Meghan Durham | December 18, 2019
Just as Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rocky Bleier was about to wrap up his rookie season in 1968, a teammate called him over to the table the team reserved for fan mail. The former Notre Dame standout was surprised. He wasn’t a high NFL draft pick or a well-known player and, in a few months with the team, had yet to receive any letters of support. When he opened the envelope, though, he realized that was still the case: In his hand was a notification that he had been drafted by the U.S. Army, which was immersed in the Vietnam War. He was due to report the next day.
In combat the next year, he suffered grisly injuries that would reshape his life, but, improbably, not nudge him off course. The football player turned soldier turned injured veteran fought his way back to a professional football career that spanned more than a decade. In turn, he has used that story to inspire countless others not to yield in the most difficult circumstances, and he has donated time and energy to helping veterans like him reacclimate to the jarringly different lives they faced when they returned home.
“One percent serve our country. One percent. So there’s 99% of us who don’t know or understand what the military service is all about,” Bleier says. “I felt a certain responsibility, being able to give back, and be an awareness mouthpiece of issues that now become very predominant — especially for the Vietnam veteran, but now all veterans.”
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