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Sports Heroes Who Served: From Coast Guardsman to Golf Legend

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Sports Heroes Who Served is a series that highlights the accomplishments of athletes who served in the U.S. military.

Although his claim to fame happened decades ago, ardent golfers of any age know the name Arnold Palmer. He is considered one of the greats. He won 62 PGA tour titles from 1955 to 1973, making him one of the top five golfers of all time.

President and golfer chat
Medal of Freedom
Arnold Palmer, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President George W. Bush, gives the commander in chief a golf tip at a White House ceremony, June 23, 2004.
Photo By: White House photo
VIRIN: 040623-O-ZZ999-002

Many, particularly the older generation, know about Palmer the golf legend, but here is some of the story about Palmer, the Coast Guardsman.

Palmer, born in 1929, attended Wake Forest College in North Carolina on a golf scholarship. In 1950, his close friend and roommate Bud Worsham was killed in an auto accident.

Golfer pans the area.
Arnold Palmer
Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Arnold Palmer is seen at Pinehurst Country Club, N.C., April 20, 1953, while on leave from the 9th Coast Guard District Auxiliary in Cleveland, Ohio.
Photo By: U.S. Coast Guard photo
VIRIN: 530420-O-ZZ999-001

Worsham's death affected Palmer deeply, he told Richard A. Stephenson, a historian with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Feb. 28, 2013.

Palmer couldn't focus on his studies and decided he needed a change from the academic venue. So, in 1951, he joined the Coast Guard.

"I thought it was a great outfit that specialized in saving lives," he told Stephenson.

He served in the Coast Guard from 1951 to 1954.

Lighthouse.
Lighthouse
Arnold Palmer’s duty station in the early 1950s was at the 9th Coast Guard District Auxiliary, in the Cleveland East Pierhead Lighthouse, Cleveland, Ohio, which looks out over Lake Erie. The lighthouse is now automated, meaning no personnel are needed to man it.
Photo By: U.S. Coast Guard photo
VIRIN: 170602-G-0Y189-593M

After basic training at Cape May, New Jersey, which is still the basic training center for all enlisted Coast Guard recruits today, Palmer received nine-month orders to serve as a lifeguard for the center's recruits. While there, Palmer also taught the recruits physical education, including judo and how to use force when necessary.

His next duty station was at the 9th Coast Guard District Auxiliary, Cleveland, Ohio, working at the Cleveland East Pierhead Lighthouse, which looks out over Lake Erie. While there, he was assigned as a photographer taking military ID card photos for all the Coast Guardsmen in the district.

At the end of his enlistment, Palmer returned to Wake Forest to complete his studies. Regarding his golf course legacy, it is one for the history books.

Golfer pans the area
Arnold Palmer
Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Arnold Palmer is seen at Pinehurst Country Club, N.C., competing in the North and South Amateur Golf Championship, April 20, 1953, while on leave from the 9th Coast Guard District Auxiliary in Cleveland, Ohio.
Photo By: U.S. Coast Guard photo
VIRIN: 530420-O-ZZ999-002

"I'm very proud of the fact that I was in the Coast Guard," Palmer told Stephenson, regarding his time in service. "I think it's a wonderful outfit. Young people need the kind of training in one of the military outfits."

"The knowledge that I gained, the maturity that I gained in the Coast Guard made me a better person," he continued. "The military isn't just about restrictions, it's a learning experience and it's very important that young people have that opportunity to learn and to know themselves a little better, and I think the military helps put that in the right perspective."

More Stories of Sports Heroes Who Served
sports graphic
Sports Heroes Graphic
Sports Heroes Who Served graphic - with title
Photo By: DOD
VIRIN: 200706-D-ZZ999-903

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