Arthur Ashe Made History In Tennis, But It Was His Brother Who Kept Him Out Of War
Many of you may remember the name, Arthur Ashe. In the 1960s and 70s he was the number one player in the world in Tennis. He was the first Black tennis player to be selected for the United States Davis Cup Team, and the first Black to win the singles title at Wimbledon, The U.S. Open and the Australian Open.
Ashe retired from tennis in 1980. But most of you may not know that he had a brother by the name of, Johnnie.
This story is more about Johnnie, and the amazing personal sacrifice Arthur made for his brother.
While in college at UCLA on a tennis scholarship, Arthur was in ROTC. When he graduated from UCLA in August of 1966 with a bachelor’s in Business Administration, he joined the Army. He went through basic training in Washington State and was commissioned a 2nd Lt. and was assigned to the United States Military Academy at West Point as a data processor. While there, he headed the Academy’s tennis team. His brother, Johnnie, was already in the Marines and in Vietnam.
Johnnie was serving in Vietnam in 1967, at Red Beach Base Area in Danang, about to finish his first 13-month tour in country. Like all of us who were there, he was anxiously counting down the days until he could go back to “The World.” He was getting “short” on his enlistment too and he began to think about his brother, Arthur, who still had 15 months left in the service.
Johnnie knew that the military frowned on having two brothers serving in a combat zone at the same time. He knew also that his leaving Vietnam could potentially mean that his brother could then receive orders to Vietnam.
Johnnie decided to do something unusual and very risky for him. He went to his First Sergeant and requested a second tour of duty, to prevent his brother from having to go to Vietnam. As a Marine in Vietnam in 1967, he had already seen his share of war. Still, he recently told a reporter for Stars and Stripes, “I didn’t want Arthur to have to experience Vietnam.”
The Marine Corps granted his request and he spent the next year fighting with the 1st Service Regiment and the 3rd Marine Amphibious Force.
Two tours in Vietnam was a relatively rare thing. Johnnie did them back to back in 1967 and 1968, during the time leading up to the Tet Offensive and the mini Tet Offensives that followed that spring. He sacrificed and endured all of this out of love for his brother, Arthur. He finished his second tour and arrived home in September 1968, just in time to see his brother become the first Black tennis player in history to win the U.S. Open championship.
Sadly, Arthur Ashe died on February 6, 1993 of complications from HIV AIDS. He contracted the disease in the early days of that epidemic through a blood transfusion during a heart bypass surgery. Arthur showed his own courage at that time. In those days, HIV was a death sentence. Instead of being bitter and angry about the unjust circumstances in which he became ill, he founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS.
On this past Sept. 3, 2018, 50 years after Arthur had won the U.S. Open, Johnnie was honored at the U.S. Open and was given a West Point flag in honor of his brother and their father.
There are few better examples of a brother’s love than what Johnnie Ashe did for his brother, Arthur, back in 1967. Johnnie had every right to come home from that hell in Vietnam. He could have done it without ever thinking of his brother. As a Marine, you can be assured that he saw the hell of that war up-close-and-personal. But he chose to sacrifice his own potential survival in order to protect his brother from having to go through the same experience. His second tour, we can be assured, was no picnic, given the time that it was done in 1968.
Johnnie’s sacrifice was the epitome of the Marine Corps motto, “Semper Fidelis”, Always Faithful.
The Veterans Site honors and thanks Johnnie Ashe for his service to the country as a United States Marine. We deeply respect the generous, courageous and loving sacrifice he endured on behalf of his brother. You have given us an example of what it means to be “Fratres Aeterni” Brothers forever.