They played sports and wore the nation's uniform

Connecting Vets
May 29, 2020 - 3:45 pm

Department of Defense

By David Vergun

DoD News

Almost every sporting event in the United States has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an absence noted by the many service members who are ardent sports fans and enjoy playing sports. Because the games are mostly on hold, here's a look at a few sports legends who also served in the military.

Jill Bakken

Army Spc. Jill Bakken, a Utah National Guard soldier, captured Olympic gold as the driver in the bobsled during the 2002 Olympic Games in Park City, Utah. 

Bakken joined the Utah Guard's 115th Engineer Group in Draper, south of Salt Lake City, in March 2000. She then became a member of the Army World Class Athlete Program, which provides support to soldiers who aspire to join the U.S. Olympic team. The program’s headquarters is at Fort Carson, Colorado.

Department of Defense

Vonetta Flowers, who was Bakken’s brakeman, became the first African American ever to win Winter Olympic gold on that historic run.

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George McAfee

The National Football League’s record for punt returns, an average 12.78 yards, was set during the 1940s by George McAfee. And the record still stands.

In 1940, McAfee was drafted by the Chicago Bears, helping to lead the team to a National Football League championship that year and the next. He put his football career on hold following the 1941 season to join the Navy at the start of World War II, serving until the war ended in 1945. After the war, he returned to play in Chicago, remaining with the Bears until 1950.

Football and military service was a family tradition. McAfee’s brother, Wes, played for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in 1941 and then volunteered for military service after playing just a single season. 

In the 1950s, the two brothers co-founded the McAfee Oil Company.

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Bill Sharman

Another sports legend whose aspirations were put on hold while he served in the Navy from 1944 to 1946 during World War II is basketball great Bill Sharman. Sharman served aboard the USS Oceanus, a battle-damage repair ship. 

Department of Defense

In October 1945, shortly after the war ended, Sharman and his 200 USS Oceanus crewmates sailed up the Yangtze River to Shanghai, China, to service landing and patrol craft assigned to the China Group. While there, Sharman organized basketball games for the crew, and by December 1945, the ship and crew sailed to San Diego.

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