Sixty-eight years ago today, 160,000 Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy in a concerted effort to drive the Nazis out of France and back toward Berlin. It was the largest amphibious invasion ever conducted.
Last week, I ran a post about Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinal who turned down a lucrative contract to serve his country in the wake of 9-11. You may remember that I included a link to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's site that honors other NFL players who have died in the service of our country. Today, we're going to learn more about two players among that number who perished in France after the Normandy Invasion: Mike Basca and Al Blozis.
Mike Basca was born December 4, 1917 in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, where he was a high school football star, playing positions on both sides of the ball, including quarterback. He attended Villanova University and played halfback for his hometown team, the Philadelphia Eagles, for only one season. His last game was against the Washington Redskins on December 7, 1941, the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He enlisted in the Army three days later.
Basca's first significant tour of duty was as an inaugural member of the Eastern Army All-Stars Football Team, which played professional teams to raise money for the Army Emergency Relief Fund. Eventually achieving the rank of Corporal, he was assigned to the 4th Armored Division as a tank commander. His division landed on the Utah beach a little over a month after D-Day. He had only been in combat for four months when his tank was struck by an anti-tank round, killing him instantly.
Growing up in New Jersey, Blozis became a star with the discus and shot put; he won national championships in those events while attending Georgetown University. His athleticism earned him a fifth-round draft pick by the New York Giants in the 1942 NFL Draft, for whom he played offensive and defensive tackle. Although he only played two full seasons in the NFL, he made an impression, earning All-Star/All-Pro honors in both seasons.
Clearly an imposing force on the field, Al's great stature (6' 6", 245 pounds) almost kept him from serving in the military--he had to convince the Army to waive its size limits to let him enlist. After his enlistment in December 1943, Blozis was sent to Fort Benning for officers' training (his first assignment was as a physical instructor at Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, DC). His shot put prowess served him well at Fort Benning, where he set the Army's record for hand grenade throwing at 94 yards, 2 feet 6.5 inches.
Al was eventually commissioned as a second lieutenant and assigned to the 28th Infantry Division. During a scouting mission in France's Vosges Mountains in January 1945, two of Blozis' men went missing while on patrol. Blozis set out by himself to search for them and never returned. His death was confirmed three months later.
Al Blozis' #32 jersey was eventually retired by the New York Giants. True Comics memorialized Blozis in a story it ran in 1946 titled "The Human Howitzer."