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Sports Heroes Who Served: Warrior Athletes Also Served as Inspirations

Nov. 9, 2021 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

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

There are many American athletes who also served in the military. Many have inspirational stories. Here are two:

Garry Garber

Garry Garber served in the Army shortly after the end of World War II, enlisting at the age of 15. He lied about his age to enlist, which was not uncommon before the advent of computerized record keeping.

As a bantamweight boxer, Garber had won the Second Army Boxing Championship in 1948, 1949 and 1950. He then went on to become the 1952 and 1955 Eastern Intercollegiate champion and the 1954 National Intercollegiate champion.

A boxer poses for a photo.
Garry Garber
Garry Garber takes a boxing stance.
Photo By: Courtesy of the University of Maryland
VIRIN: 520802-O-D0439-001

In 1965 and 1967, Garber won the North American Bantamweight championship.

Out of the ring, Garber, who was the son of Mexican immigrant parents, wanted to volunteer to work with at-risk Latino youth. In that endeavor, he became a social worker and was a founding member of the Washington D.C.'s Roving Leaders program, where he worked as a drug- and delinquency-prevention counselor from 1956 to 1991.

Garber died in June 2020 at the age of 89, after a battle with COVID-19.

Bert Shepard

Bert Shepard was an Army aviator during World War II. On May 21, 1944, his luck ran out when his P-38 Lightning fighter was shot down over Germany.

A baseball player poses for a photo.
Bert Shepard
Bert Shepard in Washington Senators uniform.
Photo By: Courtesy Washington Senators
VIRIN: 450802-O-D0439-002

He had been scheduled to pitch for his 55th Fighter Group's baseball team in England later that day.

The crash resulted in the amputation of his right leg below the knee. After surviving as a prisoner of war, Shepard returned stateside with baseball still on his mind. The Washington Senators picked him up, and he began his short pitching career with the team on Aug. 4, 1945.

An airplane soars.
P-38 Lightning
A P-38 Lightning in 1944.
Photo By: Army
VIRIN: 440802-O-D0439-002C

Thanks in part to him, the Senators almost won the pennant that year.

After his only season with the Senators, Shepard toured the nation, visiting and inspiring fellow veterans who were also amputees. He toured the nation flying in his own airplane and put on shows, sprinting and playing basketball as part of his inspirational tours.

Shepard won the U.S. amputee golf championship in 1968 and in 1971.

A baseball player gets a medal.
Army Medal
Bert Shepard receives a medal from the Army in 1945.
Photo By: Army
VIRIN: 450802-O-D0439-001

In 1993, Shepard flew to Austria, where he met the Austrian doctor, Ladislaus Loidl, who had amputated his leg during the war and thereby saved his life. 

Shepard died in 2008 at the age of 87.

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