Special Report

Greatest Athletes Who Served in the US Military

Source: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

David Robinson
> Branch of service: Navy
> Served: 1987-1989
> Sport NBA
> Position, team(s): Center: San Antonio Spurs
> Accolades: MVP, 10x All-Star, Hall of Fame

David Robinson was not a highly touted high school basketball player, so he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Academy, where his dad went. While there, he hit a major growth spurt, going from 6’7″ to 7’0″, and he worked to become a dominant force on the court. Robinson was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs first overall in 1987, but he didn’t make his debut until 1989, after he had fulfilled his two-year commitment to the Navy.

Source: Courtesy of the Boston Public Library / Wikimedia Commons

Frank Brimsek
> Branch of service: Coast Guard
> Served: 1943-1945
> Sport NHL
> Position, team(s): Goaltender: Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks
> Accolades: 2x Vezina Trophy, 8x All-Star, Hall of Fame

Frank Brimsek was only the second American goaltender to man the net for a Stanley Cup champion, hoisting the Cup twice for the Boston Bruins in 1938-39 and 1940-41. He was nicknamed “Mr. Zero” for his many shutouts. Brimsek won the Vezina Trophy twice and led the Bruins to the playoffs in all nine years he played for them. After the United States entered World War II, he joined the Coast Guard and played one season with the Coast Guard Cutters.

Source: library_of_congress / Flickr

Grover Cleveland Alexander
> Branch of service: Army
> Served: 1918-1919
> Sport MLB
> Position, team(s): Pitcher: Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies
> Accolades: 3x Triple Crown, 5x ERA Title, Hall of Fame

Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander was one of the greatest pitchers of the early 20th century. A control specialist, Alexander averaged 30 wins a season from 1914 to 1917 for the Philadelphia Phillies. The Nebraska farm boy left for France in 1918 to fight Germany in World War I and came back scarred physically and psychologically. He had epileptic seizures, suffered from what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder, and battled alcoholism. He managed to return to the major leagues and helped the St. Louis Cardinals defeat the New York Yankees in the 1926 World Series.

Source: FPG / Getty Images

Hank Greenberg
> Branch of service: Army
> Served: 1941-1945
> Sport MLB
> Position, team(s): First base: Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates
> Accolades: 2x MVP, 5x All-Star, Hall of Fame

Hank Greenberg was one of the greatest right-handed hitters ever. The Detroit TigerS slugger led the Bengals to the world championship in 1935. Greenberg was the first player in MLB history to win the most valuable player at two positions — first base and outfield. Greenberg, who battled anti-Semitism during his playing career, entered military service in May 1941 and was discharged Dec. 5, two days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He immediately re-enlisted and served until 1945, just in time to help the Tigers win another pennant.

Source: Princeton Frist Campus Center / Wikimedia Commons

Hobey Baker
> Branch of service: Army
> Served: 1917-1918
> Sport Hockey
> Position, team(s): Winger: Princeton University
> Accolades: Hall of Fame

Hobey Baker was a highly skilled hockey player for Princeton University in the early part of the 20th century. Baker was one of the first American players elected to the hockey hall of fame. Baker’s gallantry and grace extended to his military service as well. Before the United States entered World War I, Baker learned to fly and joined the storied Lafayette Escadrille, American pilots who flew for France. He was credited with shooting down three enemy planes before he was killed in a plane crash after the armistice.

College hockey’s most prestigious award is named after Baker, recognizing the top player for his skills as well as his sportsmanship and character.