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THE RELUCTANT ALL-STAR
Warren Robertson
November 28, 1960
The story that follows is improbable but true. Warren Robertson does exist; he lives today in New York, a promising director-actor-producer. He was a draftee on that confused day in 1955 when the U.S. Army, in its infinite wisdom, selected him for extraordinary duty. He was indeed a tango dancer at the University of Texas who had known the game of football only briefly in his high school days, when he broke his collarbone and at once abjured all further ambitions on the gridiron—so he thought—for good. And it did indeed happen that once in Tokyo—but here his story begins
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November 28, 1960

The Reluctant All-star

The story that follows is improbable but true. Warren Robertson does exist; he lives today in New York, a promising director-actor-producer. He was a draftee on that confused day in 1955 when the U.S. Army, in its infinite wisdom, selected him for extraordinary duty. He was indeed a tango dancer at the University of Texas who had known the game of football only briefly in his high school days, when he broke his collarbone and at once abjured all further ambitions on the gridiron—so he thought—for good. And it did indeed happen that once in Tokyo—but here his story begins

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Even now when I tell you, there is the vague feeling that it was just a dream. But it wasn't. Sometimes I dig out my photo album just to reassure myself. And, sure enough, there's that picture, 35 members of a football team all clad in their uniforms sitting before a background of Mount Fujiyama. Thirty-five of the finest gridders the Army could assemble there in Japan. Among them were All-Americas, professionals, college stars and me.

Me? Who am I? Well, I can tell you this much; I'm not who they thought I was. Two weeks before that picture was taken I was just a plain dogface private finishing basic training. And the nearest I had been to a college football game was Row 28 of Section E in the Cotton Bowl bleachers. Then, just like that, there I was in Japan as a halfback on a leading Far East Army football team, being treated like a king.

It all began in the drizzling rain of Fort Lewis, Wash., where I was one of 2,000 soldiers waiting to get through the endless business of troop processing. I had learned a few hours earlier that my duty assignment was Korea. And my state of mind at the time was low, to say the least.

I finally came to the last desk in the last wooden building. Here presided a second lieutenant who seemed particularly interested in the athletic section of our personal information forms. When the line moved me before him he noticed my name and my college, the University of Texas, and asked, "Did you play pro football?" His expression was quizzical, no doubt from observing my 160-pound (you might call it "sensitive") frame. My expression was quizzical, too, because I didn't know what the hell he was talking about. As if he couldn't tell by looking at me! I answered the question, "No." To this he replied, "Oh, just college ball, eh?" I decided not to play his silly game; it would have sounded even sillier to tell him that the closest I came to college athletics was dancing the tango in the campus musical, so I just said nothing at all. He must have mistaken my silence for modesty because he came back with an emphatic, "Oh, yeah, sure, now I remember you. Of course. Sure," and a lot of affirmatives that assured me that the lieutenant certainly knew the ballplayers worth knowing.

With that, the lieutenant arose from his desk and headed for the colonel's office just behind me. I heard him mutter something like, "Boy, can we use you." The "use" I had been accustomed to from my lieutenants did not allow me much encouragement from this comment. It was only when the colonel stuck his head around the corner of the door and smiled at me that I realized someone was making a big mistake.

The lieutenant hurried back to his desk, and he was smiling just like the colonel—a rare sight for a private. "Soldier," he said, "report for immediate flight to Japan."

There were about 40 bunks in Building 213. Only two of them were used that evening. I was in one; in the other was a 6-foot 4-inch, 225-pound All-America from Notre Dame. I learned later his name was Art Hunter; on that night I was too afraid to talk to him. One look at him and I realized the possible repercussions of the lieutenant's mistake. He was lying in a bunk at the far end of the barracks, so I just stopped where I was, hopped in a corner bunk and lay there. He didn't say anything and I sure didn't say anything.

By 9 o'clock next morning I was aboard an airplane flying for Japan. The passengers were 26 officers, Superman Hunter and me. And since the superman and I were privates you can guess who sat together. Fortunately, he was the strong silent type and said very little outside of "to hell with the Army" and "it's colder'n hell up here." I was most grateful for the fact that he didn't once mention his favorite subject, football. The only thing for certain I knew about football was that I didn't play it.

When we left the big plane at Haneda Air Base outside Tokyo, a corporal was waiting with a black military sedan. In a few minutes we were riding into Tokyo. It was raining, and everything ever put on wheels seemed to be zipping and zooming up and down around those streets. Umbrellas were everywhere. They looked like colorful, mechanized giant toadstools with little feet under them. The people were dressed mostly in robelike clothes and walked on little wooden shoes. And everything that had a horn used it.

All this excitement gave me momentary relief from my worries, but 20 minutes later they came back multiplied when we pulled into the gate of Camp Zama, United States Army Forces Far East. The sedan stopped directly in front of the commanding officer's headquarters, and the corporal led us directly to the man himself.

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