By Ken Crippen
Executive director Pro Football Researchers' Association


As we spend the 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.
 
 
WORLD WAR II (Player)

Player Teams Death Date Circumstances
Cpl. Nick Basca 1941 Philadelphia Eagles November 11, 1944 Killed in France.
Lt. Charlie Behan 1942 Detroit Lions May 18, 1945 Killed in Okinawa.
Maj. Keith Birlem 1939 Chicago Cardinals,
1939 Washington Redskins
May 7, 1943 Killed while trying to land a combat-damaged bomber in England.
Lt. Al Blozis 1942-1944 New York Giants January 31, 1945 Killed in Colmar, France.
Lt. Chuck Braidwood 1930 Portsmouth Spartans,
1931 Cleveland Indians,
1932 Chicago Cardinals,
1933 Cincinnati Reds
January 8, 1945 Killed in South Pacific.
Lt. Young Bussey 1941 Chicago Bears January 7, 1945 Killed in Lingayen Gulf, Phillippines.
Capt. Eddie Doyle 1924 Frankford Yellowjackets,
1925 Pottsville Maroons
November 8, 1942 Killed in Morocco.
Lt. Col. Grassy Hinton 1932 Staten Island Stapletons December 10, 1944 Killed in plane crash in East Indies.
Capt. Smiley Johnson 1940-1941 Green Bay Packers February 26, 1945 Killed on Iwo Jima.
Lt. Eddie Kahn 1935-1936 Boston Redskins,
1937 Washington Redskins
February 17, 1945 Died from wounds suffered during Leyete (Phillippines) invasion.
Sgt. Alex Ketzko 1943 Detroit Lions December 23, 1944 Killed in France.
Capt. Lee Kizzire 1937 Detroit Lions December 5, 1943 Shot down near New Guinea.
Lt. Jack Lummus 1941 New York Giants March 8, 1945 Killed on Iwo Jima.
Pvt. Jim Mooney 1930 Newark Tornadoes,
1930-1931 Brooklyn Dodgers,
1933-1934 Cincinnati Reds,
1935 Chicago Cardinals
August 12, 1944 Killed by sniper in France.
Lt. Don Wemple 1941 Brooklyn Dodgers June 23, 1943 Killed in a plane crash in India.
Capt. Waddy Young 1939-1940 Brooklyn Dodgers January 9, 1945 Killed 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)

Player Teams Death Date Circumstances
Capt. Bill McCaw 1923 Racine Cardinals,
1926 Louisville Colonels
April 19, 1942 Heart attack while broadcasting at a radio station in Bloomington, IN.
Chief Spc. Gus Sonnenberg 1923 Columbus Panhandles,
1923 Buffalo All-Americans,
1925-1926 Detroit Panthers,
1927-1928, 1930 Providence Steamroller
September 13, 1944 Died of leukemia at Bethesda Naval Hospital.
Lt. Len Supulski 1942 Philadelphia Eagles August 31, 1943 Killed in a plane crash near Kearney, Nebraska.
Lt. Chet Wetterlund 1942 Detroit Lions September 5, 1944 Killed in a plane crash off New Jersey coast.

 
 
WORLD WAR II (Non-Player)

Person Teams Death Date Circumstances
Lt. Jack Chevigny 1932 Chicago Cardinals
(Head Coach)
February 19, 1945 Killed on Iwo Jima.
Lt. John O’Keefe PhiladelphiaEagles
(Front Office)
- Killed while flying a patrol mission in Panama Canal Zone.

 
 
KOREA

None
 
VIETNAM

Player Teams Death Date Circumstances
Lt. Bob Kalsu 1968 Buffalo Bills July 21, 1970 Killed at Base Ripcord.
Maj. Don Steinbrunner 1953 Cleveland Browns July 20, 1967 Shot down over Kontum, South Vietnam

 
 
AFGHANISTAN

Player Teams Death Date Circumstances
Cpl. Pat Tillman 1998-2001 Arizona Cardinals April 22, 2004 Friendly 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.