Military Service in the 1950s

I have often been struck by how many Packers missed time from their NFL careers due to military service during the 1950s. Although an armistice was declared to end the Korean War in July 1953, military conscription continued. In fact, it appears the Packers felt their worst losses after the War ended. After some preliminary research, it appears the Packers led the league in players lost to military service in 1955, 1956 and 1957 with ten, nine and six players respectively.

The rebuilding Packers did not have the depth to withstand such losses, and Coach Lisle Blackbourn was forced to make trades to replenish his roster. In 1954, he traded newly conscripted quarterback Babe Parilli to Cleveland for Bob Garrett, who then went into the military in 1955. In 1955, he traded the Packers’ top draft pick from the previous year, newly conscripted Art Hunter, for Joe Skibinski and Bill Lucky. The biggest trade that was at least partly a result of military losses was the Tobin Rote deal in 1957. With starting linemen Forrest Gregg, Bob Skoronski and Hank Bullough all in the military, Blackbourn traded Rote and safety Val Joe Walker to the Lions for tackles Norm Masters and Ollie Spencer, guard Jim Salsbury and halfback Don McIlhenny.

For the decade, no team lost more players to the military as Green Bay. For the purposes of this study, players drafted by the military before beginning their NFL careers are listed as a loss to the team that drafted them. So even though Bill Roffler never played in Green Bay, he is listed as a Packer loss because they drafted him.

The tables below list the military service of 1950s’ Packers as well as breakdown for the league. (I updated the last two tables on 10/27/15.)

Existing Players:

Bob Forte LB 1951
Len Szafaryn T 1951-52
Clay Tonnemaker LB 1951-52
Larry Coutre HB 1951-52
Clarence Self DB 1953
Bill Reichardt FB 1953-54
Tom Johnson DT 1953-54
Babe Parilli QB 1954-55
Gene Knutson DE 1955
Art Hunter C 1955
Max McGee E 1955-56
Bob Garrett QB 1955-56
Al Barry G 1955-56
Gene White DB 1955-56
Veryl Switzer HB 1956-57
Hank Bullough G 1956-57
Doyle Nix DB 1956-57
Forrest Gregg T 1957
Bob Skoronski T 1957-58
Jack Losch HB 1957-58
Ron Kramer E 1958

Packer Draft Picks:

Hal Faverty* LB 1950-51
Bill Roffler* DB 1952-53
Emery Barnes* DE 1954-55
Jim Temp* DE 1955-56
Norm Amundsen* G 1955-56
Team Players Years
Packers 26 46
Redskins 26 45
49ers 25 45
Browns 21 38
Giants 20 36
Eagles 17 32
Lions 20 31
Steelers 18 30
Colts/Texans/Yanks 18 30
Rams 17 30
Bears 19 27
Cardinals 16 25
                         Year U.S. Draftees NFL Players in Military
1950 219,771 6
1951 551,806 44
1952 438,479 74
1953 473,806 78
1954 253,230 66
1955 152,777 70
1956 137,940 43
1957 138,504 26
1958 142,246 7
1959 96,143 1

And some 1950s’ Packers chose to fulfill their military obligation by signing up for a six-year tour in the Reserves as the following custom cards reflect:

1961fphornungarmy  1962twisconsinreserves

2 thoughts on “Military Service in the 1950s

  1. This is great, John. I never compared to other teams nor considered how this pushed for trades to replenish the roster. Perhaps an article for PRFA?


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