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Sports Heroes Who Served: 'Bonanza' Actor Served in Army During Korean War

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

Bobby Dan Davis Blocker is best known as the TV actor who played Hoss Cartwright in the western "Bonanza," but he was also a soldier who was wounded in action during the Korean War.

In 1946, Blocker played football at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. In 1947, he transferred to what was then known as Sul Ross State Teachers College in Alpine, Texas. There, he was a star football player and graduated in 1950.

A man poses for a photo.
Dan Blocker
Dan Blocker poses for a photograph dressed as his "Bonanza" character, March 1, 1968.
Photo By: Courtesy of Dan Blocker
VIRIN: 680301-O-ZZ999-001

Blocker was drafted into the Army during the Korean War in late 1950, receiving basic training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and nine more months of training in Sapporo, Japan. He then was assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division in Korea from December 1951 to August 1952 and attained the rank of sergeant.

Blocker's unit occupied the sector of the Jamestown Line near Chorwon, which is now part of North Korea. In March, his unit was involved in heavy fighting 10 miles west of Chorwon at Outpost Eerie. On May 25, Blocker's company manned Hill 200 where six were killed in action and 21 were wounded; 132 Chinese soldiers were killed.

Four soldiers pose for a photo; mountains and tents are in the background.
Korean War Photo
Dan Blocker (far right) and three of his buddies pose for a photo during the Korean War.
Photo By: Chuck Miklos, Army
VIRIN: 520115-O-ZZ999-001

From June 16 to 26, the 179th fought a series of outpost battles at Eerie, Old Baldy and Pork Chop Hill. On June 26 and beyond, F Company defended Hill 223. The 45th Division was withdrawn from the front in July after 209 days on the line. The 179th then went into reserve at Yanggu, South Korea. 

Blocker, who was the acting company first sergeant, was hospitalized for wounds received during one of the battles. He is credited with saving the lives of unit members in combat and was rotated home in August 1952.

A woman and two men, dressed in 19th century costumes, appear on the set of a western TV series.
Bonanza Set
Dan Blocker (right) poses for a photo with guest stars Vaughn Monroe and Susie Scott on the TV set of "Bonanza," Feb. 22, 1962.
Photo By: Courtesy of Dan Blocker
VIRIN: 620222-O-ZZ999-001

Gordon Abts, who received a Silver Star Medal for gallantry on May 7, 1952, said he served under Sgt. Blocker in Korea. He told Steve Cahalan, a reporter for the La Crosse Tribune newspaper in Wisconsin, that the Chinese would usually attack at night, so the soldiers slept during the day.

“[Blocker] was a great guy,” Abts said. “He was very strong. He could take a beer can between two fingers and crush it. He was very athletic. He was loud, but very friendly and got along with everybody. He was a great leader.”

Abts and Blocker became friends, and, after the war, they stayed in touch with each other.

A man sits on the floor playing with two little boys as two little girls play with a large doll and other toys behind the man.
Dan Blocker Family
Dan Blocker and his four children pose for a photograph in the 1960s.
Photo By: Courtesy of Dan Blocker
VIRIN: 680301-O-ZZ999-002

In 1959, Blocker was cast as one of the leads in "Bonanza," playing the middle of three brothers in a family of Nevada ranchers.

He often had to extricate younger brother Little Joe, played by Michael Landon, from trouble. Hoss was a beloved character on the popular show, which ran an extraordinary 14 seasons.

Unfortunately, Blocker only made it to season 13. He died from a pulmonary embolism following gallbladder surgery in 1972. He is buried near his hometown of De Kalb, Texas.

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Photo By: DOD
VIRIN: 200706-D-ZZ999-903

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