US Coast Guard honors Delaware County legend, former NFL player Emlen Tunnell

Emlen Tunnell is also commemorated in several tributes for his service during World War II.
RADNOR, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Emlen Tunnell, the first African American inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was honored throughout Philadelphia this week in several tributes.

Tunnell was acknowledged for being a Delaware County hometown hero and a pioneer both in the NFL and the U.S. Coast Guard.

"He wanted to do as much as he could, as long as he could," said his goddaughter Mialee Anderson. "If you go through his history, you see he did a lot of firsts. And in doing so, he set precedent for others to follow."

Tunnell was born in Bryn Mawr and graduated from Radnor High School.

He was the first African American to play for the New York Giants in 1948 and started as a walk-on.

He later played for the Green Bay Packers in 1959. He is a two-time national champion, and played in many Pro Bowls.

"He was a kind man for being a football player and an individual of great stature. He was actually a scout for the Giants when I was a player at Penn," said Don Clune, who knew Tunnell personally.

Tunnell was also commemorated in several tributes for his service during World War II.

"This is big. This is a chance to celebrate and merge those two stories of a Coast Guard hero who is awarded the Silver Life Saving Medal for saving two Coast Guard men," said Admiral U.S. Coast Guard Karl Schultz.

In April 1944, in Papua New Guinea, Tunnell suffered burns when he used his bare hands to save a shipmate when a Japanese torpedo hit the cargo.

Recently, the U.S. Coast Guard named the 45th Fast Response Cutter after him. It's the first military ship to carry the name of a professional athlete. Number 45 was Tunnell's number with the New York Giants.

Tunnell passed away at 50 years old in 1975, but his legacy lives on.

There is a tribute to him inside the Radnor Township Municipal Building, displaying items such as his high school yearbook and NFL jerseys provided by his family.

"Here's a guy who didn't set out to be a trailblazer or break any glass ceilings," said Schultz. "He was just a great human being who wanted to make a difference in the world."

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