Special Report

Greatest Athletes Who Served in the US Military

Source: Getty Images

Ted Williams
> Branch of service: Navy
> Served: 1942-1946, 1952-1953
> Sport MLB
> Position, team(s): Left field: Boston Red Sox
> Accolades: 2x MVP, 6x Batting title, Hall of Fame

After joining the Navy, Ted Williams wanted to get into the action. He told reporters, “I’m hoping I’ll get into the air quick to start some slugging against the Axis.” After extensive training, Williams got his wings, but the war ended soon after. Williams was recalled to active duty to fight in the Korean War in 1952. This time, he flew dozens of combat missions. Future astronaut John Glenn, who happened to serve in the same squadron, said Williams was an “excellent pilot.”

Source: Simon Russell / Getty Images

Tom Seaver
> Branch of service: Marine Corps
> Served: 1962-1963
> Sport MLB
> Position, team(s): Pitcher: New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox
> Accolades: 3x Cy Young, 12x All-Star, Hall of Fame

Tom Seaver loved to pitch in his early days but did not have the physical prowess to dominate his opponents. He joined the Marines after high school, and the fitness training he underwent after enlisting helped him in his baseball career. After a year of service, he was discovered by the coaches at USC and set off on his Hall of Fame baseball career.

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Ty Cobb
> Branch of service: Army
> Served: 1918-1919
> Sport MLB
> Position, team(s): Center field: Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Athletics
> Accolades: MVP, 12x Batting title, Hall of Fame

Ty Cobb narrowly avoided disaster in his stint in the Army. After being promoted to captain and shipped off to France to fight in World War I, Cobb was tasked with preparing soldiers for chemical warfare. During one training exercise where troops would practice putting on protective masks, things went awry and Cobb and his soldiers were exposed to poison gas. Several died and Cobb fell ill for weeks, though he would recover and return to baseball after the war ended in 1919.

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Warren Spahn
> Branch of service: Army
> Served: 1942-1946
> Sport MLB
> Position, team(s): Pitcher: Milwaukee Braves, New York Mets, San Francisco Giants
> Accolades: Cy Young, 3x ERA Title, Hall of Fame

Warren Spahn won 363 games over a 21-year career, the most of any left-handed pitcher in baseball history. Spahn began his career in 1942 and was called up to serve in the Army that year. He was involved in the Battle of the Bulge and the fight to take the bridge at Remagen. Spahn won a Purple Heart after he was wounded by shrapnel. He returned to pitch for the Braves and helped them reach the World Series in 1948, 1957, and 1958.

Source: Jim McIsaac / Getty Images

Whitey Ford
> Branch of service: Army
> Served: 1950-1952
> Sport MLB
> Position, team(s): Pitcher: New York Yankees
> Accolades: Cy Young, 10x All-Star, Hall of Fame

Whitey Ford began his baseball career with the highest of highs, winning the clinching game of the 1950 World Series. After the season, Ford found out he had been drafted and joined the Army, working as a radar operator. He would later return and win five more World Series titles.