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A Name on the Wall
William Nack
July 23, 2001
Bob Kalsu had just finished a stellar rookie year in the NFL when he chose to serve in Vietnam—and became the only U.S. pro athlete to die there
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July 23, 2001

A Name On The Wall

Bob Kalsu had just finished a stellar rookie year in the NFL when he chose to serve in Vietnam—and became the only U.S. pro athlete to die there

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That afternoon, as the clan gathered in the Darrow house to head for a celebration at the hospital, there was a knock at the front door. Sandy Szilagyi, one of Jan's sisters, opened it, thinking the visitor might be a florist. She saw a uniformed Army lieutenant. "Is Mrs. James Robert Kalsu home?" he asked.

Sandy knew right then. "She's at St. Anthony Hospital," she said. "She's just given birth to a baby."

The young lieutenant went pale. Turning, he walked away. Sandy called Philip Maguire, the doctor who had delivered the baby, and told him who was coming. At the hospital, the lieutenant stepped into Maguire's office and sat down. He was shaking. "Do you think she'll be able to handle this?" he asked. "I don't know what to do. I'm not sure I can do this."

Maguire led the officer to Jan's room, slipped into a chair and put his arm around her. "Jan, there's a man from the Army here to see you," he said.

"Bob's been killed, hasn't he?" she said.

The officer came in and stood at the foot of the bed. He could barely speak. "It is my duty..." he began. When he finished, he turned and left in tears.

Jan asked to leave the hospital immediately with her baby. She did one thing before she left. She asked for a new birth certificate. She renamed the boy James Robert Kalsu Jr.

The funeral, a week later at Czech National Cemetery, brought people from all around the country, and the gravesite service was more anguished than anything Byron Bigby, Kalsu's old Sooners teammate, had ever seen. "I looked around," he says, "and there was not a dry eye. We walked out of there biting our lips."

Barry Switzer, who had been a young assistant under Fairbanks during the '67 season, was walking to his car when he turned and looked back. What he saw haunts him still. "Bob's daddy got his wife and Jan back to the car," Switzer says. "After everyone was gone from the gravesite, he went back and lay down on the casket."

Three decades have passed since Kalsu died. Jan has sought ways to deal with the void, but times were often difficult. She struggled financially, frequently living from one government check to another, determined to remain at home while raising her kids.

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