FIELDS OF BATTLE: PEARL HARBOR, THE ROSE BOWL, AND THE BOYS THAT WENT TO WAR by Brian Curtis

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(1942 Rose Bowl Game in Durham, NC)

Last Monday the University of Southern California and Penn State University met in one of the most thrilling Rose Bowl games in history with the Trojans winning on a last second field goal 52-49.  Before the game, in keeping with the remembrance of the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, one remaining player from the 1942 Rose Bowl, and survivors of December 7, 1941 were honored.  In the wake of the attack the game was moved from Pasadena to Durham, NC.  Oregon State University, the underdog, played Duke University and the Blue Devil campus opened its arms to their opponents who had to travel across America by train in the wake of the Japanese action.  As players practiced for the game British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt met to discuss preparations for war, and allied strategy that would greatly impact these Rose Bowl participants.  Brian Curtis’ new Book, FIELDS OF BATTLE: PEARL HARBOR, THE ROSE BOWL, AND THE BOYS THAT WENT TO WAR catalogues a little known slice of American history describing what took place on the grid iron, the battlefields of World War II, and how many of these football players readapted to civilian life after the war.  Curtis’ style reminds one of John Feinstein’s approach in A CIVIL WAR: ARMY VS NAVY: A YEAR INSIDE COLLEGE FOOTBALL’S PUREST RIVALRY  as he delves into the personalities and military careers of the coaches, players, and many of the faculty at Oregon State and Duke.

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Wallace Wade who hailed from Gibson County, TN played football at Brown, enlisted in World War I, and after missing out on combat in 1918 returned to civilian life and became a football coach at the University of Alabama.  He was successful and had the reputation of getting the most out of his players, and after winning a national championship moved to coach Duke in 1930.  By September, 1941 the Duke’s football team was down to 49 players as with war in the air, 6 players had already enlisted.  Alonzo “Lon” Stiles, Jr. the Oregon State University coach grew up in Nebraska and was able to turn a small agricultural school into a major football power. However, by March, 1941 OSU was still seen as one of the weaker teams in the Pacific Coast Conference.  Curtis provides a history of the football programs at both schools and introduces the reader to the important players ranging from Don Durdan, the son of a banana farmer in Eureka, CA; Bob Dethman from Hood River, OR, a person who had it all, good looks athletic talents, and strong academically for OSU to Frank Parker, a rambunctious and driven person; to Jack Yoshihara, the only Japanese –American on the Duke squad.

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(Wallace Wade, Sr.,  Coach of the Duke Football Team)

After reviewing the 1930s and the eventual war in Europe, the American role in the world before Pearl Harbor, the author focuses on how the United States evolved into “the arsenal of democracy.”  Curtis integrates OSU and Duke into his discussion of military preparedness with new courses oriented to technological innovation and military needs, bringing in soldiers to take specialized courses to enhance their military training, along with the standard ROTC programs.

Curtis describes the football season for both teams in detail and is able to use certain players and place them in their historical context, i.e., Jack Yoshihara, a Duke player that was interned along with his entire family after Pearl Harbor was attacked.  By the first week in December both schools were invited to participate in the Rose Bowl and began practicing and making plans when the Japanese attacked.  Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt was Commander of the 4th Army and responsible for protecting the west coast.  DeWitt was an intolerant individual and a racist and the author should have delved into DeWitt’s actions and policies in greater detail, particularly when he opposed moving the Rose Bowl east, and had the FBI arrest Jack Yoshihara in front of his teammates, banned him from playing in the bowl game, eventually moving his entire family from “internment camp,” to “internment camp.”  Curtis does present the standard history of how the internment camp policy was implemented, describing conditions in the camps and how Japanese-Americans adjusted.  Curtis does detail the plight of the Yoshihara family, as US citizens they still lived in demeaning conditions, having lost their possessions and being separated from Jack.

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(Minidoka internment camp, Oregon)

Curtis integrates wartime events into his narrative and how they affected the game and the players once it was moved to the Duke campus.  Curtis describes team preparation, the game itself, and what happened to the players following its conclusion.  Once the game was completed the author does a nice job dealing with how the war affected each campus.  College administrators sped up graduation requirements to allow men who were enlisting or being drafted to complete their education.  Further, scientific research became a staple as Nobel Prize winning scientists like Enrico Fermi and Arthur Compton worked on a “uranium weapons program,” the early stages of the Manhattan Project” which had ties to Duke facilities and faculty.

As he watched his players join the services, Wade, age 49 decided to reenlist as he wanted to do what he had always asked his players to do, ending his coaching career.  Eventually receiving command of the 272nd Artillery Battalion, Wade saw action in France after Normandy.   Stiner was too old to enlist, but he followed his players avidly putting a map up in his home and using stick pins to follow their progress in Europe, North Africa, and the Pacific.   However, the 1942 football season continued as Washington viewed it as a useful distraction from the war.  OSU and Duke would lose a significant number of players to graduation and the military.  They would present weaker rosters and their poor performance did not match fan expectations.  One of Duke’s former players, Walter Griffith who served in the 8th Marines, Second Division was the first Rose Bowl participant killed in the war at Guadalcanal, a battle that provided evidence to the allies how fierce the fighting would be to defeat Japan.  The former players would soon find out that “war was hell,” from the outset.  One of those was Wallace Wade, Jr. who had enlisted before his father and as an officer with the 9th Division Artillery made his way across Algeria and Tunisia, later crossed the channel into France through Belgium and Germany where he was close to breaking down.  With all his combat experience, Wade, Jr. concluded that “Sherman’s description of war was a great understatement.”

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(Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt)

Through the eyes of former players Curtis effectively describes the course of the war and the major battles these men participated in.  As he does this, Curtis places their experiences in the full context of the war, i.e., when Charles Haynes, leader of the Second Platoon, Easy Company, 349th Regiment, 88th Division deployed to Italy, an allied strategy designed to weaken Nazi defense of Germany by having them pick up the pieces after Mussolini was captured.  In fact, Charles Haynes of Duke would run into Frank Parker of OSU on the battlefield, then later Parker would carry the severely wounded Haynes to a medical station.   Later in the war Lt. Colonel Wallace Wade, Sr. would come across OSU’s Stanley Czech, a field artillery observer, and of course Czech offered the “old man” a cup of coffee.

By constructing his narrative in this manner for the final third of the book, Curtis offers a bird’s eye view of what these football players experienced during the war; fighting in the Ardennes Forest, the Battle of the Bulge, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Guadalcanal, Sicily, and numerous other historical battles, and why the 70 players and coaches that played or coached in the 1942 Rose Bowl who served in the armed forces, less 4 of which had been killed, were treated as heroes upon their return.  What truly enhances Curtis’ work are the personal stories he tells concerning how these men readapted to civilian life after the war.  Some dealt with the effects of the war well, others not so, but all in all these men made a tremendous contribution to their country.

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(1942 Rose Bowl Game, Durham, NC)

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