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“Football! Navy! War!”: How Military “Lend-Lease” Players Saved the College Game and Helped Win Worl

Discussion in 'Biographies and Everything Else' started by dgmitchell, Aug 17, 2009.

  1. dgmitchell

    dgmitchell Ace

    May 9, 2008
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    “They’re either too young or too old” according to the 1940’s song. While the song may have been referring to the romantic prospects of young women during World War II, it might just as easily have applied to the recruiting efforts of college football programs throughout wartime America. Especially after the draft age was lowered to 18 in 1942, most college aged boys who might otherwise have played on the grid iron were instead called to serve their country in combat. In “Football! Navy! War!”: How Military “Lend-Lease” Players Saved the College Game and Helped Win World War II (McFarland and Company, 2009; 277 pages), Wilbur D. Jones, Jr. presents a thorough overview of how college football programs persevered during the war and on the support that those programs received from the United States Navy’s V Programs.

    At the beginning of the war, college football programs, like other competitive sporting programs around the United States, did not know what would happen to their plans. In addition to the manpower shortage that would be caused by the massive mobilization of young men for war, football programs also were quickly confronted with gas rationing and limited supplies of other materials. Ultimately, although more than 150 college football programs were suspended or terminated during the war, Jones concludes that the Navy’s willingness to allow young officers in training at dozens of campuses and naval training centers around America to play for or against college teams not only saved college football, but also gave America’s future officers the real world equivalent of combat training. More importantly perhaps, football was a way to condition young American men who the branches of service were quickly learning had become very unconditioned in the generation since the previous Great War.

    Jones treats each chapter of his twelve chapter work as a separate essay. He explores the rosters of both college and military teams and notes the general history of football and its rules up to the dawn of World War II. Full of statistical data, including the war-year records of numerous military football teams, such as the Bainbridge Naval Training Station Commodores and the Great Lakes NTS Blue Jackets, Jones gives meticulously detailed statistical data relating to player composition and team records.

    Unfortunately, although Jones does provide a good statistical abstract of college and military football programs during the Second World War, in trying to cover everything, generally, he does not offer sufficient detail on specific experiences. As a result, at times “Football! Navy! War!”seems almost to be more of a statistical abstract than anything else.

    Also, Jones does not truly develop his thesis that the Navy saved college football by allowing naval personnel to play for college teams. He should have more fully justified his position that college football would at least have struggled much more without the infusion of naval talent. Perhaps, college football would have suspended operations during the war due to lack of players, but there were plenty of 4F players available and might that not have been sufficient to allow college football to limp along until the Fall of 1945? I don’t know the answer to that question but I would have appreciated more exploration of it in “Football! Navy! War!”

    Although “Football! Navy! War!” describes the state of college football during World War II, it is by far more of a book about football history than a war story. That is consistent with Jones’ premise, as he is exploring the state of college football and not the fate of college football players in the war, but it would have been a desirable addition to the book if Jones had added more first person accounts of the experiences of football players who did see active duty and how they related their combat experiences to their grid iron experiences.

    Despite any criticism that may be levied against “Football! Navy! War!”, Wilbur D. Jones, Jr. has crafted a fine addition to the study of football history and students both of football history and college sports history will want to add this title to their libraries. Students of World War II will find that the war is merely a backdrop to the Jones’ study of college football during the war, but any World War II buff who enjoys the intersection of sport and war will also want to consider “Football! Navy! War!” for his or her library.

    For more information about “Football! Navy! War!” visit www.mcfarlandpub.com or call McFarland's order line at 800-253-2187.

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