In the winter of 1941 there was not much point in talking about a landing on the moon. Every Friday night you could turn on WABC and hear Kate Smith singing When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain, and that, so far as the record shows, exhausted popular interest in lunar exploration. Here and there, it is true, you could find a few visionary spirits who believed in space travel, but they were regarded uneasily when they began discussing their favorite subject. Out in Roswell, N. Mex., Dr. Robert Goddard, age 59, at last had his own shop and rocket-launching tower, after decades of neglect. Dr. Goddard was a versatile genius who won fame in his youth by writing the school song for Worcester Polytechnic Institute, unquestionably a most difficult school name to set to music—Stand by Her, Boys, Your Old Worcester Tech was his solution—and in 1929 he made headlines because one of his homemade rockets exploded and alarmed and perplexed the Worcester police department. The headlines interested Charles Lindbergh, who persuaded the copper magnate Harry Guggenheim to finance Goddard's experiments.
Then there was the American Rocket Society. It was founded in 1930 by a group of science-fiction writers. In 1941 the more dedicated members organized Reaction Motors, Inc. and started manufacturing rocket engines. By that time rocket developments in warfare were speeding things up generally. But popular enthusiasm was lacking. The president of the American Rocket Society said bitterly, "The lack of progress of American rocket research...was caused solely by the prevailing attitude of ridicule."
Vice-Admiral Chuichi Nagumo of the Japanese navy was not interested in getting to the moon in the winter of 1941; he had a more earthly destination. He was interested in getting a task force of six carriers, two battleships, three cruisers, nine destroyers and three submarines from the Kurile Islands to Hawaii without being discovered on the way. The ships were assembled at Tankan Bay on Saturday, Nov. 22.
That was an important date in American colleges, for a different reason. It was the day most would be playing their next-to-last games of a terrific football season. Unbeaten Duke, bound for the Rose Bowl, was playing North Carolina. Navy, beaten only by Notre Dame, played Princeton. Once-beaten Alabama, Cotton Bowl-bound, was taking on once-beaten Vanderbilt.
That Saturday had its own importance for the 26 men chosen for this year's Silver Anniversary Awards: they were all playing football, they were in their last year at college, and for most of them it was the last or next-to-last game ever. They all went on to distinguished careers that led to their nomination for Silver Anniversary Awards 25 years after they graduated. There was, however, a substantial interruption on the way. Vice-Admiral Nagumo and Pearl Harbor saw to that. The interruption ended forever the prewar world they had known and began a new era, different in so many ways that not only visionary scientists but heads of state could talk about a landing on the moon in the near future and not be regarded as crackpots.
Not that war was unexpected by this generation. "Most of us felt it was inevitable," one of them recalls. "But we were shocked at the way it came at Pearl Harbor." They were a matter-of-fact generation and, pending the arrival of war, they enjoyed themselves without working hard at it.
Paul and Arthur Eggers, running guard and end at Valparaiso University, had a particularly pleasant fall. Born in Seymour, Ind., the sons of a Lutheran minister, they were identical twins and so much alike they could switch dates and recite for each other in class. When Arthur was turned down for football in high school because of a heart murmur, Paul passed the physical examination for him. In return, Arthur used to memorize poetry and recite it in Paul's stead, declaiming in their German class such lines as "Du, du liegst mir im Herzen" as himself and repeating them as Paul. They thought alike, and starred in relay races because they passed the baton smoothly. Once they received national attention playing football for Valparaiso when they were both knocked out on the same play. Arthur did the blocking for Paul on ends-around, and opponents had trouble seeing which one had the ball. "It was a great thrill, Paul and I going on an end-around play," Arthur said. "We had a sixth sense. I knew exactly where he was, and he knew where I was."
William McGarvey Dudley
, later a famous professional football star, was the captain of the extraordinary Virginia team that lost only to Yale. Born in Bluefield, Va., he was driving a soda-pop truck when he won a scholarship to Virginia despite his few years and few pounds (he was 5 feet 10 and weighed 172). "They took me because I could place-kick," he said. It was a wise choice. Dudley played his first college game at 16. At 19 he was All-America, captain and the nation's leading scorer.
Captain William Busik was a Pasadena, Calif. high school star who played with Jackie Robinson in junior college before going to the Naval Academy. Busik was credited with doing most for the 1941 Navy team that won seven and lost only to Notre Dame. In the Army-Navy game eight days before Pearl Harbor, Army led at the half 6-0. But from the opening kickoff in the second half, according to
The New York Times
, "Navy went all the way for a touchdown, with Barnacle Bill Busik the whole show.... Busik has seldom been more brilliant." Navy won 14-6.
Robert Pray Barnett, the son of an Albany, Ga. physician, was 6 feet 4, weighed 220 and was center and captain of the Duke eleven that piled up 311 points to 41 for its opponents in winning nine games.