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Memorial Day: A Tribute to Fallen Hero Athletes

At times, we can all be confused by two distinct American holidays: Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day. To clarify, Memorial Day is a federal holiday intended to remember those who died while serving in the armed forces. Veteran’s Day is an official holiday that honors military veterans. Today, Memorial Day cookouts and gatherings will be commonplace. War movies will be predominantly aired on television. But, surpassing casual observances are real stories of true American heroes that should never be forgotten. From the Greatest Generation and beyond, a number of athletes have taken up arms when their nation called. Let’s take a look and pay tribute to three that paid the ultimate sacrifice:

Bob Kalsu

As an Oklahoma Sooner, Kalsu was an All American tackle. Along with being a gridiron star, the Oklahoma City native completed ROTC and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Army. Following a stellar year for the Buffalo Bills in which he earned the team’s Rookie of the Year award, 2LT Kalsu entered active service and was later deployed to Vietnam. While serving in the 101st Airborne, 1LT Kalsu was killed in combat action on July 23rd, 1970 at Firebase Ripcord. He was survived by his wife Jan and daughter Jill. His son James Robert Kalsu Jr. was born just two days after his death. He was 25.

Sacrifice – to give up something that is valuable to you in order to help another person.

Jack Lummus

Lummus was football and baseball star at Baylor University. Upon graduation he went on to play for the New York Football Giants before eventually enlisting into the United States Marine Corps. After earning the rank of Corporal, Lummus attended and graduated from Officer Training School. In the first wave to land on Iwo Jima on February 19th, 1945; his platoon engaged the enemy for two straight weeks. After being wounded by grenade shrapnel, 1st Lt. Lummus knocked out three enemy fighting positions before losing both legs after stepping on a land-mine. He succumbed to his wounds while on the operating table. The Ellis County, Texas native was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. He was 29.

An excerpt from Jack Lummus’ Medal of Honor citation:

Although knocked to the ground when an enemy grenade exploded close by, he immediately recovered himself and, again moving forward despite the intensified barrage, quickly located, attacked and destroyed the occupied emplacement. Instantly taken under fire by the garrison of a supporting pillbox and further assailed by the slashing fury of hostile rifle fire, he fell under the impact of a second enemy grenade but, courageously disregarding painful shoulder wounds, staunchly continued his heroic one-man assault and charged the second pillbox, annihilating all the occupants. Subsequently returning to his platoon position, he fearlessly traversed his lines under fire, encouraging his men to advance and directing the fire of supporting tanks against other stubbornly holding Japanese emplacements. Held up again by a devastating barrage, he again moved into the open, rushed a third heavily fortified installation and killed the defending troops. Determined to crush all resistance, he led his men indomitably, personally attacking foxholes and spider traps with his carbine and systematically reducing the fanatic opposition, until, stepping on a land mine, he sustained fatal wounds.

Courage – strength in the face of pain or grief.

Pat Tillman 

In the prime of his NFL career, Arizona Cardinal safety Pat Tillman left professional football to enlist into the United States Army. As a member of the elite 75th Ranger Regiment, Tillman deployed in support of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. On April 22nd, 2004; Pat Tillman was killed in action by friendly fire. As the first professional athlete killed in action since Bob Kalsu, the Arizona State alumnus was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. He was 27.

Duty – moral or legal obligation; a responsibility.

So on Memorial Day, honor those that heroically gave all by enjoying the simple freedoms for which they courageously protected. May God Bless Our United States of America.

Article written by Freddie Maggard

Former University of Kentucky Quarterback and Andy Griffith Fan Club President