#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.

#OKlegacies: Melting pot of gold

Today for lunch I had what has become a bit of a usual for me: beans, cornbread and fried taters from Josie’s hole-in-the-wall diner.

I skipped the pick-up window and went inside to grab my grub. The place was packed like always in the noon hour. I’m not sure why, but for some reason I noticed people a little deeper on this trip.

A farmer, a carpenter, a doctor, a foster mom and a minister sitting along one wall. An American Indian, a black man and a white woman laughing over their meal in the corner. They also were *listening* to one another.

So simple but so important.

Americans of different backgrounds and education levels, religions and colors – all precious in his sight. All with their own opinions, convictions and hearts that make up a collective heartbeat.

And they were at a small-town Oklahoma diner owned by a native Filipino family. The marquee out front advertises the Monday special: Chinese Lo Mein or beans and cornbread. They have pretty great burritos, too. The whole lot is made by a sweet immigrant and served in mismatched dishes.

In her best moments, America shines.

But it takes the consideration of the whole eclectic menu to make it work.

Imagine all that.

My imagination runs wild 99 percent of the time.

Wild like the horses busting free on the plains.

Wild like the flowers scattered on the landscape.

I see everything in color, no matter what decade. It is the only way my mind works.

My great great grandpa Charlie was a horse trader. A few weeks ago, we discovered this original tintype (and another) of him stashed away in a box of family photos. They are in wonderful condition on the plate, not at all indicative of being more than a century old.

I have stared at this particular photo a thousand times since the first. Likely there will be 1,000 more. I have written what seems like an entire book in my head of the events I dreamed up to surround this scene.

I often have been told I romanticize most everything in life, as if it were a bad thing. Truth is, it is the loveliest of things. It’s what keeps blood pumping and the soul hoping.

Imagination.

When I look at this, I see a young horse trader and his side-saddled love, out for a ride across the prairie on a Sunday afternoon. I see them basking in nature, laughing and dreaming up their lives together — not in sepia, but in full color.

I’ve written chapters in my head with every glance. The hardships and the struggles, the triumphs and the joys. I see the love between them that begat generations of hard-working, honest, generous and happy people. I see a legacy.

A simple tintype photo of two people in a field.
A priceless treasure, found in a box of keepsakes long forgotten.

One photo.

A thousand romanticized thoughts.

An imagination that won’t quit, because then I would cease to feel alive.

#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.

#OKlegacies: The Hag is gone, but I think he’ll stay

Merle Haggard’s baritone. I mean, c’monnnnn.

It’s smooth. It’s strong. It’s unmistakeable.

Yes, I’m talking about his voice in present tense even though he died today.

That’s the beauty of artists, of people who create. Their physical presence is missed by their family, those who love them most. But because they are artists, writers, musicians who have living, breathing documentation of their life — their talents and connection to people are preserved for all time.

Artists are timeless beyond the grave.

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Oklahoma Legacies: ‘Cash only. Closed Sundays, Hon’

When you walk past the rockin’ chairs out front and perch yourself on a barstool at the Dot’s Cafe counter, you go back in time.

It’s unavoidable.

Just a smidge off Route 66, it’s a little hole-in-the-wall slice of Americana. You’ll pay for your patty melt the same way your grandaddy did, because cash is still king at Dot’s place.

And no matter what the modern cafes do, Dot’s stays closed on the Lord’s day — because as good as those made-from-scratch pies and chicken noodles are, Dot’s leaves Sunday brunch to the ladies in the church fellowship halls. A refreshing taste of yesteryear, with a spunky tone.

When it comes to interesting cities, Claremore is one of Oklahoma’s headliners. With it being the backdrop for one of the most famous musicals of all time and frontage to America’s Main Street as it ushers cross-country travelers through, the home of Will Rogers isn’t too shabby of a spot.

Dot’s has about as much character as the city itself — and it’s had a lot of characters sitting in its booths over the years, too.

Order up some fried taters and homemade biscuits, and get a wink and a smile from the best waitress in town, who happens to be Dot’s granddaughter. Dot may be gone, but her family carries on that decades-long legacy.

Whether you stop in for the atmosphere or for the eats, you’ll leave this diner feeling a little like your soul is whistling Dixie, with a chorus of The Andy Griffith Show theme song.

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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.