On a Sunday evening in 1941, my grandpa—for whom I was named after—decided to attend a Detroit Red Wings game with the Montreal Canadiens in town. The Red Wings won the contest 3-2, but the original Tony Wolak did not stick around to see the end. Something more important came up.
That Sunday happened to be December 7, 1941 – the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. News eventually reached Detroit, where it was relayed to the Hockeytown crowd mid-game.
Detroit’s public address announcer shared that Pearl Harbor had been bombarded and that all able-bodied men should immediately go to the nearest armed services recruiter. That’s exactly what my my grandpa did – he left the game and signed up with the Navy.
Each year, the United States takes time to celebrate veterans on Nov. 11 – Veterans Day. Elsewhere around the world, Nov. 11 signifies Remembrance Day – the formal end to World War I.
Whether you’re American, Canadian, or from another country, Nov. 11 is a meaningful day and worthy of celebration. And today, we honor a few Red Wings who served in the military.
Like Detroit Tigers legend Hank Greenberg, Sid Abel put his illustrious hockey career on hold to serve in World War II.
Abel was 25 years old when he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Even though he put his country above his personal interests, Abel didn’t stop skating, according to the Hockey Hall of Fame:
Abel missed two full seasons due to military service during World War II but returned for seven games toward the end of the 1945-46 season. While in the service, he was based in Montreal and skated with the [Royal Canadian Air Force] and the city’s Car team. He also spent part of the year in Britain, where he managed to get on the ice with the Wembley Lions.
Already in his prime, Abel missed the 1943-44 and 1944-45 seasons to do his part in the international conflict. In fact, he had been the captain of the Red Wings prior to enlisting – talk about leadership.
Like Abel, Budd Lynch also served in World War II. Detroit’s long-time radio play-by-play announcer and public address announcer served in Canada’s army and participated in the invasion of Normandy.
According to the Red Wings’ official website, “Lynch lost his right arm and shoulder at the hands of an enemy rocket shortly following the D-Day Invasion at Normandy.”
Lynch recounted, “A Moaning Minnie hit me. The shell was three inches in diameter, but luckily, it was a solid shot that went right through my shoulder. I could feel the flesh, but I didn’t know how badly I was hurt.”
Despite losing his arm, Lynch was able to resume working in the radio industry after he returned from the war. In 1949, the Red Wings hired him to become their radio play-by-play announcer. And for the next 60-plus years, Lynch was a mainstay in Detroit. In addition to radio duties, he also served as the Director of Publicity from 1975 to 1985 and Joe Louis Arena’s public address announcer from 1985 until 2012.
In the early 1940s, Joe Turner was Detroit’s top goaltending prospect. He earned a spot start for the Red Wings during the 1941-42 season—a 3-3 tie against the Toronto Maple Leafs—following an injury to starter Johnny Mowers. But with World War II raging on, Turner opted to enlist in the U.S. Army that offseason.
In the book 100 Things Red Wings Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, authors Kevin Allen and Bob Duff highlighted Turner’s military service:
Turner rose to the rank of second lieutenant by the time he shipped out for combat duty in the winter of 1944. His unit was sent to the Hürtgen Forest along the Belgium-Germany border.
Unfortunately, Turner was killed in action after attempting to rescue a wounded soldier during their mission.
After the war, Jack Adams and several other prominent hockey minds formed the International Hockey League as a minor league for the NHL. In Turner’s honor, they named the championship trophy the Turner Cup, which was handed out each year from 1945 until the league folded in 2001.
That’s right – long-time Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch also served in the military. Ilitch enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1947 and served his nation until 1951. Eight years later, he opened up the first Little Caesars and the rest is history.
While many people have Veterans Day/Remembrance Day off from work, many servicemembers around the world do not. Take time to thank active duty servicemembers and veterans today (and throughout the year) – we wouldn’t have the freedoms we’re afforded without them.
Tony Wolak is based in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Detroit Red Wings for THW. As a former junior and college hockey player, Tony has a unique perspective on Red Wings topics.