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JERRY CROWE

For these athletes, being a veteran was much more than just having experience

Text messages from press row . . .

November 10, 2010|Jerry Crowe

Some sports figures really are heroes. …

On Veterans Day, we salute them. …

Rocky Bleier won four Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers and a Purple Heart in Vietnam, where he was shot. …

Gene Tunney's reign as heavyweight champion in the 1920s was sandwiched around tours of duty with the Marines during World War I and in the Navy during World War II. …

Before his enlistment in the Army and deployment in Iraq, Tim James was a first-round draft pick of the Miami Heat. …

Warren Spahn and Hoyt Wilhelm fought at the Battle of the Bulge, as did Ralph Houk, whose nickname in the major leagues reflected his military rank: Major. …

Ernie Case, before quarterbacking UCLA to a 10-0 regular season in 1946, was a fighter pilot who was captured by enemy forces after bailing out of his aircraft after a midair collision with another plane over Sardinia. …

Despite suffering severe injuries, he later escaped. …

Ralph Heywood, an All-American end at USC, served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. …

Lynn Compton, a former UCLA football and baseball player, was an officer in Easy Company, the regiment featured in the book and HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers." …

Later, as a prosecutor, he secured the conviction of Sirhan Sirhan for the murder of Robert F. Kennedy. …

Jerry Coleman, longtime San Diego Padres announcer and ex- New York Yankees second baseman, participated in two wars. …

Ted Williams flew 39 combat missions in Korea. …

R.I.P., Pat Tillman. …

Before breaking baseball's color barrier in 1947, Jackie Robinson broke civil-rights ground at Ft. Hood, Texas, in 1944, refusing to sit in the back of a bus on base. …

At his court-martial, the former Pasadena Muir High and UCLA star was acquitted by an all-white panel. …

Lou Zamperini, a miraculous World War II prisoner-of-war survivor and former Torrance High, USC and Olympic distance runner, is the subject of a new biography by Laura Hillenbrand, author of "Seabiscuit: An American Legend." …

Bob Feller was the first major league player to enlist after Pearl Harbor, joining the Navy on Dec. 8, 1941. …

Alhambra High product Ralph Kiner, a seven-time National League home run champion after two years as a Navy pilot during World War II, said Feller once told him, "The real heroes aren't the ones who lived; it's the ones that died." …

Roger Staubach, after fulfilling his Navy commitment, made his NFL debut six years after winning the Heisman Trophy. …

Guadalajara-born Tom Fears, a Manual Arts High grad who caught the winning pass for the Los Angeles Rams in the 1951 NFL championship game, signed up to be a fighter pilot in World War II after his father was taken prisoner by the Japanese. …

Not really an admiral, David Robinson attained the rank of lieutenant, junior grade, during his time in the Navy. …

Former Princeton star Hobey Baker, the only person enshrined in both the hockey and college football halls of fame, chalked up three kills as a fighter pilot in World War I before he was killed in a test flight in France shortly after war's end. His orders to return home were found tucked inside his jacket. …

The Hobey Baker Award, college hockey's equivalent to the Heisman Trophy, is named in his honor. …

Francis Wai, son of a Chinese father and Hawaiian mother, was a multisport athlete at UCLA before becoming a World War II rarity in the U.S. Army: an Asian American infantry officer. …

He was killed in action. …

World champion boxer Barney Ross singlehandedly fought off nearly two dozen Japanese soldiers during an all-night battle at Guadalcanal, later beat an addiction to morphine and had his life story made into a movie, "Monkey on My Back." …

Olympic diving gold medalist Micki King, a career Air Force officer, was the first woman to serve on the faculty of a U.S. military academy. …

Nestor Chylak, fearing permanent blindness after being struck by a shell at the Battle of the Bulge, was hospitalized for eight weeks with his eyes bandaged before recovering sufficiently to launch a Hall of Fame career in baseball. …

As an umpire. …

Thank you to all the men and women whose military service protects our well being and our freedoms. …

Though there's not enough space to salute them all, regrettably, it would be an honor to learn their stories. …

Thanks also to Geoff Strain of Redondo Beach for inspiring this tribute and providing invaluable research assistance. …

Former Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy, an ex-Army Air Corpsman and son of a wounded World War I vet, once said of the Super Bowl, "This is not a must-win; World War II was a must-win."

jerome.crowe@latimes.com

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