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Three-Time War Vet, Former Player, Delivers NFL Game Ball

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

CANTON, Ohio, Aug. 10, 2004 – A retired Marine who served in three wars and played professional football for four years delivered the game ball to the field here Aug. 9 for the National Football League's annual Hall of Fame Game.

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Retired Col. Ralph Heywood delivered the game ball to the field Aug. 9 for the National Football League's Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Looking distinguished in a black jacket and cowboy hat, Heywood delivbered the ball to help begin the Denver Broncos vs. Washington Redskins pre-season game, which the Redskins won, 20-17.

A 1943 All-American end and punter for the University of Southern California, Heywood enlisted in the Marine Corps in the same year to fight in World War II. He entered a program that allowed him to stay in school while learning the military basics.

During World War II, the V-12 program was initiated to meet the increased need for Navy and Marine Corps officers. The program allowed officer candidates to attend civilian schools while in an enlisted status in the Navy or Marine Corps. But Heywood was shipped off to the war before he had a chance to graduate.

Heywood, a decorated career officer, fought in three campaigns in the Pacific theater while aboard the USS Iowa. He was discharged from active duty in 1946.

When he returned from the war, Heywood talked to USC regarding completing his remaining requirements for graduation. He was eight units short of graduating, and the university awarded him 10 units in military science, based on his service.

He was then drafted by the Chicago Rockets, an All-America Football Conference team, and then moved to the NFL's Detroit Lions in 1947. The Boston Yanks picked him during the 1948 season before they became the New York Bulldogs in 1949. During his four-year pro football career, Heywood played both end and punter.

Heywood resumed his active-duty military career at the height of the Korean War in 1952. He also fought in the Vietnam War, taking command of the 26th Marine Regiment in the Republic of Vietnam.

When he finally left the military for good after 32 years, he became the commandant of cadets at the Marine Military Academy in Texas.

Currently living with his wife, Suzie, and their horses and dogs in Bandera, Texas, Johnson said he has often compared characteristics of life on the gridiron to life on the battlefield. "I've used that analogy many times," Heywood said.

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