Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Marine Corps Veteran Roberto Clemente, who served as an infantryman in the Marine Corps Reserve.
Roberto Clemente was born in August 1934 in Carolina, Puerto Rico. He was the youngest of seven children.
In 1954, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Clemente from the Brooklyn Dodgers in Major League Baseball’s Rule 5 draft, elevating the young slugger from the minor leagues into MLB. But in 1958, Clemente enlisted in the Marine Corps as a reserve infantryman. For six years until 1964, he spent his off-seasons serving on duty.
Clemente spent six months on active duty at Parris Island, South Carolina, and Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. At Parris Island, he completed basic training with Platoon 346 of the 3rd Recruit Battalion. Clemente was one of seven in his 130-member platoon promoted to private first class. At Camp Lejeune, he completed infantry training with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry Training Regiment.
When the Pirates began spring training in 1959, it conflicted with Clemente’s military commitment. With the support of Pennsylvania State Senator John M. Walker, the team requested Clemente be allowed to leave military training a month early, which would enable him to participate in spring training. The request was granted.
For his career, Clemente achieved exactly 3,000 hits, as well as 240 home runs and a lifetime batting average of .317. He was a two-time World Series champion (1960, 1971), won the National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in 1966 and the World Series MVP in 1971. Every year from 1961 to 1972, he won a Gold Glove. And he led the National League in hitting in 1961, 1964, 1965 and 1967.
Outside of baseball, Clemente was heavily involved in charity work in Latin American and Caribbean countries. On Dec. 31, 1972, eight days after a massive earthquake hit Managua, Nicaragua, Clemente was en route to deliver aid to the victims when his plane crashed, resulting in his death. He was 38.
The following year, the Pirates retired No. 21, his uniform number. Additionally, MLB renamed its Commissioner’s Award in his honor. The award is given to the player each year who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.”
Clemente was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 1973 and the Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. He was also inducted in the Puerto Rican Veterans Hall of Fame in 2018.
In May 1973, Clemente was posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal and a Presidential Citizens Medal. In July 2003, he was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Clemente was said to have three goals in life: be on a World Series championship team, win a batting championship and build a recreation center in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He accomplished all three.
The Roberto Clemente Sports City Complex is located in Carolina, just outside of San Juan. The complex provides young people with athletic opportunities in baseball, football, soccer, swimming and tennis.
Numerous other locations, including schools, parks and hospitals are also named in Clemente’s honor, from Puerto Rico all the way to Germany.
We honor his service.
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Veterans History Project
This #VeteranOfTheDay profile was created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Writer: Alexandra Kaiser
Editors: Annabelle Colton, Theresa Lyon
Researcher: Patrick Woods
Graphics: Philip Levine