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Book Report: The All Americans
posted on AmericanChronicle.com, Monday, September 8, 2008
On November 29, 1941, the annual Army-Navy game
was one of the biggest games of the college football season. Eight days later,
on December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, bringing the United
States into World War II. For many of the players in that game, their lives
would soon be changed forever.
In the 2004 book, The All Americans, author Lars Anderson follows the lives and
military careers of four players from that game, two Army Cadets and two Navy
Midshipmen, as they transitioned from college students to war fighters.
the Naval Academy, there was Bill Busik and Hal Kauffman, both from California.
They met in 1938 while attending the Meade Prep School in San Marino,
California. The school prepared future soldiers to pass military academy
entrance exams. They both entered the Naval Academy in 1939.
Busik´s best friend growing up in Pasadena was a kid named Jackie Robinson, who
would go on to become the first black player in Major League Baseball in 1947.
Busik was recruited to play football at the Naval Academy by an assistant coach
named Rip Miller. Miller was a former lineman at Notre Dame during the time of
the famed Four Horsemen.
For the West Point Military Academy, there was Robin Olds and Henry Romanek.
Like Busik and Kauffman, the two met when they were both attended the Millard
Prep School in Washington, D.C. in 1939. The school prepared young men to take
and pass the West Point entrance exam. Olds and Romanek spent six months
together at the school and had become good friends during that time. They both
entered West Point in 1940.
All four men spent their first football seasons on their respective academy´s
freshman teams because, in those days, players had only three years of college
eligibility to play varsity football.
In 1941, a new head coach took over at West Point. His name was Earl "Red" Blaik.
He played for the academy and graduated in 1920. Blaik had spent a few years as
an assistant coach there before becoming the head coach at Dartmouth in 1934. He
led Dartmouth to back-to-back Ivy League titles in 1936 and 1937. Until the
hiring of Blaik at West Point, the school had a policy that the head coach of
the football team was always a recently graduated player. The school changed the
policy in order to hire Blaik, making him the first full time coach in the
Today, a statue of Army football coach Blaik is on display at the College
Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Indiana. The statue was intended to be
placed at West Point, but the base of the statue contains the names of all the
players who lettered in football during his days as coach of the academy
(1941-1958). Among the names are players who were kicked out of the academy
during a cheating scandal in 1951. Because their names appeared on the statue,
the academy refused to have it placed on the academy grounds. That is why the
statue is in the Hall of Fame and not at West Point.
Just before the 1941 season, the NCAA passed a new rule allowing free
substitutions of players during games. Prior to that season, substitutions could
only be made at the end of each quarter, that´s why players played both offense
and defense. That same season, Navy switched from leather helmets to a hard
plastic helmet, but there were still no facemasks.
Another change prior to the 1941 season had to do with the Academy´s themselves.
Because of Hitler´s military buildup in Europe and the Japanese aggression in
Southeast Asia, both West Point and the Naval Academy decided to accelerate
their curriculum and get their future officers into the service after just three
years of study instead of the usual four.
Army played their first football game ever in 1890 when they hosted the Naval
Academy. Navy won that game 24-0. By 1890, the Naval Academy had been playing
football for several years. Their first game was back in 1879. After just four
years of Army-Navy games, animosity and violent play between the two teams was
so bad that the Secretaries of the Army and Navy decided to cancel the annual
game after the 1893 season. The series did not resume until 1899.
In the 1941 game, Navy beat Army 14-6 in front of approximately 100,000 fans at
Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia. Busik was the star of the game for Navy with
his running, passing, punting and game winning interception on defense. A few
days after the game, Busik was offered a tryout with the NFL Green Bay Packers
by Curly Lambeau, the head coach of the team.
Just hours after he graduated from the Naval
Academy in the spring of 1942, Hal Kauffman married his high school sweetheart
in the Naval Academy Chapel. Ten days later, he shipped out to sea, headed for
the South Pacific. While trying to resupply U. S. troops on Guadalcanal, the
ship, the U.S.S Meredith, was attacked by Japanese planes and sunk. There were
260 sailors on the ship and four days later, only 87 survivors were rescued from
the sea. Many either died from injuries sustained during the attack or were
eaten by sharks. On August 6, 1945, Kauffman was on a destroyer off the coast of
Japan and witnessed first hand the mushroom cloud of the atomic bomb that
destroyed Hiroshima. On September 2, he was one of the invited guests on the
deck of the U.S.S. Missouri to witness the signing of the surrender documents by
Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, officially ending the war.
Bill Busik too was shipped off to the
South Pacific aboard the U.S.S. Shaw. His ship was also attacked by the
Japanese. Busik was injured, but both he and the ship survived to fight another
day. In 1946, he returned to the Naval Academy and was an assistant football
coach that season. He was also the academy´s Athletic Director from 1962-1965.
Henry Romanek was a platoon leader and led his men onto the beach at Normandy
during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. He was wounded as soon as he hit the
beach. A medical corpsman dragged him out of the water and up the beach to a
safe place. From there he could only watch as many of his fellow soldiers lost
their lives while storming the beach. The following day he was found on the
beach and taken to a ship offshore for treatment of his wounds.
Robin Olds became a pilot in the Army Air Corps after graduating from West Point
in 1943. He was piloting one of many planes in the air over the D-Day invasion
in a P-38 Lightning. His orders were to engage any German planes that tried to
interfere with the Allied invasion on the beach, but no enemy planes ever
arrived. He wanted to try and take out some of the enemy strongholds on the
beach, but he was under strict orders not to interfere with the invasion because
he might kill or injure his own troops. He circled the battle and helplessly
watched the slaughter that was taking place on the beach. During World War II,
Olds would go on to shoot down 12 enemy planes. He also shot down four more as
an Air Force pilot in Vietnam.
Army would go on to become college football national champions in 1944 and 1945
and the academy also boasted back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners as well,
halfback Glenn Davis in 1944 and halfback Felix "Doc" Blanchard in 1945. Army
added a third Heisman trophy winner in 1958, halfback Pete Dawkins. Navy has
also had a couple of Heisman Trophy winners over the years, halfback Joe Bellino
in 1960 and quarterback Roger Staubach in 1963.
In 1944, Navy was ranked #1 in the country and Army was ranked #2 when they met
for their annual game. Knowing that the game was going to be the biggest game of
the season, ticket sales for the game were tied to the sale of war bonds. Anyone
buying a ticket to the game had to show proof that they had also purchased a war
bond for each ticket they bought. Some seats went for as much as $1,000, an
unheard of price for a sporting event in 1944. Fifteen private boxes on the
50-yard line were also sold for $1 million dollars each. In all, the game helped
raise $58 million to help pay for the war effort.
The journey from the gridiron to the battlefields of World War II was one that
many former players from both the Army and Navy football teams never returned
from. Many classmates as well as teammates of Busik, Kauffman, Olds and Romanek
never returned from the war. They paid the ultimate price in the service of
their country. All four men agreed that playing football helped prepare them to
lead others during the war.
Even today, the young men who play football at the service academies are not
there thinking that it will be a springboard to the NFL. They will be members of
a more important team once they graduate. Football is a great game, but it is
just a small part of what today´s future Army, Navy and even Air Force officers
are going to college for.
This year´s Army-Navy game will be the 109th meeting between the service
academies on the gridiron. The game will be played on December 6th at Lincoln
Financial Field in Philadelphia.
Lars Anderson also penned the 2008 book, Carlisle vs. Army about the 1912
college football game that featured the great Jim Thorpe, who played for the
Carlisle Indian School and had won two Olympic gold medals earlier that summer.
The West Point team featured a rising young football star and future President
of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The All Americans should not be confused with a 2007 book that has a
similar title, The Real All Americans by Sally Jenkins. That book tells
the story of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, its fabled traveling
football teams and its legendary head coach, Pop Warner.
My Review of "The Real All Americans"
My Review of "Carlisle vs. Army"
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