Legends on Two Fields: Remembering Athletes Who Answered the Call to Serve

Millions of kids grow up in the United States and have dreams of one day becoming a professional athlete. They spend countless hours and years working hard for this dream, and the odds of making it to the upper level of any sport are low. The competition is intense and the open spots are few, even for those athletes that excel in college sports. In a 2012 study, the NCAA found that the chances of going from college to pro were less than two percent for football, basketball, hockey, and soccer. Individuals such as Pat Tilman, Bob Kalsu, and Jack Lummus worked hard for their dreams, and against all odds made it to the NFL. While their talents showed their love for football, these men also had a passion to serve their country. These men gave up a promising career they worked nearly their entire lives to achieve to selflessly volunteer in our Armed Services, and ultimately sacrifice their lives for our country.

Pat Tilman, from Arizona State University was drafted in the seventh round of the 1998 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. As expected, Tilman was fulfilling a promising career and in four seasons, he recorded 238 tackles and three interceptions as a safety, and was named an All-Pro in 2000. In 2001 he was offered a three-year, $3.6 million contract from the Cardinals but turned it down to enlist in the U.S. Army to answer the nation’s call after the 9/11 attacks. Tilman was a part of the initial invasion of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and when he returned, he immediately attended Ranger school. Soon after graduating in 2003, he redeployed to Afghanistan.On April 22, 2004, he was killed in a friendly fire incident. He was awarded a Silver Star, Purple Heart, a posthumous promotion, and his number was retired both by the Cardinals and college team Arizona State.

Bob Kalsu graduated from Oklahoma University as an All-American and was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1968. Many say he had the potential for a Hall-of-Fame career. Kalsu also had a ROTC obligation, and enlisted in the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant after his rookie season in the NFL. Even though Kaslu had the opportunity to join the Reserves, he decided to go on active duty because he wanted to keep the promise he made when he joined ROTC to serve.  Joining the Army in midst of a war, he was deployed to Vietnam in 1969 as part of the 101st Airborne Division. One year later on July 21, 1970 Kalsu’s unit came under attack where he was shot and killed. He was awarded a Bronze Star, and Purple Heart.


Jack Lummus, was a two-sport athlete at Baylor University, and signed as free agent to the New York Giants. On December 7, 1941, the Giants were playing the Brooklyn Dodgers when Japanese airplanes attacked the American Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, a tragedy that would change the course of Lummus’s career. After the Giants faced the Chicago Bears in the championship game, Lummus enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve on January 30, 1942. Three years later he was deployed to the island of Iwo Jima where he would die as an American hero and earn the Medal of Honor for his actions. On March 8th, Lummus’s platoon went under attack where he received minor wounds from grenade shrapnel. However, that did not stop him from leading his platoon to destroy three enemy strongholds. Following this action, he stepped on a landmine and was mortally wounded. While being treated at the aid station, Lummus told his doctor “Well Doc, the New York Giants lost a mighty good end today.”


These men, among several others decided to forgo their dream of playing in the NFL and millions of dollars to serve. They all understood what it meant to fight for freedom, take pride in their duty, and ultimately gave their life for this country.
The Purple Heart Foundation is committed to honoring our heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country. Nearly 90 percent of cash donations the Purple Heart Foundation receives provide funds for programs that help the National Service Officer Program, the Scholarship Program, as well as other programs. It is our goal to help make the transition from the battlefield to the home front a smooth one for all of our men and women in uniform who defend our freedom. Show your support for them by making a one-time or monthly pledge to make sure they continue to receive the support and benefits they deserve by clicking here.

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