Willie Mays: A Baseball Legend and an American Soldier

The world of baseball lost a legend yesterday, and the military community lost one of our own. Willie Mays, renowned for his extraordinary prowess on the baseball diamond, also served his country with honor and distinction. While many remember him for his electrifying plays, few are aware of his contributions as a serviceman, which embodied the same dedication and excellence he displayed in his athletic career.

Mays at FT Eustis
Mays at FT Eustis in 1953. Image Credit: Facebook

Born on May 6, 1931, in Westfield, Alabama, Mays grew up during a time when the country was embroiled in World War II and later the Korean War. His natural athletic talents were apparent from an early age, but his path to greatness was interrupted by his call to serve in the United States Army. In 1952, at the height of his burgeoning baseball career with the New York Giants, Mays was drafted into the military.

Mays’ military service during the Korean War exemplified his commitment to his country. Stationed at Fort Eustis in Virginia, he served as a physical training instructor, where he used his athletic skills to improve the physical fitness of his fellow soldiers. His time in the Army was marked by a continuation of his passion for baseball, as he played for the Fort Eustis baseball team. Even in uniform, Mays’ talent shone brightly, and he quickly became a star on the military baseball circuit.

A Legacy of Service and Excellence

Despite the interruption to his professional career, Mays never wavered in his duty. His two-year service period displayed his dedication to his country and highlighted the sacrifices many athletes made during the conflict. Mays’ time in the Army is a testament to his character, reflecting the same perseverance and determination he later brought to his illustrious baseball career.

After completing his military service, Mays returned to the Giants in 1954, where he quickly reclaimed his status as one of the sport’s premier talents. His iconic over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series remains one of baseball’s most memorable moments. Throughout his career, Mays amassed 660 home runs, earned 24 All-Star selections, and secured two MVP awards, solidifying his place as one of the greatest baseball players of all time.

However, beyond his athletic achievements, it is important to remember Willie Mays as a patriot. His military service is a significant yet often overlooked aspect of his life that deserves recognition. In an era when many of his peers were called to serve, Mays answered the call without hesitation, demonstrating the same courage and resilience that characterized his sports career.