Roy Gleason received a replacement for his lost 1963 World Series ring before a game at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 20, 2003. - Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Roy Gleason was the only major league player to fight in Vietnam. He earned a World Series ring in 1963 when he appeared as a 20-year old in September.
His is not a name most Dodgers fans can identify when discussing the Dodger heroes of the 60's but make no mistake Roy Gleason was every bit the hero that Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills, Tommy Davis, Frank Howard, Jim Gilliam, Claude Osteen, Johnny Podres, and Lou Johnson were. Except Roy Gleason did his best work for his country, not for the Dodgers.
In 2003, Bill Plaschke wrote about Roy Gleason for the LA Times. ESPN followed that up with this story:
Records indicate, Plaschke wrote in the Times, that Gleason was the only major league player to fight in Vietnam, and the only member of the Dodgers organization to earn a Purple Heart in Vietnam. During his eight-month Vietnam tour, Gleason also earned his sergeant stripes and, once, was named soldier of the month. Then on July 24, 1968, after a shell exploded that left gaping wounds in his left calf and left wrist, Roy Gleason earned his ticket home.
An Army chopper airlifted his broken body out of the jungle, leaving behind Gleason's foot locker and one essential piece of his dream -- that 1963 championship ring.
We often talk about our sport heroes in combat terms. He's a warrior, the game is a battlefield. It is all nonsense. Roy Gleason was a real warrior who fought real battles, he has the scars, physical and mental that accompany many who served.
He only wanted to play a game but life got in the way. Gleason chronicled his story when he wrote a book called Lost in the Sun.
It was not until 2003 that his story became prominent, but thanks to Plaschke, Gleason's story became front page material. If you Google his name now, you will see that every Memorial Day or Veterans Day someone is writing a story about him. Why not? It is a great story.
So just in case you hadn't heard of Roy Gleason, I thought today would be a good day to introduce you to him. I'd suggest clicking on some of the links I've provided. He lost his career for his country, we could all stand to lose a few minutes of our time to read about his story.
MLB Network does a video tribute:
Los Angeles Times, Sept. 19, 2003: "At Ease, at Last". It is Plaschke at his best, he always does his best when he has a real story to work with:
Then, slowly, amazingly, walking from the clubhouse to the upper press dining room, Gleason realized something about this team he had tried to forget.
They had never forgotten him.
Tom Lasorda spotted him in a hallway and reminded him of his big signing bonus. Bruce Froemming, an umpire, recognized him immediately and remembered a minor league rhubarb. Aging scouts stood up from their dinners to pat his back and tell him stories.
Their visit eventually ended up in the tunnel behind the Dugout Club, next to a wall bearing most of the names from the Dodgers' all-time roster.
Gleason scanned the montage and said, "I'm sure I'm not up here."
Langill stood behind him thinking, "Please be up there. Please be up there."
After a few minutes, they found it, above Roy Campanella, below Delino DeShields.
"I didn't really feel like I played enough to warrant being called a major leaguer," he said.
He touched the wall gently, with a finger that has been numb since he took shrapnel in Vietnam. His eyes glazed. The truth hit.
Once a Dodger, always a Dodger, even if only momentarily a Dodger.
He had never left second base after all.
Sgt. Gleason looked at Langill and shook his head.
"I'm glad I'm on this wall, instead of the other wall," he said.