Don Steinbrunner

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Don Steinbrunner
No. 56
Position: Tackle
Personal information
Date of birth: (1932-04-05)April 5, 1932
Place of birth: Bellingham, Washington, United States
Date of death: July 20, 1967(1967-07-20) (aged 35)
Place of death: Kon Tum, South Vietnam
Height: 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Weight: 220 lb (100 kg)
Career information
High school: Mount Baker (WA) [1]
College: Washington State
NFL Draft: 1953 / Round: 6 / Pick: 71
Career history
Career NFL statistics
Player stats at
Player stats at PFR
Don Steinbrunner
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Air Force seal U.S. Air Force
Years of service 1954–1967
Rank US-O4 insignia.svg Major
Battles/wars Vietnam War 
Awards Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon.svg Distinguished Flying Cross
Purple Heart ribbon.svg Purple Heart

Donald Thomas Steinbrunner (April 5, 1932–July 20, 1967) was an American football offensive tackle who was one of only two American professional football players to die in the Vietnam War.

Early years[edit]

Born in Bellingham, Washington, Steinbrunner was an all-state athlete in football and basketball at Mount Baker High School, and graduated in 1949.[1][2][3] He played both sports at Washington State College in Pullman, and was the captain of both teams. He was also a member of ROTC in college.

NFL career[edit]

Steinbrunner was selected in the sixth round of the 1953 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns. He was an offensive tackle with the Browns in 1953, initially cut in training camp but brought back after the fourth game,[4] and the Browns won the Eastern Conference with an 11–1 regular season record. Steinbrunner played in the 1953 NFL Championship Game at Briggs Stadium in Detroit, but the Browns lost 17–16 to the Lions.[5][6]

Military service[edit]

Steinbrunner left his professional football career in 1954 after only eight regular season games to fulfill his military requirement. With a lingering knee injury from his collegiate days and the Browns winning consecutive NFL titles in 1954 and 1955, he later opted to stay in the service.[7] He joined the U.S. Air Force, first in the air police and later as a navigator, and in between was an assistant football coach for four seasons at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.[1][7]

Steinbrunner was sent to Vietnam in 1966, and after an injury was offered a safer assignment, which he refused. Major Steinbrunner's plane, a C-123 Provider, was shot down on July 20, 1967, during a defoliation mission spraying Agent Orange on the jungle forest canopy, killing all five crewmen aboard. He was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross.[1]

Long unrecognized as the first NFL player to be killed in action in the Vietnam War, Steinbrunner was honored by the Browns on November 14, 2004.[8] Buffalo Bills' guard Bob Kalsu, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army with the 101st Airborne Division, was killed in action in July 1970.

See also[edit]

  • Bob Kalsu
  • Pat Tillman
  • Tim James – American basketball player who left his professional sports career and enlisted in the United States Army on September 12, 2008.


  1. ^ a b c d "A hall of famer". Washington State University. May 29, 2007. Retrieved February 19, 2016. 
  2. ^ "State all-star grid team named". Ellensburg Daily Record. Washington. Associated Press. December 13, 1948. p. 8. 
  3. ^ "Roland Kirkby, Don Steinbrunner lead prep poll". Ellensburg Daily Record. Washington. Associated Press. August 13, 1953. p. 6. 
  4. ^ "Steinbrunner signs contract". Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington. Associated Press. January 20, 1954. p. 17. 
  5. ^ Strickler, George (December 28, 1953). "Lions win in last 3 minutes, 17 to 16". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 1, part 3. 
  6. ^ Sell, Jack (December 28, 1953). "Lions retain NFL title; edge Browns, 17-16". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 12. 
  7. ^ a b Blanchette, John (October 5, 2001). "American hero". Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington. p. C1. 
  8. ^ "Browns to honor Ex-Coug killed in Vietnam". Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington. Associated Press. November 12, 2004. p. 2C. 

External links[edit]