#OKlegacies: The time Aggie-American heroes won it all

Some think it silly that Oklahoma A&M and other schools were awarded retroactive football national championships for the years preceding the modern awards system.

It may seem that way, but for Oklahoma State, there is depth to the story that led to a trophy 70 years later.

It’s about brave warriors finally getting their due.

Sure, they were figurative warriors on the football field and went undefeated that season. But, like many other young men, they were literal warriors on battlefields first.

The A&M Aggies started the 1945 football season about three weeks after World War II ended. While it wasn’t a situation unique only to A&M, multiple players were WWII veterans. They came home to Stillwater as soon as Uncle Sam’s mission was finished and traded their service helmets for leather ones. They were sent to fight and returned battered, physically and mentally. Yet immediately, they were tasked with entertaining Americans in sport.

They carried our fears and our future on their backs across bloody trenches, in fighter planes and on stormy seas. Weeks later, they carried our hopes and our morale through football stadiums while the effects of the depression and war loomed.

The Greatest Generation, no doubt.

In 1945 and 1946, some of the greatest OSU athletes of all time suited up for their country and then for their school. That resulted in a purely magical time in history for the university — an undefeated football season and back-to-back basketball national championships. Several A&M players in both sports were wounded in war, and the ones who stayed home said they wished they had been sent overseas, too, Heisman finalist Bob Fenimore among them. Basketball starter Sam Aubrey returned with one leg shorter than the other. His teammates said he’d play in immense pain, but a game is nothing when you’ve been shot by Nazis, right?

They were a real-life band of brothers. Being a part of something — a team — when they were safe again on America’s shores likely preserved a little of their hearts after the terrors they witnessed at the hands of enemies.

Yes, it was a retroactive decision for the football title, awarded just two years ago since the Coaches Poll wasn’t around in 1945. The champion the Associated Press chose that year was none other than the undefeated mighty Army Cadets.

But retroactive. The time passed doesn’t dim the light. In fact, it is a shining moment on what was dark times for Oklahoma and America.

Seven Aggies pitched in to save the world from evil domination, and they dominated every opponent during the most meaningful football season in OSU lore. Seven inspiring veterans, and a team of men upholding them, were victorious.

The perseverance of that generation is unmatched. I’m sure they knew they were the best team in 1945, sans Army, but it would have been pretty grand to have seen the Aggie-American heroes being awarded a trophy before they died.

Instead, Oklahoma State alumni carry that pride forward on their backs.

American heroes. 1945 National Champions.

No asterisk.

Just American glory. 

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Gene Fitter: Pilot in Europe
Bob Hargrove: Lieutenant overseas
Jim Reynolds: Piloted 52 missions over Germany
Terry Monroe: Naval Air Corps
Bert Cole: Was shot down over Yugoslavia
Otis Schellstede: Paratrooper who dropped on D-Day
J.D. Cheek: Served with famed 45th Division

Photos: Oklahoma State University

 

P.S. Annual reminder — Veterans Day is Nov. 11. Please tell a *living* veteran how thankful you are for their service. That’s what Veterans Day is about. Don’t wait for taps and a funeral. Salute now. Tell them now. Let them see your love.

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My “Oklahoma Legacies” series is dedicated to chronicling life in my great home state, because ol’ No. 46 makes my heart beat pretty steady and strong. Every person and every place has a story — past and present. These are Oklahoma’s. Click here to see past posts in the #OKlegacies series.

Yes, there’s something different about me now.

When I lost all of my hair six years ago, I was in the middle of jumping my life’s tallest hurdle. I gained so much since that journey began. I gained back confidence, security and love for myself.

And recently, over the last year or more, things happened to make me forget all that progress.

I want them again. I miss that proud girl.

When my hair began growing, I hid it behind a wig because it made me cry to see it coming in much darker than before. The sunshine on my head had decided to reappear a little overcast. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize the person I saw. It made me sad. It represented a lot of things I had lost in life.

That muddy brown shade stood for struggle.

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Silly girl, tears don’t put out wildfires

My family always has been my refuge.

I was blessed with good examples. As a child, I was blessed with food on my plate and parents who insisted we eat a home-cooked supper together, at the kitchen table, every night.

I was blessed with a roof over my head.

I was blessed with a grandpa and daddy who built that home with their blood, sweat and tears.

Five years ago this week, however, the tears falling were mine.

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A first kiss under a tree. Now he’s forever 14.

If there was one thing I could bank on when I was a kid, it was that Jason would be on my front porch, waiting for me to finish my supper so we could play basketball.

It was like clockwork.

Every day, Daddy came home from work at the same time — nearly to the second.

Mama would have home-cooked goodness ready 30 minutes later. Then we’d all sit down together and eat.

As long as it wasn’t raining or snowing, my neighbor Jason would be sitting right past the screen door, ready for a game of H-O-R-S-E.

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#OKLegacies: The standard of grace and hope

It’s time for another anniversary of a dark day.

“The Oklahoma Standard” has guided me in many things throughout my life. Most of all, it has taught me that if you look really hard — grace floats to the top of the depths of pain.

Below is an editorial I wrote for the Cleveland American three years ago, a day after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

The Oklahoma Standard sort of took over my mind that day, so I started writing.

Watching the news come out of Boston served as a reminder of OKC. It was a reminder of hopelessness and of pain.

But even though grace is tough to come by during times of confusion and anger — the 168 souls that perished on April 19, 1995 still teach us grace every single day with their brave Oklahoma spirit still very much alive in the loved ones they left behind.

And the countless compassionate people who led our state through the tunnel and toward the light — then and now — keep our eyes focused on carrying that grace forth.

Here’s that column on Boston from three years ago, which I think is fitting for us on this anniversary of when Oklahoma City was terrorized by cowards.

God bless the 168.


Rescue hope by choking out the hate
By Brandi Ball

Published: 4/17/2013, The Cleveland American

What happened in Boston on Monday rocks my soul.
Bombs placed in a crowd of people, only to incite death and destruction?
I heard someone say afterward: “Bad has always existed. It’s not hard to believe this happened. It’s actually pretty easy to believe it. People are just evil.”
While evil is a concept that dates back almost to the inception of good, I still gasp with disbelief when things like this happen. Because no matter how much tragedy is in our world, I still believe in the good.
I believe that kindness and love reign on this Earth, no matter how much evil tries to encroach.
McViegh blew up OKC, bin Laden blew up NYC, and people all over this world are killed by hate every minute. There are unfeeling people and racists and bullies and people who live to see others suffer.
And, yes, even knowing all of that, it still jolts my soul when an intentional act does harm to others.
Perhaps that’s just my hopefulness taking root, but I always want to be stopped in my tracks with a “this is unbelievable,” look on my face when it comes to seemingly malicious matters. Because the minute I become accustomed to an idea that evil acts inherently occur in my world, that is the moment goodness begins to lose the battle.
I don’t ignore the bad. I’m very aware of its existence. But when we find it easy to believe people can callously take another’s life, that is the moment we feed oxygen to the fire. When evil becomes routine instead of anomaly, that’s when evil begins to take bigger breaths and grow and reproduce. And that’s happening right now, this week, while folks’ hearts are hardening, because constantly being on the outside looking in on tragedy is getting too painful.
My heart is hurting. I overwhelmingly trust in good and believe, on all levels, that it outweighs evil. But some days, in some places like Boston, it wasn’t strong enough. My heart is shattered because I’m disappointed brotherly love can’t always be the victor.
Instead of choosing hatred for those who do evil acts, let our hearts be softened by the heroism performed by clergy, first-responders, police, doctors, nurses, volunteers and even innocent children who are dropped to their knees in prayer.
Why? Because the alternative is too risky.
The only other option will ensure we become caught in raging flames of those evil fires. We can’t be trapped in the backdraft.
Through all the noise, never forget that things of beauty and acts of understanding and kindness are happening in all corners of this Earth. In every country. In every city. In every village. And no matter how many times evil happens this world over — no matter if it’s women being persecuted in the Middle East or genocide in Africa or murderous drug lords in Central America or dictators stealing the dignity of their countrymen or guns being shot at innocent schoolchildren or theater-goers or bombs being set off in a cheerful Boston crowd or an Oklahoma City daycare — I will still be in disbelief, time and time again.
It’s OK to be sad. I am, and deeply so. But take solace in knowing that for every one hateful coward, there are a million-plus good shepherds of society… male, female, young, old, black and white and every other shade of complexion.
We outnumber them.
When bad happens, my heart still will waver in its beating upon the announcement. My soul still will search for a way to write it off as a dream, even though it isn’t possible or logical. And my eyes always will search for those who, instead of flippantly saying, “people are just evil,” are already at work trying to choke out the hate and water the garden of kindness.
Good will win. Honor will prevail over grace.
We can’t succumb to a belief that hate cannot be overcome.
Love is alive.
But we must keep nourishing it or else we also are guilty — not of murder or of evil, but of apathy.
We will be guilty of allowing people to die in vain, all because we forgot the strength of goodness and hopefulness when they stand together as one.
Never forget to look for the grace.

 

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My “Oklahoma Legacies” series is dedicated to chronicling life in my great home state, because ol’ No. 46 makes my heart beat pretty steady and strong. Every person and every place has a story — past and present. These are Oklahoma’s. Click here to see all the posts in my #OKlegacies series.

The time my hair fell out and I grew a pair of wings

Because sometimes the inspiration to rise from the ashes, squeeze lemonade and soar like eagles comes from the unlikeliest of people and places.

I posted on Facebook this morning about my “bad hair day.”

I did it mostly because I don’t mind making fun of myself. In fact, that is one thing I can say I am good enough at doing I should be earning a professional paycheck for it.

We must try not to take ourselves too seriously.

I was given a boost from some construction workers this morning. Keep in mind those guys were working in Tulsa, where they have so many potholes to fill, they likely won’t have time to look at women for the next 25 years.

The potholes basically worked as beer goggles as I went by, my hair a nest under my disguise of a ball cap.

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Fighter. Champion. Ironman.

Dear Baby Brother,

You have trained for this moment for seven years. We all have loved you and believed in you for the nearly 25 years since you took your first little breath.

As you prepare this morning for the biggest challenge of your life and to reach a level only the most elite of athletes attain, know these things and meditate on them.

The nervous moments ahead of competition are normal, even for Olympians. It’s OK to have them, just don’t allow them to win over precious space your head. Nervous moments mean you understand the adversities. They mean you not only want to slay the beast, but also that you respect it.

As our man Rocky said: “That’s how winning is done.”

Because you are ready. You are prepared. Say that to yourself as you walk to check in.

“I am ready. My body is ready. My mind is ready. I am prepared. My body is prepared. My mind is prepared.”

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How a blonde wig saved me

From a very early age, I had hair that would make even D.J. Tanner swoon. My blonde mane was a Candace Cameron/Farrah Fawcett hybrid. I was a blonde Brooke Shields.

Well, maybe not. But I sure felt like it.

The women at church would ooh and ahh over its thickness. My friends would express their jealousy. The ladies’ restroom was always a spot where the good-natured hair envy flowed freely. Strangers in line behind me at the grocery store would ask to touch it. It was as if, in a crowded supermarket, my hair was the equivalent of a pregnant tummy. People would invade my personal, intimate space just to cop a feel, all in the name of compliments. My hair was shiny, wavy, thick and bouncy. It was the one thing my teen angst couldn’t deny. Self-esteem has always been clearly perched atop my head.

It was my badge of confidence. No matter how I felt about my naturally muscular thighs or the amount of concealer it took to cover that creepy vein under my right eye, I always had great hair to drown out the beauty critic who lives inside my soul.

My hair was everything to me.

Until I got sick. Until I started carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. Until the stress became too much. Until all my hair started falling out.

Until I had to buy a wig.

Now my badge of confidence is honey-blonde synthetic fibers, stamped with a Raquel Welch label.

I am still losing enough hair to make Donald Trump a toupee. Daily. Something had to be done. I needed a day of renewal in more than one sense: With my sick days making their way to the rearview mirror, my doctor finally released me to return to work. But I couldn’t interview people for the newspaper with hair that seemed to jump out of my head and onto anything in its path. Judi’s World of Wigs to the rescue. Except that day, the greatest loss to stare me in the face was not my formerly lustrous locks. It was when an executive at my company left a voicemail letting me know that I would not be welcomed back after my leave of absence.

He fired me.

My mission was altered just like that. I now had to find something to cover my sick, mangy-looking head because, for the first time in years, I was an out-of-work journalist who was hitting the job interview circuit in a bad economy. The economy doesn’t care if you’ve won any awards, gotten any scoops, or even if you are a friendly person with a reference letter from an ESPN news editor or a minister.

When I first walked into the wig shop, I was shaking all the way from my toes up to my bald spots. The woman at the counter looked like Flo from Mel’s Diner, which did very little to allay my fears. As she smiled and walked about the store, it became clear to me that Dennis Rodman would have looked less inconspicuous wearing the same strawberry-blonde short stack.

So I cried. I was convinced that buying a wig meant that I, too, would end up looking like I stepped off a cheap ’70s sitcom.

The first one I tried looked like a squirrel attached to my crown. Scratch that – it looked like a dead squirrel attached to my crown.

“Flo” saw me crying. She walked over and kneeled next to my beauty shop chair. She gave me an “It’s OK, Hon” pat on the back and, with a straight face, tried to calm the situation. Very gently and sweetly, she leaned in and whispered, “Can you tell I have on a wig?”

Crickets.

Um, ahem.

I put on my polite face and said, “You have on a wig?” She cackled and snorted and looked so proud, because she thought she was fooling everyone into believing it was real. So I laughed. My mother laughed. Everyone laughed. Flo thought she made me feel better about buying a wig, but really, she made me feel better about the entirety of the situation. Flo helped me realize that it was what it was, and I couldn’t do anything about it. In the darkest of times, laughter is God’s nectar.

After what seemed like 50 Eva Gabors and Raquel Welchs later, I found the one. It looked surprisingly similar to my own hair’s thickness, cut and color. So I did the only logical thing. I cried again.

For the first time in four months, my tears were those of joy and of healing.

Don’t underestimate the devastation of hair falling out. Sure, it will probably grow back to its former glory in a couple of years; I even have a few seedlings sprouting up. But for a woman – a young, vibrant, happy, single, career woman – hair loss is a tragedy worthy of a Daniel Defoe novel.

I’m convinced, thanks to Raquel Welch, that my new mass of curls will give me the strength to be a modern-day Robinson Crusoe. My life has been shipwrecked by illness and job loss and medical bills that have reached six figures. If the shoe fits…

But just like Defoe’s Crusoe, I’ll craft art out of mud. I’ll plant crops without a plow. I’ll find a way to build a house with only items I find in my wilderness.

My wig is already a good start on the foundation. It already has given me more comfort than I could have imagined. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to keep a photo of D.J. Tanner on the mirror, either.

Oh, and the world and its obstacles? Kiss. My. Grits. Because I have a head full of doubt, but I’ve also got a road full of promise.

“Head Full Of Doubt / Road Full Of Promise”
Avett Brothers

There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light
In the fine print they tell me what’s wrong and what’s right
And it comes in black and it comes in white
And I’m frightened by those that don’t see it

When nothing is owed or deserved or expected
And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected
If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected
Decide what to be and go be it

There was a dream and one day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it
And there was a kid with a head full of doubt
So I’ll scream til I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out

There’s a darkness upon you that’s flooded in light
And in the fine print they tell you what’s wrong and what’s right
And it flies by day and it flies by night
And I’m frightened by those that don’t see it

There was a dream and one day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it
And there was a kid with a head full of doubt
So I’ll scream til I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out

There was a dream and one day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it
And there was a kid with a head full of doubt
So I’ll scream til I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out

There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light
In the fine print they tell me what’s wrong and what’s right
There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light
And I’m frightened by those that don’t see it

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Brandi Ball is now an unemployed journalist who is living and blogging in Oklahoma.

Email: brandiball.ok@gmail.com

Resume: https://www.linkedin.com/in/blball