I knew few soldiers who were not athletic. Combat is an athletic event. Not surprisingly, many were great athletes. The relationship between the fields of athletic competition and the battlefield were well defined by Medal of Honor Recipient Douglas MacArthur: “On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days, on other fields will bear the fruits of victory.”
The National Medal of Honor Museum in Arlington will highlight some of these athletes who were Medal of Honor recipients, and how their athletic skills helped them to excel on the fields of combat. Texas is a state that realizes the seeds of sports are valuable to our youth. And it is a state that excels on the fields of friendly strife.
Much of who MacArthur was to become was formed as a student athlete at Texas Military Academy in San Antonio, where he was the best tennis player in the city, the quarterback on the football team and shortstop on the baseball team, not to mention his unparalleled academic accomplishments. (It is interesting to note that had Douglas been a wild west gunfighter, he would have ranked up there with Wild Bill Hickok. MacArthur killed seven men in gunfights.)
Possibly, the greatest athlete among all MOH recipients was Andrew J. “Jack” Lummus from Ennis. He was the only recipient who played both professional football and baseball. He graduated from Baylor University where he was regarded as the greatest center fielder who ever played for that school. He also excelled at football and went on to play for the New York Giants. Today he is in the Ring of Honor at Giants Stadium.
On Nov. 9, 1941, in what has to be one of the most interesting football games ever played, Jack was on the field against Maurice “Footsie” Britt, and the great Byron “Whizzer” White of the Detroit Lions. Jack and Footsie would earn the MOH, and White would become a great justice on our Supreme Court. A month later Pearl Harbor was attacked and all three ended their professional football careers and volunteered to serve their country.
Jack was in the first wave to land on Iwo Jima where his skills as an athlete and leader developed in sports were spectacular. Here’s a summary of his MOH citation, the actions of an extraordinary athlete and leader: … After fighting for 2 days and nights, he was knocked to the ground when an enemy grenade exploded close by, he quickly located, attacked, and destroyed the occupied emplacement. Instantly taken under fire by the garrison of a supporting pillbox, he fell under the impact of a second enemy grenade but, courageously disregarding painful shoulder wounds, staunchly continued his heroic 1-man assault and charged the second pillbox, annihilating all the occupants. Held up again by a devastating barrage, he again moved into the open, rushed a third heavily fortified installation and killed the defending troops. Determined to crush all resistance, he personally attacked foxholes and spider traps with his carbine and systematically reduced the fanatic opposition until, stepping on a land mine, both legs were blown off and he sustained fatal wounds.
At the aid station, his last recorded words were, ”Well, doc, the New York Giants lost a mighty good end today.”
Future editions will continue to tell the stories of great legacies to be spotlighted in the NMHM.