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Posts from the ‘Athletes Who Served’ Category

4
Sep

Military Myths & Legends: Truth is Stranger Than Urban Legends

By LtCol Mike Christy-Together We Served “Dispatches”

For decades there were urban legends floating around that Jerry Mathers, who played the title character on ‘Leave It to Beaver,’ died in Vietnam and that Fred Rogers from the PBS show Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood was either a Navy SEAL or a U.S. Marine Sniper.

Neither of those legends is true, but they serve a purpose of leaving people unable to tell fact from fiction. It’s still a mystery as to why someone would make them up.

But in many cases, it might be said that truth is stranger than an urban legend, and real life stories of celebrities who wore combat boots are much more interesting. You could never make this stuff up!

Take, for example, the case of, an accomplished classical musician who was also a television and stage actor. Werner Klemperer, a native-born German, was forced to leave Germany in 1935 with his family, shortly after Hitler’s Nazi Party took power because Klemperer’s father was Jewish.

After immigrating to the U.S., Klemperer fell in love with his new home and upon the nation’s entry into World War II, he quickly joined the U.S. Army to fight for his country. Many people may not know the name Werner Klemperer, but if someone were to say Col. Wilhelm Klink, you would recognize him as the bumbling, cowardly and self-serving Kommandant of Stalag 13 on “Hogan’s Heroes,” which aired from 1965-1971.

Another actor who served his country during World War II and ended up with an interesting tale that could rank up there with an urban legend was Jimmy Stewart. His real-life story reads like a legend but it’s all true.

Stewart enlisted in the Army as a Private in 1941 but applied for an Air Corps commission as a Second Lieutenant which he received on January 1, 1942, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In August 1943, Stewart was assigned to the 445th Bomb Group as Operations Officer of the 703d Bombardment Squadron. As a pilot on a B-24 Liberator, Stewart flew 20 successful combat missions over Europe during the war, earning two Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Croix de Guerre, and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters. By the time the war was over, he had gone from a Private to a Colonel in just four years.

Stewart continued serving in the Air Force Reserves, eventually retiring in 1968 after attaining the rank of Brigadier General becoming the highest-ranking actor in military history. A lot of people act pretty amazed when they find that out, but it’s one of those true facts that seems stranger than fiction only because of who Stewart was as an actor.

In August 1942, Tyron Power enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He attended boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, then Officer’s Candidate School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, where he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant on June 2, 1943. As he had already logged 180 solo hours as a pilot before enlisting, he was able to do a short, intense flight training program at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas. The pass earned him his wings and a promotion to First Lieutenant. Since the Marine Corps considered Power over the age limit for active combat flying, he volunteered for piloting cargo planes that Power felt would get him into active combat zones.

In July 1944, Tyron Power was assigned to Marine Transport Squadron (VMR)-352 as a transport co-pilot at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. The squadron moved to Marine Corps Air Station El Centro in California in December 1944. Power was later reassigned to VMR-353, joining them on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in February 1945. From there, he flew missions carrying cargo in and wounded Marines out during the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Power returned to the United States in November 1945 and was released from active duty in January 1946. He was promoted to the rank of Captain in the Reserves on May 8, 1951. He remained in the Reserves the rest of his life and reached the rank of major in 1957.

Hedy Lamarr lived the glamorous life of a Golden Age Hollywood actress, starring alongside legends like Clark Gable and Judy Garland in over 18 films during the 1940s. But the Austrian star – widely hailed during her time as the most beautiful woman alive – also had a secret second life: She was a successful wartime inventor.

During World War II, she and composer George Antheil realized that radio-controlled torpedoes, which could be important in the naval war, could easily be jammed, thereby causing the torpedo to go off course. With the knowledge she had gained about torpedoes from her first husband and using a method similar to the way piano rolls work, they drafted designs for a new frequency hopping, a spread-spectrum technology that they later patented.

Their invention was granted a patent on August 11, 1942, filed using her married name Hedy Kiesler Markey. However, it was technologically difficult to implement, and at that time the U.S. Navy was not receptive to considering inventions coming from outside the military. Only in 1962 at the time of the Cuban missile crisis did an updated version of their design appear on Navy ships. The design is one of the important elements behind today’s spread-spectrum communication technology, such as modern CDMA, Wi-Fi networks, and Bluetooth technology.

Lamarr’s earliest inventions included an improved traffic stoplight and a tablet that would dissolve in water to create a carbonated drink. The beverage was unsuccessful; Lamarr herself said it tasted like Alka-Seltzer.

Their concept lies behind the principal anti-jamming device used today in the U.S. government’s Milstar defense communication satellite system. Ms. Lamarr also demonstrated her loyalty to the U.S. by raising seven million dollars in a single evening selling war bonds.

And then, there’s Rocky Blier, who after completing his first year as a rookie in the NFL, was drafted by the Army and sent to Vietnam, where he earned a Bronze Star and received a Purple Heart. Blier was seriously wounded in an ambush by a bullet to the thigh and a hand grenade to the lower right leg. Military doctors told Blier that he would never play football again.

When Rocky returned from the war, he went back to training camp with the Steelers after just one year – weighing only 180 pounds and in incredible pain from his war wounds. Many people might not have been able to do what Blier did; working through the pain and pushing himself hard every day even with the knowledge that he might never be able to play on the active Steeler roster.

It wasn’t until 1974, after years of hard work getting his weight back to well over 200 pounds, that he was put in as a starting running back. Millions of people still remember Blier as a running back who played for a Pittsburgh Steelers team that won four Super Bowls, but they might not remember the important sacrifices he made for his country. Even so, today Rocky’s story continues to inspire others – and it’s just another example of true life events that are much more interesting than fictionalized accounts or made-up rumors.

These were not the only working movie stars and others who would end up in Hollywood as actors fighting in World War II. Among them were Clark Gable, Henry Fonda, Kirk Douglas, Paul Newman, Lee Marvin, George C. Scott, Audrey Hepburn, Art Carney, Charles Bronson, and Charlton Heston.

Although most Americans find tales about celebrities who served in boots interesting, there are many legends about their daring in the military that never happened, like the Beaver killing 7,000 Viet Cong before biting the dust.

There’s nothing that can replace the spirit or sacrifices of real unsung heroes-those who fought and died to keep the U.S. free.

They’re the ones who aren’t famous, they’re the ones who don’t have urban legends told about them, they’re the ones who have never actually heard a word of thanks for their ultimate sacrifice, and they’re the ones who the famous celebrity veterans, along with the rest of us, look up to.

31
Mar

Pvt Joe Garagiola US Army (Served 1944-1946)

joe-garagiolaView the service history of catcher and sportcaster

Pvt Joe Garagiola

US Army

(Served 1944-1946)

View his Service Profile on TogetherWeServed.com

at http://army.togetherweserved.com/profile/397481

Short Bio: Joseph H “Joe” Garagiola was born on February 12, 1926 in St Louis, Missouriand grew up with Yogi Berra. Garagiola was 16 when the St Louis Cardinals signed him in 1942 and sent him to Springfield of the Class C Western Association where he batted .254.

Garagiola advanced to Columbus of the Class AA American Association in 1943 and was with them when he was called into military service on April 24, 1944. After taking basic training at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, Garagiola was sent toFort Riley, Kansas, where he quickly established himself as the catcher for the Fort Riley Centaurs with teammates Rex Barney and Pete Reiser.

Garagiola was sent to the Philippines in 1945 where he played ball for Kirby Higbe’s Manila Dodgers. He was discharged from service in early 1946.

Garagiola passed away Mar 23, 2016 at the age of 90.

3
Mar

View the service history of Baseball Legend

yogiS1c “Yogi” Berra

US Navy

(Served 1943-1946)

View his Service Profile on TogetherWeServed.com at http://navy.togetherweserved.com/profile/536747

Short Bio: In the wartime spring of 1943, a 17-year-old baseball hopeful named Lawrence Peter Berra didn’t know quite what to expect. The stumpy, moon-faced kid better known as Yogi was getting his first taste of professional baseball, a $90-a-month neophyte with the Norfolk (Va.) Tars of the Class B Piedmont League. “Yogi” decided to volunteer for a new kind of Navy boat, called the Landing Craft Support Small (LCSS) Rocket Launcher and found himself off the Normandy coast on D-Day.

30
Sep

PFC Art Donovan US Marine Corps (Served 1943-1945)

View the service history of Football Hall of Famer:

art-donovanPFC Art Donovan

US Marine Corps

(Served 1943-1945)

View his Service Profile on TogetherWeServed.com http://marines.togetherweserved.com/profile/394447

Short Bio: During World War II, he served on active duty from Donavan1943 to 1945, and participated in significant combat operations in the Pacific. Donovan served as a antiaircraft gun crewman aboard the USS San Jacinto where he saw action in the following major raids and battles; Caroline Islands, Leyte Gulf, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and Luzon.

9
Sep

SP4 Rocky Bleier US Army (Served 1968-1971)

View the military service of Football Great:

rockySP4 Rocky Bleier

US Army

(Served 1968-1971)

View his service profile on TogetherWeServed.com:
http://army.togetherweserved.com/profile/342300

Short Bio: Served in Vietnam. Was drafted in December 1968. He volunteered for duty in the Vietnam War and shipped out in May 1969, serving with the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. On August 20, while on patrol in Heip Duc, Bleier was wounded in the left thigh by a rifle bullet when his platoon was ambushed in a rice paddy. While down, an enemy grenade landed nearby after bouncing off a fellow soldier, sending shrapnel into his lower right leg. He was later awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

17
Jun

View the Military Service of Baseball Legend

jackie robinson2LT Jackie Robinson

US Army

(Served 1942-1944)
Shadow Box: http://army.togetherweserved.com/profile/355353

Short Bio: Hall of Fame Major League Baseball Player, Social Reformer. Famed baseball player and civil rights advocate who became the first African-American to play in modern major league baseball.

An event on July 6, 1944, derailed Robinson’s military career. While awaiting results of hospital tests on the ankle he had injured in junior college, Robinson boarded an Army bus with a fellow officer’s wife; although the Army had commissioned its own unsegregated bus line, the bus driver ordered Robinson to move to the back of the bus. Robinson refused. The driver backed down, but after reaching the end of the line, summoned the military police, who took Robinson into custody. When Robinson later confronted the investigating duty officer about racist questioning by the officer and his assistant, the officer recommended Robinson be court-martialed. After Robinson’s commander in the 761st, Paul L. Bates, refused to authorize the legal action, Robinson was summarily transferred to the 758th Battalion  where the commander quickly consented to charge Robinson with multiple offenses, including, among other charges, public drunkenness, even though Robinson did not drink. By the time of the court-martial in August 1944, the charges against Robinson had been reduced to two counts of insubordination during questioning. Robinson was acquitted by an all-white panel of nine officers. The experiences Robinson was subjected to during the court proceedings would be remembered when he later joined MLB and was subjected to racist attacks. Although his former unit, the 761st Tank Battalion, became the first black tank unit to see combat in World War II, Robinson’s court-martial proceedings prohibited him from being deployed overseas, thus he never saw combat action. After his acquittal, he was transferred to Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky, where he served as a coach for army athletics until receiving an honorable discharge in November 1944.

 

10
Jun

1stLt Patty Berg US Marine Corps (Served 1942-1945)

N-BergMarineCorp_6041803_ver1.0_640_480

View the service history of LPGA Legend:

1stLt Patty Berg

US Marine Corps

(1942-1945)

Shadow Box http://marines.togetherweserved.com/profile/395088

Short Bio:Patricia J. Berg started playing golf at the age of fourteen. Two years later she won the Minneapolis City Championship and at eighteen she was the state amateur champion. Winning twenty-nine titles in seven years, including the 1938 U. S. Amateur, and she was easily the most famous female golfer in the country.

Berg joined the Marine Corps in 1943. She was a Procurement Officer with the Eastern Procurement Division in Philadelphia, PA until 1945.

29
Apr

LCpl Lee Trevino US Marine Corps (Served 1956-1960)

View the Military Service of Golf Legend:

trevinoLCpl Lee Trevino

US Marine Corps

(Served 1956-1960)

View his Service Profile on TogetherWeServed.com at
http://marines.togetherweserved.com/profile/360911

Short Bio: Trevino was born into poverty and never knew his father. He was raised by his mother and his grandfather, a gravedigger. Lee began working at a very early age, toiling in the Texas cotton fields as young as age 5.

But when an uncle gave him a rusty golf club and a few beat-up balls, the young Trevino found his calling. He began caddying at age eight, sometimes attending school but more often working or practicing golf.

At age 17, Trevino joined the Marines and served four years. Following his discharge, he returned to golf, becoming a club pro in 1960.

24
Nov

Capt Billy Mills US Marine Corps (Served 1962-1971)

Mills.Billy2.JPGView the military service of Olympian, Humanitarian

Capt Billy Mills

US Marine Corps

(Served 1962-1971)
Shadow Box: http://marines.togetherweserved.com/profile/104175

Short Bio: In 1964, Billy Mills provided one of those moments for the past millennium. The U.S. runner pulled off one of the greatest, if not the greatest, upset in Olympic history by winning the 10,000-meter run at the Tokyo Summer Games. Mills’ path to the Marine Corps, as well as the Olympics, was littered with road blocks of poverty and racism. Mills, was born an Oglala Sioux on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation, traditionally one of the most impoverished in America.

3
Nov

1stLt Tom Harmon US Army Air Force (1941-1945)

View the military service of Heisman Trophy Winner/Sportscaster:

tom harmon1stLt Tom Harmon

US Army Air Force

(Served 1941-1945)

Shadow Box: http://airforce.togetherweserved.com/profile/174189

Short Bio: Twice during World War II he was reported missing in action. In April 1943 he crashed into the jungles of Dutch Guiana, which is now Suriname, and marched alone through swamps and rain forests four days before he was rescued by natives.

(Veterans – record and share your own service story with friends and family by joining www.togetherweserved.com. This is a free service)

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