On November 29, 1941, Army played Navy in front of 100,000 fans. Eight days later, the Japanese attacked and the young men who battled each other in that historic game were forced to fight a very different enemy. Author Lars Anderson follows four players--two from Annapolis and two from West Point--in this epic true story.
Bill Busik. Growing up in Pasadena, California, Busik was best friends with a young black man named Jackie, who in 1947 would make Major League Baseball history. Busik would have a spectacular sports career himself at the Naval Academy, earning All-American honors as a tailback in 1941. He was serving aboard the U.S.S. Shaw when it was attacked by Japanese dive-bombers in 1943.
Hal Kauffman. Together, Busik and Kauffman rode a train across the nation to Annapolis to enroll in the Naval Academy. A backup tailback at Navy, Kauffman would go on to serve aboard the U.S.S. Meredith, which was sunk in 1942. For five days Kauffman struggled to stay alive on a raft, fighting off hallucinations, dehydration, and--most terrifying of all--sharks. Dozens of his crewmates lost their minds; others were eaten by sharks. All the while Kauffman wondered if he'd ever see his friend and teammate again.
Henry Romanek. Because he had relatives in Poland, Romanek heard firsthand accounts in 1939 of German aggression. Wanting to become an officer, Romanek attended West Point and played tackle for the Cadets. He spent months preparing for the D-day invasion and on June 6, 1944--the day he would have graduated from West Point had his course load not been cut from four years to three--Romanek rode in a landing craft to storm Omaha Beach. In the first wave to hit the beach he would also become one of the first to take a bullet.
Robin Olds. The son of a famous World War I fighter pilot, Olds decided to follow in his father's footsteps. At West Point he became best friends with Romanek and the two played side-by-side on Army's line. In 1942, a sportswriter Grantland Rice named Olds to his All-American team. Two years later Olds spent D-day flying a P-38 over Omaha Beach, anxiously scanning the battlefield for Romanek, hoping his friend would survive the slaughter.
The tale of these four men is woven into a dramatic narrative of football and war that's unlike any other. Through extensive research and interviews with dozens of World War II veterans, Anderson has written one of the most compelling and original true stories in all of World War II literature. From fierce fighting, heroic rescues, tragic death, and awe-inspiring victory, all four men's suspenseful journeys are told in graphic detail. Along the way, Anderson brings World War II to life in a way that has never been done before.
War and football are often used as metaphors for each other, and there is a rich legacy of connections between the gridiron and the battlefield in American history. Taking this legacy as his starting point, Sports Illustrated journalist Anderson uses the 1941 Army vs. Navy game as the anchor for a number of stories: of four American servicemen, of Annapolis and West Point, of the early history of college football and of America's armed forces during the 1930s and '40s. Not surprisingly, the soldiers' experiences during WWII are gripping, but the book is more than just a chronicle of the war's events. Readers will be inspired by the sacrifices boys made just for the chance to attend America's premier military academies, the difficulties that faced them once they arrived and the glory that attended success on and off the playing field. Most football fans will be amazed at the oddities of how the game was once played; Anderson's meticulous recreations of famous matchups illustrate the importance of the quick kick (punting), the common practice of using the same squad for both offense and defense (and often for extended periods of time), and the central role of the tailback, who got the ball most often and could run, pass or punt on any down at his discretion--"the quarterback," Anderson points out, "rarely touched the ball." And the muddy, blood- and sweat-soaked game-day heroics take readers back to a time of "real" football: leather helmets, broken noses and screaming fans pulling down goalposts after a win. Although the multiple narrative threads can at times make it difficult for the reader to settle in to any one story, on the whole, the book is an engaging tribute to the soldier-athletes of WWII.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
St. Martin's Press
October 12, 2005
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from The All Americans by Lars Anderson
The young man stood on the deck of the U.S.S. "Garfield," looking across the English Channel, into darkness. It was just after midnight on June 6, 1944, and the defining hour of Henry Romanek's life was at hand. The "Garfield," a transport ship, had just left the coast of England and was motoring south across the channel, its destination the waters off northern France, about ten miles outside of a quiet, enchanting beach the Allies called Omaha.
As Romanek gazed onto the black horizon, a cold wind dusting his cheeks, beams of moonlight filtered though the clouds to reveal an armada of ships so vast that it took his breath away. Over five thousand vessels were plowing through the whitecaps, the column of ships stretching as far as Romanek's eyes could see to the east and the west. The day of reckoning, D-day, had arrived. "Good God," Romanek said softly to himself, "Lord, have mercy on us."
The twenty-four-year-old Romanek was a platoon leader in the 149th Engineer Combat Battalion. Like all the soldiers in his company, he was dressed for battle. He wore a steel combat helmet that was outfitted with a fabric interlining. A life belt (a flotation
device) was wrapped snugly around his waist. His first layer of clothing was a wool undershirt, underwear, and thick wool combat socks. On top of that were protective leggings, wool pants, a flannel shirt, an olive drab jacket, and waterproof jumpshoes. He also carried a field bag on his back that held a pancho, toilet articles, a towel, canned food, and a knife, fork, and spoon. A loaded carbine hung over his shoulder, and his dog tags dangled from his neck. On the ring finger of his left hand was his graduation ring from West Point, his dearest possession.
Romanek had received the ring a year earlier, and now as he looked down on it, the black onyx stone glittered in the moonlight. Romanek was in charge of a platoon of forty-five men, and they were constantly asking him to tell stories from his days at the military academy, especially what it was like to be an Army football player. Romanek had been a two-way standout at the Point in 1941 and '42, playing tackle on both offense and defense. The game he was most often questioned about was the '41 Army-Navy contest, which was played before 98,942 screaming fans at Philadelphia's Municipal Stadium. As Romanek drew closer to what he knew would be the bloodiest fight of his life, that game was still alive in his mind, its details burned into his memory. He must have told his men about that Army-Navy clash a hundred times, maybe more.
Though three and half years had passed since he last donned an Army football uniform, Romanek still looked like the strapping star he was. Barrel-chested and long-armed, Romanek, at 6'2", 195 pounds, was more toned than muscular. He didn't seem to have an ounce of fat on his tight frame. He had a fair complexion, sleepy blue eyes, caramel-colored hair that was in a crew cut, and a soft, gentle smile that made ladies blush whenever he looked their way. He was, by all accounts, a dashing figure, the kind of clean-cut, riveting young man that people turned to stare at whenever he strolled into a room.
Yet the boys in his platoon and to Romanek, they were "boys," as most of them were still teenagers--looked up to Romanek not because of his handsome looks but because he was their leader. Romanek thought of his men as an extension of his own family, and he worried and fretted about them probably more than he should have. He spent every night after training reading all their V-mail letters that they were sending to loved ones back home. Because Romanek was the official censor in charge of screening all outgoing U.S. mail for his platoon, he came to know all of his men's deepest secrets and greatest fears. He talked to the men in his platoon about everything, from how they missed their sweethearts back home to the art of making a proper block on the football field. Even when Romanek was agitated, he rarely raised his voice when speaking with his men.