Feature   Know Your Military

Sports Heroes Who Served: Nolan Ryan, Charley Paddock

June 30, 2020 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

Almost every sporting event in the United States has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To help fill the void, this series looks at sports heroes who also served in the military.

Nolan Ryan

Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan left a lasting mark in baseball, pitching for the New York Mets (1966 and 1968-1971), California Angels (1972-1979), Houston Astros (1980-1988) and Texas Rangers (1989-1993).

A pitcher prepares to throw a baseball.
Nolan Ryan
Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, then with the Texas Rangers, warms up in the bullpen at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, in 1990.
Photo By: Courtesy of Chuck Andersen
VIRIN: 900628-O-ZZ999-001

Notice that 1967 is missing from his timeline with the Mets, his only broken service with Major League Baseball. He missed that year because he joined and served in the Army Reserve. 

Some of Ryan's numerous achievements include:

  • 5,714 strikeouts, which still stands as an MLB record;
  • Seven no-hitters, three more than any other pitcher; and
  • Tied with Hall of Famer Bob Feller for the most one-hitters: 12.
  • Incidentally, Feller, who pitched for 18 seasons with the Cleveland Indians, was a World War II Navy veteran.

A pitcher throws a ball.
Nolan Ryan
Nolan Ryan, then with the Houston Astros, pitches at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, June 28, 1983.
Photo By: Courtesy photo
VIRIN: 830628-O-ZZ999-001

Charley Paddock

In the 1920s, Charley Paddock was known as the "fastest man alive." He also served as an Army lieutenant in the field artillery during World War I in 1918 and after the war in 1919.

Following the war, he participated in the Inter-Allied Games at Pershing Stadium, just outside Paris, from June 22 to July 6, 1919. The event was for athletes who served in the Allied armed forces during the war. He handily won the 100- and 200-meter races.

A young man wearing shorts and a T-shirt emblazoned with a team logo poses for a photo standing outside on an athletic field.
Charley Paddock
Charley Paddock poses for a photo during a track and field meet, Aug. 29, 1920.
Photo By: Courtesy of Bibliothèque Nationale de France
VIRIN: 200829-O-ZZ999-001

At the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium, he won a gold medal in the 100-meter race and a silver medal in the 200. He also won gold in the 4X100-meter relay.

In 1924, he competed in the Summer Olympics in Paris and won a silver medal, again in the 200-meter race.

Although he qualified for and competed in the Olympics in Amsterdam in 1928, he didn't earn a medal there.

In the 1930s, Paddock worked as a writer and newspaper editor and publisher. He also appeared in several films.

At the start of World War II, Paddock joined the Marine Corps and became the personal aide to Marine Corps Maj. Gen. William P. Upshur, who was the commander of the Department of the Pacific, responsible for training and equipping Marines on the West Coast, Hawaii and Alaska.

Although Upshur had never been a professional athlete, he achieved fame during both world wars and was awarded a Medal of Honor during the Haitian Campaign.

A young man wearing a dress uniform poses for a photo with his arms crossed on his chest.
William P. Upshur
Marine Corps Maj. Gen. William P. Upshur, commander of the Department of the Pacific, is pictured in an unknown location sometime between January 1942 and June 1943.
Photo By: Marine Corps
VIRIN: 430701-O-ZZ999-001

On July 21, 1943, Paddock, Upshur and two other Marines were killed when their aircraft crashed near Sitka, Alaska. At the time of his death, Paddock, 42, had attained the rank of captain. Upshur was 61.

An Academy Award-winning historical drama based on the true story of two British track stars of the 1924 Olympics also included Paddock's silver medal race. "Chariots of Fire" was released in 1981.

More Stories of Sports Heroes Who Served
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Sports Heroes Graphic
Sports Heroes Who Served graphic - with title
Photo By: DOD
VIRIN: 200702-D-ZZ999-801