When Willamette went to war

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The 1941 Willamette University Bearcats, left to right. Front: Irv Miller, Cecil Conner, Pat White, Tony Fraiola, Al Walden, Jim Fitzgerald, Buddy Reynolds, Chuck Furno. Second row: Earl Hampton, Bill Reder, Martin Barstad, Ted Ogdahl, Jim Burgess, Gene Stewart, Glenn Nordquist, Wally Olson. Third row: Dick Kern (manager), Paul Cookingham, George Constable, David Kelly, Ken Jacobson, Allan Barrett, Marshall Barbour, Clarence Williams, assistant coach Howard Maple. Back row: David Kurtz, Robert Bennett, Gordon Moore, Andrew Rogers, Neil Morley, Marv Goodman, Carrel "Truck" Deiner, Coach Roy S. "Spec" Keene. Cookingham, Kurtz, Clarence Walden and coach Maple did not make the trip to Hawaii.

By Tom Wilson

The 1941 Willamette Bearcats compiled an impressive 8-2 record. They easily won the Northwest Conference title, outscoring their five opponents 218-7. The team included future Willamette University Athletic Hall of Fame selections Ted Ogdahl, Marvin Goodman, Dick Weisgerber (assistant coach) and head coach Roy S. 'Spec' Keene.

Willamette had 11 of 13 players on the NWC first-team all-star unit: ends Bill Reder and Marshall Barbour; tackles Martin Barstad, Neil Morley and George Constable; guards Tony Fraiola and Gordon Moore; and backs Al Walden, Buddy Reynolds, Gene Stewart and Ogdahl.

Ken Jacobson, a blocking back, quarterback, and linebacker explained, "Spec was a good recruiter and he wanted to go big time, but we really didn't have the facilities.  We played and practiced on the same field.  We did win the Northwest Conference all four years that I was there. At that time the school had about 800 or 900 students."

Jacobson was a sophomore in 1941.

After losing only to Idaho, the Bearcats were looking forward to a trip to Hawaii. Willamette and San Jose were to play a series of games with Hawaii called the Shrine Bowl.

"We took the train from Salem to San Francisco and got on a cruise ship.  The ship stopped in Los Angeles to pick up more passengers. My father (State Senator Douglas McKay) was a very good friend of the coaches. He and I went to Hawaii.  We went with some neighbors also," said Shirley (McKay) Hadley, a sophomore in 1941.

"I was a freshman in college [that year].  I was right out of high school from a small town with 300 students.  I had never really been far from home, and had never seen the ocean.  It was a big experience to go to Los Angeles and then on to Hawaii. Many of the fellas got seasick on the trip, fortunately I didn't," remembered fullback and quarterback Earl Hampton.

The first game was played Dec. 6 before a crowd of 24,000. Although the Bearcats had suffered a 20-6 defeat, many of the Oregonians were looking forward to several days of postgame festivities.

Marv Goodman, a senior in 1941 reasoned, "In those days you played both ways, I don't remember for sure but I think we only had a roster of 23 or 24 players.   I played end on both sides of the ball. It was freezing when we left Salem, then we hit 85 degree weather and we didn't last long."

Goodman was a football Little All-American in 1941.  He also lettered in baseball, basketball and track at Willamette.

"I remember the huge stadium of about 25 or 30 thousand people.  I had never seen that many people in my life. The Hawaiian boys were very fast.  I think we could have given them a better ballgame, if a number of our fellas weren't recovering from seasickness.  I don't want to use that as an excuse, but think that certainly impacted the final score," stated Hampton.

Jacobson said, "They were a much bigger team then we were.  The year before they [Hawaii] were in the states and we scrimmaged them.  I thought we would hold our own with them in Hawaii. They had very good running back that we had trouble matching up with speed-wise."

On the morning of Dec. 7, the Willamette team and fans from Salem were waiting outside the Moana Hotel in Waikiki for a bus tour to take them on a sightseeing tour of the island and a picnic. They were planning to see Pearl Harbor.   Then black oily smoke filled the air.

Hampton said, "I happened to be out in front of the hotel while it was going on.  Down the street there was a big explosion about two blocks away.  I guess a Japanese plane dropped its last bomb as it was leaving.  We didn't know exactly what was going on until later, when we picked up news on the radio.  Then Coach Spec and some military personnel came by and they had rifles with bayonets stacked in the lobby of the hotel. They told us that they were expecting the Japanese to attack the island and that Waikiki would be a likely place.  They were digging trenches out by the beach, while some of us helped them."  

"We spent most of the afternoon and evening not knowing what was expected of us. We wouldn't have been much of a defense against the Japanese.  That night we stayed in the hotel.  It was a harrowing experience for us, since most of us had come from small farms," he added.

"We were out in front of the hotel and we had a picnic planned with the University of Hawaii.  We were going to a beach on the other side of the island.  We were waiting for the bus and then we saw airplanes flying over.  We saw several formations of planes, but we couldn't tell what they were.  Then the bus didn't come and somebody said that there were maneuvers going on.  You could see bombs dropping in the water.  We thought that those were really close maneuvers for military to be practicing.    Finally, someone turned on the radio and we found out that we were being bombed," recalled Jacobson.

"The boys on the team actually wondered how many (servicemen) watched them on Saturday and then died on Sunday."
– Gloria Goodman

"We had breakfast and we were waiting for the bus.  The sky was just black with smoke and anti-aircraft fire. On the radio they didn't know much more than we did.  Rumors were rampant, we couldn't drink the water because we were told that it had been poisoned by the Japanese," said Goodman.

"We had our boxed lunches packed for the tour, and some of us were swimming while waiting for the bus.  Then a solider came along and told us to walk under the trees and go back to the hotel because the island is under attack," added Hadley.

Marv Goodman's wife Gloria remarked, "The boys on the team actually wondered how many (servicemen) watched them on Saturday and then died on Sunday."

After the aerial onslaught was over, the football team was enlisted by the Army to fend off a possible Japanese invasion by water. First they helped to string barbed wire on Waikiki beach at low tide. The players were issued bolt-action Springfield M1903 rifles from World War I and given some brief training. There first orders were to be prepared to defend the beach. Shortly thereafter they were assigned to Punahou High School in the hills above Honolulu. Authorities feared that water towers and storage tanks nearby might become targets of sabotage. The players moved into the dormitories and classrooms and went on sentry rotation of 6 hours on/4 hours off.

Marv Goodman said, "We were taken into the Hawaiian guard and issued World War I rifles.  I had about a block walk to patrol.  I can remember that there weren't any traffic or lights, it was eerie.  I had a round in the chamber, I really didn't know much about firing it.  We were certainly projected into an atmosphere that we weren't prepared for."

"The U.S. engineers got bombed out of their headquarters.  So they took up shop at the high school.  So we formed up and took a shift at guard duty, and then the San Jose team would take one, and then the national guard would take a shift. I"d never even seen a rifle before. They gave us Springfield rifles with the bayonet on it.  We"d patrol the school and say ‘Halt, who goes there" and ‘Stand and be recognized". This went on 24 hours a day until we left, " remarked Ken Jacobson.

Shirley Hadley joked, "The guard duty was interesting because the football team didn't know much about guns.  My father had tried to show them about the guns.  They were lucky that they didn't shoot each other."

"I worked at Tripler [Army] hospital helping the injured children. I helped them eat and read to them until their family located them.  Supposedly the kids were on their way to Sunday school and were hit by stray shrapnel," she said.

They finally left Hawaii on Dec. 19 aboard the SS President Coolidge. A luxury ocean liner, the Coolidge had arrived in Hawaii with evacuees from the Philippines. Now it was commandeered to transport gravely wounded servicemen, most of whom were badly burned or amputees. Willamette coach, Roy ‘Spec" Keene and Douglas McKay persuaded the captain to take the team and their followers back to the mainland in exchange for assisting with the wounded.  McKay was a state senator from Salem, who would later become governor of Oregon and a member of President Eisenhower's cabinet.  There were approximately 1,200 people on board the ship that was designed to carry 800. The normal four-day trip took seven days because of the zigzagging route required to avoid Japanese submarines. On Christmas Day the Willamette football party returned safely to San Francisco.

Hadley recalled, "We helped with the wounded that were in the bowels of the ship.  They were very badly injured — one was a baseball player, he was wondering how he would pitch with only one arm. The ship was way overloaded with 1,200 people when it should have had only 800.  We had destroyer escorts from Hawaii and switched halfway with destroyers from San Francisco."

"They took the badly wounded on the boat and we helped out.  We stayed in steerage because that was all that was available. We heard that there were ships being torpedoed and that didn't make you feel very good, " said Goodman.

"We were put on a hospital ship with about 125 wounded.  We were in a convoy and changed direction every 15 minutes.  We were told that there were Japanese submarines out in the Pacific," Earl Hampton remembered.

Jacobson said, "As we got closer to San Francisco we could get radio, and we heard of ships being sunk by the Japanese subs.  On that last night into port, I don't think any of us slept."

Almost the entire team enlisted in the service.  Bill Reader was the only team member killed in action during WWII.

The team was inducted into the Willamette University Athletic Hall of Fame on Sept. 13, 1997. Also inducted that year were Wayne and Shirley Hadley, longtime supporters of Willamette athletics who were with the football squad in Hawaii.

Hadley reminisced, "The young men on the football team were a great bunch."

"They still go to all of the games [when Willamette is home]. The ones that are left get together every other week over coffee and have a really good time trying to solve the world's problems," said Gloria Goodman.

Tom Wilson, a contributing writer to D3football.com, is the publisher of Rowanfootball.com. Contributing: Cliff Voliva.

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Dec. 14: All times Eastern
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 24, Mount Union 16
@ Woodforest Bank Stadium; Shenandoah, Texas
Recap Photos Box Score