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Book Report: The All Americans

by Randy Snow

Originally 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.

For 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 academy´s history.

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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