On this Memorial Day, I would like to acknowledge the ultimate sacrifice made by James Robert (Bob) Kalsu, Sr., the first active NFL player to die in combat.
It was July 2001 when I first heard the story of Bob Kalsu. William Nack of Sports Illustrated had just written about Kalsu’s remarkable story for that week’s edition of the magazine. Nack was being interviewed about his article on a local sports radio station, detailing the accounts of Kalsu’s young life. I found myself mesmerized by the story.
An All-American offensive tackle at the University of Oklahoma, Kalsu completed a stellar rookie season with the Buffalo Bills in 1968. He would leave professional football in 1969 to join the conflict in Vietnam. Bob would leave behind pregnant wife Jan, whom he had been married to less than two years, and a one-year old daughter named Jill. Bob would see his family one last time in May 1970 while on leave. He would return to Vietnam where he eagerly awaited the news of the arrival of his second child, due in July.
The most heart-wrenching part of the story was Bob would not live to find out he would have a son. On July 23, 1970, just two days after Bob was killed, James Robert Kalsu, Jr. was born. Initially the boy was named Robert Todd Kalsu. Upon learning of her husband’s death just hours later, Jan renamed the boy. She had recalled the silent prayer she conveyed to God prior to Bob leaving for Vietnam: “If you need him more than I do, please give me a son to carry on his name.”
About 3 ½ years after hearing Bob Kalsu’s story, my wife and I took a trip to Washington, D.C. One of the many stops on our three-day excursion was a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Still moved by Kalsu’s heroics, I decided to locate his identification on “The Wall” and trace his etched name.
I still have the etching tucked away in that very Sports Illustrated issue which featured Bob on the cover.
Upon returning from my trip to Washington, I felt the urge to contact someone in the Kalsu family. Since sports and American history are two passions of mine, I had to let them know how much Bob’s story moved me.
I was able to locate Bob’s daughter, Jill Kalsu Horning.
She was gracious enough to send a reply.
It was such a wonderful surprise to receive your letter. You made my day! Usually it is my mom or my brother who are contacted about my daddy. My feelings always get hurt. I always feel left out so I feel very touched. I read your letter to my mom and my brother. They thought it was very beautiful.
I can't tell you how amazed we are by how many people are touched by the life of my dad. He truly impacted so many people by how he lived his life. Now after he has gone to be with our Lord, so many more are touched by his life. A day doesn't go by when I don't think about my dad and how much I miss him.
Now that I have my own children, I miss the fact that my children don't have a grandpa. I don't ask "why?" anymore because I know that my daddy did what was right and fulfilled his duty to his country. While doing this, he had such an impact on many soldier's lives. There are no accidents with God.
I am so into American history and sports too. I always say that if I had not become a teacher, I would have loved to have been a political science major. I am so glad that you and your wife were able to go to the Vietnam Wall. The experience there can not be put into words. I have only been to D.C. one time, and it was only for about 5 hours. My experience at The Wall is hard to put into words. I hope to one day go with my husband and children to spend more time there and also to see the many other sights there.
I pray that God will bless you and your family always. Thank you so much for taking the time to write me.
With warmest regards,
And my warmest regards to you and your family, Jill.
Thank you so much for sharing the story of James Robert Kalsu, Sr., a true American hero.