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.
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
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.
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