Most Americans thought the Covid-induced craziness would end as we rang in the New Year to 2021, but we were wrong. Now, an entire year has passed following that 2020 “year from hell,” and as much as it pains me to say it, Covid mania is still rampant throughout our nation. However, Covid isn’t the main topic of this article – though it will pop its head in now and again. What I’d like to do in this piece is to honor the brave men and women – some of our National Treasures – that breathed their last in 2021. Whether by illness, accident, tragedy, or old age, here is a list (in no particular order) of some of the famous veterans, leaders, and heroes we lost in 2021.
1. Richard Marcinko
SOFREP has already done numerous pieces on Marcinko, the founder and first Commander of SEAL Team 6, but his death was definitely one that touched the American Special Operations community. Former SEALs and co-workers of Marcinko paid tribute to him through social media and honored his life and legacy at every chance they had. Marcinko infamously gave his new unit the name “SEAL Team 6” for no other reason than to confuse the enemy regarding how many SEAL Teams there were in existence. Marcinko died on Christmas Day at 81 years of age.
2. Donald Rumsfeld
Donald Rumsfeld holds the title for being the only person in history to have been the Secretary of Defense on two separate occasions, and he did so with 30 years between service dates. Rumsfeld was best known for his service at the beginning of George W. Bush’s Presidency, though he had already been in public service for decades when he took that post. Rumsfeld served three years as an aviator in the U.S. Navy as a young man. Following that, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1962 and was subsequently reelected three times. As the Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld established the B-1 bomber, the Trident ballistic missile submarine, and the MX (Peacekeeper) intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) programs. Rumsfeld died on June 29 at 88 years of age.
3. Colin Powell
Colin Powell was a retired Army General and a respected American leader. The son of Jamaican immigrants, Powell grew up in the Harlem and South Bronx sections of New York City and attended the City College of New York. Upon graduation, Powell enlisted into the U.S. Army and served two separate tours in Vietnam (1962–63 and 1968–69). Powell held numerous billets over the following 20+ years before eventually becoming President George H.W. Bush’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1989. In 2001, he was appointed Secretary of State by the second President Bush. Powell resigned from political life in 2004. Powell’s family said he died of Covid complications on October 18 at 84 years of age.
4. Harry Beal
Beal joined the Navy in 1948 and served as a gunner’s mate aboard the USS Shenandoah. He was a member of the underwater demolition team, starting in 1955. The most impressive and unique notch in Beal’s career was that he is said to be the first man in history to sign the roster to become a Navy SEAL. He then served as a Navy SEAL from 1962-1968. Beal died in January at 90 years of age.
5. Houston Tumlin
U.S. Army Veteran Houston Tumlin is probably a name you aren’t familiar with. Tumlin’s claim to fame was that he played Will Farrell’s son in the comedy “Talladega Nights.” That role was the only one Tumlin ever had, but it certainly was a classic. Tumlin eventually went on to join the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell. Fellow soldiers remembered Tumlin as a kind person and an excellent soldier. Tumlin died in March of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at 28 years of age.
6. George Shultz
George Shultz entered public service as a United States Marine during World War II and, in 1944, was detached to the U.S. Army’s 81st Infantry Division at the Battle of Peleliu. Shultz would later be both the Secretary of Labor and Secretary of the Treasury for President Nixon. In 1982, President Reagan named Shultz as Secretary of State. Shultz died in February at 100 years of age.
7. Ed Asner
Beloved actor Ed Asner served with the U.S. Army Signal Corps after being drafted in 1951. During his time in the service, Asner appeared in various plays, where he eventually caught the acting bug. Following his stint in the Army, Asner moved to Chicago, where he helped found the Playwrights Theatre Club. Asner’s big break came in 1970 when he became a part of the Mary Tyler Moore show (along with cast member Betty White who died in 2021 as well). Among Asner’s numerous awards and nominations were five Golden Globe Awards (1972, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980), seven Emmys (1971, 1972, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980), and a SAG Life Achievement Award (2001). Asner died on August 29 at 91 years of age.
8. Betty White
The U.S. Army itself paid Betty White tribute following her death in 2021. On its official Twitter page, the Army said, “We are saddened by the passing of Betty White. Not only was she an amazing actress, but she also served during WWII as a member of the American Women’s Voluntary Services. A true legend on and off the screen.” Though a model by day, White said she worked with the American Women’s Voluntary Services (AWVS) in 1941. According to Military.com, “the AWVS sent female volunteers to take on roles including firefighting, ambulance and truck driving, and aerial photography.” White was awarded a Grammy for her memoir titled If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t) (2011) and was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1995. She died on December 31 at 99 years of age.
9. Edward Shames
Edward Shames was born in Norfolk, Virginia, in June 1922 to Russian Jewish immigrants. He enlisted in the U.S. Army, Sept. 25, 1942, and following basic training, reported to the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. A short two years later, Shames was a sergeant who found himself jumping into Normandy on D-Day as part of Operation Overlord. Shames also fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
On 13 June 1944, Shames received a battlefield commission to second lieutenant. He was best known for being an officer in “Easy Company,” which inspired the HBO miniseries “The Band of Brothers.” At the time of his death, Shames was the last surviving officer and, following the death of Roderick G. Strohl in December 2019, the oldest surviving member of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Following his time in the war, Shames joined the National Security Agency (NSA), where he worked from 1945 until his retirement in 1982. Shames died on December 3 at 99 years of age.
10. U.S. Marines Killed in Afghanistan Attack
The final “person” I’d like to honor is actually a group. On Aug. 26, 2021, 13 U.S. service members were killed as they protected the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, as the U.S. was withdrawing troops from the country.
Shortly after their death, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to award the Congressional Gold Medal to these 13 heroes posthumously:
Lance Cpl. David Lee Espinoza, USMC | Laredo, TX
Sgt. Nicole Gee, USMC | Roseville, CA
Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover, USMC | Salt Lake City, UT
Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss, US Army | Knoxville, TN
Cpl. Hunter Lopez, USMC | Indio, CA
Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, USMC | Bondurant, WY
Cpl. Dylan Merola, USMC | Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, USMC | Norco, CA
Cpl. Daegan William-Tyeler Page, USMC | Omaha, NE
Sgt. Johanny Rosario, USMC | Lawrence, MA
Cpl. Humberto Sanchez, USMC | Logansport, IN
Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz, USMC | Wentzville, MO
Navy Corpsman Maxton Soviak, US Navy | Berlin Heights, OH
As General George S. Patton famously said, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died; rather, we should thank God that such men lived.” Regardless of why these veterans died, it is our responsibility to honor and remember them in their passing.
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