., two days after Bob’s death. Kalsu was honored with the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
Don Steinbrunner was an offensive tackle for the Cleveland Browns in 1953. However, his playing career was ended by a knee injury after only 8 games. Steinbrunner joined the Air Force and served as a navigator. He was sent to Vietnam in 1966 and his plane was shot down on July 20th 1967, killing him and his fellow crewmen. He was posthumously given the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
There are so many other players and coaches who joined the military and lost their lives in service to this nation. Below is a list from the Pro Football Hall of Fame of those who died in World War II:
Cpl. Mike Basca (HB, Philadelphia, 1941) – Killed in France in 1944
Lt. Charlie Behan (TE, Detroit, 1942) – Killed on Okinawa in 1945
Maj. Keith Birlem (TE, Cardinals-Washington, 1939) – Killed trying to land his combat-damaged bomber in England in 1943
Lt. Al Blozis (T, Giants, 1942-1944) – Killed in France, 1945
Lt. Chuck Braidwood (TE, Portsmouth-Cleveland-Cardinals-Cincinnati, 1930-1933) – Member of Red Cross. Killed in South Pacific, winter 1944-1945
Lt. Young Bussey (QB, Bears, 1940-1941) – Killed in a Philippines landing assault in 1944
Lt. Jack Chevigny (Coach, Cardinals, 1932) – Killed on Iwo Jima in 1945
Capt. Ed Doyle (TE, Frankford-Pottsville, 1924-1925) – Killed during North Africa invasion in 1942
Lt. Col. Grassy Hinton (RB, Staten Island, 1932) – Killed in plane crash in East Indies in 1944
Capt. Smiley Johnson (G, Green Bay, 1940-1941) – Killed on Iwo Jima in 1945
Lt. Eddie Kahn (G, Boston/Washington, 1935-1937) – Died from wounds suffered during Leyte invasion in 1945
Sgt. Alex Ketzko (T, Detroit, 1943) – Killed in France in 1944
Capt. Lee Kizzire (FB, Detroit, 1937) – Shot down near New Guinea in 1943
Lt. Jack Lummus (TE, Giants, 1941) – Killed on Iwo Jima in 1945
Bob Mackert (T, Rochester Jeffersons, 1925)
Frank Maher (RB, Pittsburgh-Cleveland Rams, 1941)
Pvt. Jim Mooney (TE-G-FB, Newark-Brooklyn-Cincinnati-St. Louis-Cardinals, 1930-1937) – Killed by sniper in France in 1944
Lt. John O’Keefe (Front office, Philadelphia) – Killed flying a patrol mission in Panama Canal Zone
Chief Spec. Gus Sonnenberg (RB, Buffalo-Columbus-Detroit-Providence, 1923-1928, 1930) – Died of illness at Bethesda Naval Hospital in 1944
Lt. Len Supulski (TE, Philadelphia, 1942) – Killed in plane crash in Nebraska in 1944
Lt. Don Wemple (TE, Brooklyn, 1941) – Killed in plane crash in India in 1944
Lt. Chet Wetterlund (HB, Cardinals-Detroit, 1942) – Killed in plane crash off New Jersey coast in 1944
Capt. Waddy Young (TE, Brooklyn, 1939-1940) – Killed in plane crash following first B-29 raid on Tokyo in 1945
The details of this list contain as much information as is currently known. We here at SkullKing honor and remember the service and sacrifice of these men, as well as the service and sacrifice of every man and woman who has given their life for the defense of our great nation.
I once saw a friend of mine who is a veteran post on Facebook about Memorial Day, and I paraphrase,
“Please do not thank a veteran for their service today. We have our day in November. Today, raise a glass to honor those who did not come back to their families and friends – who gave their lives in service to this country.”
This weekend, as we relax and enjoy time with friends and family, may we all remember why we get an extended weekend. Take a few minutes to watch the video below. Let us honor those who paid the price for our freedom.