Navy Veteran Ken Casanega is today's Veteran of the day.

On his 100th birthday, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Navy Veteran Ken Casanega, who turned down an NFL offer to become an aviator during World War II.

Ken Casanega could have played football for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Instead, he chose to serve his country during World War II.

Casanega was born Feb. 18, 1921, in California, raised by a single mother during the Great Depression. He played football at Castlemont High School and Santa Clara University, starring as a halfback. Casanega was part of the 1937 and 1938 Sugar Bowl winning teams. He also played against future Army Veteran Jackie Robinson in a game against UCLA in 1940. Casanega said Robinson was “the only guy I couldn’t catch.”

With the first pick in the third round of the 1942 NFL draft, the Steelers selected Casanega. With World War II in full swing, Casanega turned down the offer and joined the Navy.

Following flight training, Casanega served on aircraft carriers in the Atlantic and Pacific. He flew missions over the Philippines and around Japan. During one flight, after his wing was shot, he narrowly avoided ejecting and landed on a different nearby carrier. During his service, he received a Distinguished Flying Cross for one of his missions. He honorably discharged from the Navy in 1945.

Following discharge, Casanega returned to football. He became one of the original San Francisco 49ers, playing in the team’s inaugural 1946 season following his wartime service. Playing in the All America Football Conference, Casanega intercepted eight passes and scored two touchdowns as a two-way player. His team finished 9-5, second to the Cleveland Browns. He also played one game in 1948.

Santa Clara inducted Casanega into its Hall of Fame in 1965. He later became Napa High School principal and school superintendent for Hollister School District, both in California. He also served as honorary team captain twice for the 49ers, calling the coin toss at alumni games.

Casanega now lives in Medford, Oregon. He’s been married to his wife, Helen, for 77 years. She’s the younger of the two, recently turning 99 years old.

Thank you for your service!

Nominate a Veteran for #VeteranOfTheDay

Do you want to light up the face of a special Veteran? Have you been wondering how to tell your Veteran they are special to you? VA’s #VeteranOfTheDay social media feature is an opportunity to highlight your Veteran and his/her service.

It’s easy to nominate a Veteran. Visit our blog post about nominating to learn how to create the best submission.

By Air Force Veteran Adam Stump is a member of VA's Digital Media Engagement team.

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Published on Feb. 18, 2021

Estimated reading time is 2.1 min.

Views to date: 239


  1. Doug Tennant February 20, 2021 at 8:32 pm


  2. COL (ret) Thomas Fosnacht February 20, 2021 at 6:39 pm

    What carriers and what VMF? What aircraft did he fly? Who writes these incomplete “tributes” ?

  3. Chris Casanega February 18, 2021 at 4:12 pm

    We golfed together until he was 97. Happy birthday, and thanks for your service. Love you, Grandpa!

  4. R.S. Elam February 18, 2021 at 1:46 pm

    Fought in WWII AND married 77 years. I would think the former was tough enough!

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