While Veterans Day is a time to honor and celebrate veterans everywhere, it's also a time to reflect on those who have left us, and celebrate their life achievements. In this article, we honor just a few of the many who passed away in 2015, and their accomplishments.
Ernie Banks (1931-2015)
The man known as "Mr. Cub" and "Mr. Sunshine" was one of baseball's all-time greats. For two decades he plied his trade with the Chicago Cubs, and for his efforts was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, and named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999. A prodigous athlete since childhood, Banks' early professional basbeall was spent with the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro League, as it was a time when black players were few and far between in the Major Leagues. In 1951 he was drafted to the U.S. Army, where he served for two years. He served as a flag bearer in the 45th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion at Fort Bliss, and even briefly played with the Harlem Globetrotters. A few years after his return to civilian life, he got his shot in the Bigs with the Cubs, and never looked back.
By the time he retired, Banks had been an All-Star 14 times (1955-1962, 1965, 1967, 1969), National League MVP two times (1958, 1959), and earned a Gold Glove award (1960). Always positive and energetic, he's known for saying, "Let's play two!" -- because when you're having fun playing ball, there's always time for another game. Eventually his jersey number 14 was retired -- the first Cubs player in history to have his number retired -- and he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013 for his contribution to sports.
Yogi Berra (1925-2015)
"I sit and I thank the good lord I was in the Navy. We ate good, clean clothes, clean bed. You see some of these Army men, what they went through, that's the one I felt for."
The lovable, quotable Yogi Berra was a key component of the great New York Yankee baseball teams of the 1950s, but he first received attention for his service to the U.S. Navy in World War II. Trained as a gunner's mate, he worked on a rocket launching boat and served on D-Day. He reflected on that momentous day: "Being a young guy, you didn't think nothing of it until you got in it. And so we went off 300 yards off beach. We protect the troops." For the next twelve days his boat was ordered to shoot down enemy aircraft. They accidentally shot down an American plane, but managed to save the pilot. He went on to serve in a second assault on France for which he received a medal from the French government. Sixty years later, he received the Lone Sailor award from the U.S. Navy Memorial, an honor given to sailors who use skills learned in the service to advance their careers. The president and Navy Memorial CEO said, "Our honorees are living examples of how service to country changes lives and helps develop leaders."
A three-time Major League baseball MVP, a member of ten championship-winning teams, and a successful manager after his playing career, Berra was a winner just about everywhere he went, but he was also celebrated for his self-deprecating, down-to-earth personality. He may have passed away on September 23 this year, but he leaves behind a ton of the most quotable phrases in sports history, including "It ain't over til it's over," and "It's deja vu all over again." For more on his career, see this Military.com article.
Beau Biden 1969-2015)
Joseph Robinette "Beau" Biden III was the son of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, and had served as the Attorney General of Delaware from 2006-2014, as well as serving as an officer in the Army Judge Advocate General's Corps (JAG). Biden's National Guard unit was activated to deploy to Iraq on October 3, 2008, and sent to Fort Bliss for pre-deployment training the day after his father participated in the 2008 presidential campaign's only vice presidential debate. Of his son's imminent departure to Iraq, his father stated, "I don't want him going. But I tell you what, I don't want my grandson or my granddaughters going back in 15 years, and so how we leave makes a big difference."
Beau Biden's life was tragically cut short after he was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013. Even though his health was failing, he was planning to run for Governor of Delaware in 2016. His death this year was mourned by many, with Vice President Biden offering a fitting epitaph: "His absolute honor made him a role model for our family. Beau embodied my father's saying that a parent knows success when his child turns out better than he did. In the words of the Biden family: Beau Biden was, quite simply, the finest man any of us have ever known."
Richard Dysart (1929-2015)
If you grew up on television in the '80s, then you're familiar with the work of Richard Dysart, who is perhaps best known for his performance as Leland McKenzie in the long-running TV series L.A. Law. Born near Boston, he studied communication and theater at Emerson College before enlisting for a four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. Though a good marksman, he was assigned to the Officer Personnel Office, and was eventually stationed in Washington, D.C., where he worked at the Office of Special Investi¬gation for the remainder of his service. Working downtown, he gained college credits at George Washington University, which allowed him to graduate from Emerson College in less than a year.
One of the prime actors in the American Conservatory Theater (ACT), Dysart went on to a distinguished career as a character actor on stage and screen, appearing in critically acclaimed productions and films such as That Championship Season, Being There and Pale Rider. He played such famous personages as J. Edgar Hoover, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. His career went to another level in 1986 when he was cast in L.A. Law. The show would end up running for eight seasons and winning 39 Golden Globe Awards. Dysart was the one constant in the revolving door of the cast, and was one of only five actors to appear in all 171 episodes of the show. Dysart spent his retirement years living comfortably in British Columbia and Santa Monica before he succumbed to cancer in April this year.
Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)
Nimoy is best known for creating the immortal character of Mr. Spock on Star Trek, but he was also an accomplished writer, photographer and director. His love for film and acting goes all the way back to his days in the U.S. Army Reserve, when he put on shows for the Army Special Services branch which he wrote, narrated, and emceed. Nimoy's time in the military helped inform some of his roles, including an uncredited role as an Army telex operator in Them! He also played a soldier with PTSD in a film produced by the United States Marine Corps.
In addition to his portrayal of Mr. Spock, Nimoy also had notable roles in the Mission: Impossible TV series and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, served as the narrator for the long-running In Search Of... series, and received an Emmy Award nomination for best supporting actor for the television film A Woman Called Golda. He remained very much in the public consciousness until his recent death, with appearances in the hit TV show The Big Bang Theory and the recent Star Trek films. For more on Nimoy's military and film career, see this Military.com article.
Frank Petersen (1932-2015)
Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. (ret.) the first African-American Marine Corps aviator and the first African-American Marine Corps officer to be promoted to brigadier general, died Aug. 25, 2015. “[He was] a pioneer and role model in many ways, a stellar leader, Marine officer and aviator.” said Gen. John M. Paxton, Jr., the 33rd Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Born March 2, 1932 in Topeka, Kansas, Petersen was commissioned in the Marine Corps in 1952 after serving two years in the U.S. Navy. Petersen served during the Korean War in 1953 and Vietnam in 1968. During his career, Petersen flew more than 350 combat missions and more than 4,000 hours in various military aircraft. Petersen was promoted to brigadier general on Feb. 23, 1979, becoming the first African-American to hold that rank in the Marine Corps. Petersen retired as a lieutenant general on Aug. 1, 1988, after serving as the Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff. His commands held include Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 212, deactivated March 11, 2008, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314, and served as the commanding general, Marine Corps Combat Development Command.
Petersen’s military awards include: the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with valor device, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and the Meritorious Service Medal. His actions were recorded in the Congressional Records as part of the archives of the House of Representatives on July 28, 2014, where they will be preserved forever.