Pro football's battlefield heroes

Cold, Hard Football Facts for May 23, 2007



"I hope that in victory we are more grateful than we are proud. I hope we can rejoice in victory – but humbly. The dead men would not want us to gloat." – World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle
 
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It's hard to explain the passion Americans have for football. Nearly 140 years after its creation, and 80 years after college football became the nation's greatest spectator sport, football continues to grow in popularity and distance itself from other sports.
 
Why do we love the game so much?
 
Here's one of our simple theories: Football, and the all-encompassing culture of pageantry that surrounds it, is more than a game. It is a celebration of American excess, the richness and bounty of our land and the strength of our youth.
 
Football teaches Americans that we have a lot for which to be grateful. Our entire site is dedicated to celebrating football and football culture. So we, more than most others, have much for which to be grateful.

Here on Memorial Day weekend, we want to pay tribute to those men who excelled on the football field and then gave their lives on the battlefield.
 
Twenty-six members of the NFL – players, coaches and administrators – have been killed in wartime as members of the U.S. military, 23 in World War II alone. The entire list can be found here. Countless more from the college ranks, including 1939 Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick of Iowa, also went on to serve and die in the wartime military.
 
Each of these men gave a little of themselves to make football a better game. In fact, as you will see below, some of these men were central figures in legendary moments in the history of the game.
 
But, more importantly, these men gave everything of themselves to make our planet a better, safer place. It's because of these men that we can sit here today, fat, safe and happy, drink beer, eat too much food and celebrate a sport and a nation for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.
 
We can't do justice to all 26 men on the list. So we picked one battle in American history, the World War II fight for Iwo Jima, and found three NFL players who died on the island, thousands of miles from the football fields of home. Their stories are among those found below:
 
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The NFL's war dead – 26 members of the NFL have been killed in combat from World War II to Afghanistan.
 
Badass American mo-fos – A look at the toughest, ballsiest men in American military history.
 
Hero of Iwo Jima: Jack Lummus – N.Y. Giants end and winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor; killed on Iwo.

Hero of Iwo Jima: Jack Chevigny – Cardinals coach and Notre Dame legend who scored winning TD in "Win one for the Gipper" game; killed in Iwo.

Hero of Iwo Jima: Howard "Smiley" Johnson – Green Bay Packers end honored for heroism in two World War II battles; killed on Iwo.

Pro Football Hall of Fame list of WWII veterans – 995 members of the NFL served in the military in World War II, including some of the biggest names in the history of the game.

Pro Football Hall of Fame list of Korean War veterans  – 200 members of the NFL served in the military in the Korean War, including Hall of Famers such as Ollie Matson and Night Train Lane.

Pro Football Hall of Fame list of Vietnam War veterans  – 28 members of the NFL served in the military during the Vietnam War, including Hall of Famers Charlie Joiner, Ray Nitschke and Roger Staubach.

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