NFL War Dead: 25 Gave Their Lives In Service To U.S.

Cold, Hard Football Facts for May 27, 2013

By Ken Crippen
Executive director Pro Football Researchers' Association

As we spend Memorial Day weekend having picnics and barbeques, as we watch the parades, let’s not forget those who have served this country and have given the ultimate sacrifice.

Twenty-five NFL players, coaches or executives were killed in service to their country, 20 of them in World War II alone. More than 1,000 NFLers served in the military, almost all of them in World War II according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including notables known to most current fans: Tom Landry, Marv Levy, Pete Rozelle, among many others.

Regardless of your opinions on wars fought on foreign lands, NFL players have given their lives for our country. Below, we pay tribute to these fallen heroes on Memorial Day.

PlayerTeamsDeath DateCircumstances
Cpl. Nick Basca1941 Philadelphia EaglesNovember 11, 1944Killed in France.
Lt. Charlie Behan1942 Detroit LionsMay 18, 1945Killed in Okinawa.
Maj. Keith Birlem1939 Chicago Cardinals,
1939 Washington Redskins
May 7, 1943Killed while trying to land a combat-damaged bomber in England.
Lt. Al Blozis1942-1944 New York GiantsJanuary 31, 1945Killed in Colmar, France.
Lt. Chuck Braidwood1930 Portsmouth Spartans,
1931 Cleveland Indians,
1932 Chicago Cardinals,
1933 Cincinnati Reds
January 8, 1945Killed in South Pacific.
Lt. Young Bussey1941 Chicago BearsJanuary 7, 1945Killed in Lingayen Gulf, Phillippines.
Capt. Eddie Doyle1924 Frankford Yellowjackets,
1925 Pottsville Maroons
November 8, 1942Killed in Morocco.
Lt. Col. Grassy Hinton1932 Staten Island StapletonsDecember 10, 1944Killed in plane crash in East Indies.
Capt. Smiley Johnson1940-1941 Green Bay PackersFebruary 26, 1945Killed on Iwo Jima.
Lt. Eddie Kahn1935-1936 Boston Redskins,
1937 Washington Redskins
February 17, 1945Died from wounds suffered during Leyete (Phillippines) invasion.
Sgt. Alex Ketzko1943 Detroit LionsDecember 23, 1944Killed in France.
Capt. Lee Kizzire1937 Detroit LionsDecember 5, 1943Shot down near New Guinea.
Lt. Jack Lummus1941 New York GiantsMarch 8, 1945Killed on Iwo Jima.
Pvt. Jim Mooney1930 Newark Tornadoes,
1930-1931 Brooklyn Dodgers,
1933-1934 Cincinnati Reds,
1935 Chicago Cardinals
August 12, 1944Killed by sniper in France.
Lt. Don Wemple1941 Brooklyn DodgersJune 23, 1943Killed in a plane crash in India.
Capt. Waddy Young1939-1940 Brooklyn DodgersJanuary 9, 1945Killed in a plane crash in Tokyo, Japan.

Bob Mackert appears on a few lists of player deaths. Those lists seem to confuse Bob Mackert with Roy Mackert. Roy played for the 1925 Rochester Jeffersons and served in the Army until 1918. Roy died February 12, 1942. Bob Mackert went missing in July 1944 and was later declared dead. Bob Mackert never played in the NFL.
Frank Maher appears on some lists as being killed during World War II. Frank died April 11, 1992 in Toledo, OH.
WORLD WAR II (Non-Combat)

PlayerTeamsDeath DateCircumstances
Capt. Bill McCaw1923 Racine Cardinals,
1926 Louisville Colonels
April 19, 1942Heart attack while broadcasting at a radio station in Bloomington, IN.
Chief Spc. Gus Sonnenberg1923 Columbus Panhandles,
1923 Buffalo All-Americans,
1925-1926 Detroit Panthers,
1927-1928, 1930 Providence Steamroller
September 13, 1944Died of leukemia at Bethesda Naval Hospital.
Lt. Len Supulski1942 Philadelphia EaglesAugust 31, 1943Killed in a plane crash near Kearney, Nebraska.
Lt. Chet Wetterlund1942 Detroit LionsSeptember 5, 1944Killed in a plane crash off New Jersey coast.

WORLD WAR II (Non-Player)

PersonTeamsDeath DateCircumstances
Lt. Jack Chevigny1932 Chicago Cardinals
(Head Coach)
February 19, 1945Killed on Iwo Jima.
Lt. John O’KeefePhiladelphiaEagles
(Front Office)
-Killed while flying a patrol mission in Panama Canal Zone.




PlayerTeamsDeath DateCircumstances
Lt. Bob Kalsu1968 Buffalo BillsJuly 21, 1970Killed at Base Ripcord.
Maj. Don Steinbrunner1953 Cleveland BrownsJuly 20, 1967Shot down over Kontum, South Vietnam


PlayerTeamsDeath DateCircumstances
Cpl. Pat Tillman1998-2001 Arizona CardinalsApril 22, 2004Friendly fire.

Ken Crippen is the executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to preserving football history. You can follow him on Twitter: @KenCrippen.

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