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A Team for America: The Army-Navy Game That Rallied a Nation Hardcover – November 29, 2011

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Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Author Randy Roberts

Q: What drew you to write about West Point football during World War II?

A: Since I was in high school I have had two abiding interests--sports and the history of the two world wars. As a writer I have authored more than a half dozen books about sports and athletes, and as a teacher I have had thousands of students in my course on World War II. Given those twin interests, A Team For America was a natural. I knew that the 1944 Army team, led by two future Heisman Trophy winners, was one of the greatest in college football history. But I wondered, what was it like to play under the shadow of the largest war in world history? And, how did the action on the field contribute to the war effort? Such questions made me want to talk to the players and to tell their story.

Q: Why were the service academies, Army and Navy, so good during the war?

A: Well, initially there was some doubt whether football--as well as professional baseball and other college and professional sports--would continue during the war. The demand for soldiers and sailors was so acute that it seemed to many people that any man strong enough to lug a football should be lugging a rifle. But led by U.S. Navy officials, the government established V-programs in colleges across America to provide education and training for future naval officers, and these youths were allowed to participate in varsity sports. But as they finished their training, they were called into the service. At the academies the situation was different. Although their time at the academies was reduced from four to three years, they could not be called into the service until their three years education was completed. Therefore the academies had a more consistent source of manpower for their teams. It made planning for the Army coach, the legendary Earl "Red" Blaik, easier.

Q: Why was the 1944 season unique and memorable?

A: To begin with, as I said earlier, it was played under the shadow of the war. Think of this: The class of 1945 became upperclassmen when the class of 1944 graduated. The day was June 6, 1944--D- Day. General Brehon B. Somervell, after delivering the graduation address at the Academy, announced, "Only a few hours ago the mightiest undertaking ever attempted by our Army was launched against the enemy entrenched along the shores of France. Today our forces began that grim, tough and bloody march from the shores of the Atlantic to Berlin." Of course, the cadets and spectators at the ceremony cheered wildly. In a way, that was the start of the 1944 season. During the fall millions of Americans opened their newspapers to read about the march of U.S. armed forces toward Berlin and Tokyo as well as the campaign of the West Point football team to win the national championship. For many readers, the actions on the battlefield and the playing field were somehow linked, forming a story about what was good and right about America.

Q: Did the players at West Point during the war end up in combat?

A: Certainly the ones who graduated in 1942, 1943, and 1944 became part of what they called "The Big Show." For example, Henry Romanek and Robin Olds, two friends who played on the same teams at West Point, were both part of the D-Day invasion. Romanek was badly wounded. Olds flew above the beaches in a P-38 fighter. Olds went on to earn ace status both in World War II and the Vietnam War. By the time the class of 1945 graduated the war was almost over. But many of them served in the Korean War, several dying on the battlefield or from wounds suffered in combat.

Q: What was the most important thing that you leaned during researching and writing A Team For America?

A: On one level I learned a great deal about the home front during the war--about the lives that most Americans led while many of their sons, brothers, and cousins were fighting overseas. But on a more personal level, the research brought me into contact with some extraordinary men. Uniformly, they were generous with their time and memories, still close to their teammates, and proud of the Academy. There’s a lot of talk about the "Greatest Generation," and I’m not exactly sure of how far to take the phrase. But the men I met and studied were special. Still today, they inspire awe. Writing their story was a pleasure.

About the Author

RANDY ROBERTS is a Distinguished Professor of History at Purdue University. His previous books include John Wayne: American (coauthored with James Olson), Joe Louis: Hard Times Man, and Papa Jack: Jack Johnson and the Era of White Hopes among others. He is married to Marjie Traylor Roberts and father to twin daughters, Alison and Kelly.