FOOTBALL AND AMERICA: The Vietnam War

01/01/2005


DON STEINBRUNNER AND BOB KALSU, TWO NFL VIETNAM VETERANS REMEMBERED

In 1978, representatives of the Buffalo Bills presented the Pro Football Hall of Fame a plaque honoring 1968 rookie guard Bob Kalsu (right). The plaque recognized Kalsu, who entered the Army following his promising rookie season with the Bills, as the only pro football player to lose his life in combat
in Vietnam.

The inscription describes how on July 21, 1970, following eight months of heavy combat, Lieutenant Kalsu was killed in action when his unit fell under heavy fire while defending Firebase Ripcord on an isolated jungle mountaintop. The Hall, pleased to receive the inscribed tribute plaque, proudly hung it in a prominent place for museum visitors to see, read and reflect upon.

However, some 30-plus years after Kalsu's death, the Hall of Fame learned of a second former pro football player, Don Steinbrunner, (left) who died while serving his country in Vietnam.

Steinbrunner, who played offensive tackle in 1953 for the Cleveland Browns, joined the ROTC while in college and was called to active duty following his rookie season with the Browns. Upon completion of a two-year tour of duty as an Air Force navigator, the Bellingham, Washington native considered returning to the Browns, but instead opted to pursue a military career.

In 1966, Steinbrunner was called to serve in Vietnam. Not long after his arrival, he was shot in the knee during an aerial mission and was offered an opportunity to accept a less dangerous assignment. He declined.

According to his family, the 35-year-old Steinbrunner reasoned that he was better suited to serve his country than many of the younger, less seasoned soldiers he'd observed. It was a decision that cost him his life. On July 20, 1967, Steinbrunner's plane was shot down over Kontum, South Vietnam.

There were no survivors.

Steinbrunner was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

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