Anderson, Lars. "The All Americans," New York: St. Martin's Press, 2004. [ISBN 0-312-30887-6], size: 6x9, $24.95, 272 pages, hardcover.
This is a story about courage on and off the football field and is centered around the 1941 Army and Navy football teams and the last big game before the world changed forever.
On Saturday, Nov. 29, 1941, the 51st Annual Army Navy Football game was held before a crowd of over 100,000 at Philadelphia's Municipal Stadium and around the world, many more were listening in by radio.
Lars Anderson writes about the lives of four men who played on that day, two Army and two Navy players. He begins with the early lives of these men, how they got to the academies and that fateful game day, one-week before Pearl Harbor and he follows their stories through World War II and life afterwards.
The book is replete with football jargon and game strategies that leave football non-aficionados in the dark. However, overall, it is a compelling story about these young men who stood the test of their teammates and then undertook the leadership against an unknown enemy who didn't necessarily follow the game book.
This book tells the story from the football field that makes you sit back in amazement and appreciation of the determination of these young players during the last weekend of peace in the crisp fall of 1941.
Having played in the band in high school and college, I have always been a firm believer that the sole purpose of the football game is to provide a venue for the band's half-time performance. But for the first time, Anderson made me sit back and appreciate the football team.
While the book focuses on these men and the intensity of the 1941 Army Navy Football Game, I cannot fail to remember Major William Graham Gillis, Jr., of Milam County, who attended the West Point Military Academy during the pre-World War II days.
Cadet Gillis was Captain of the 1940 West Point Football Team as well as a record-setting member of the track team in the low and high hurdles. Anderson's book (p. 62-64) does describe the 1940 Army Navy Football game on Nov. 29th, which was the 50th anniversary game of this academy rivalry before a crowd of over 102,000 in Philadelphia.
Major Gillis took the skills he acquired at West Point and the football field with him through World War II until Sept. 30, 1944 in the Gremecey Forest, near Nancy, Germany where, at the age of 26, he gave his life in the service of his country. He was the commander of the 1st Battalion, 320th Infantry Regiment, 35th Division and received the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, and many other awards and decorations.
In 1989, Major Gillis was honored with the naming the Gillis Field House in his honor at West Point. This gym is home of the Black Knights volleyball team and home of the Army's indoor track and field teams.
Anderson's story of the 1941 Army and Navy football tells how these men share an intense comradeship on the field of sports when life was simple and sweet and all that mattered in the world was beating the other team. The next weekend, the world changed forever with the attack on Pearl Harbor and these young men were thrown into one of the largest wars in history where soon all that mattered was leading their men and keeping them safe and achieving their goal, victory against the enemy.
As a historian, I was dismayed by the lack of a full and complete bibliography and the absence of an index. The failure to include an index is a clear oversight by the publisher and makes the book cumbersome and almost useless to researchers.
Note: Major Gillis was the only child of Judge William Graham Gillis (Milam County Judge) and Lulu Chambers Gillis. He was married to Lenore Riley and they were the parents of Georgia Ellen Gillis, born in 1943. In 1948, he was re-buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Cameron, Texas.
In this column, I will be glad to highlight and review any family history, genealogy, county history, or similar book, free of charge, if you donate a copy of the book or item. After it has been highlighted and reviewed, on a space available basis, it will be donated to the genealogy section of a library. You will receive an acknowledgment of the donation from the library. Mail item or book to me at the below address.
Lynna Kay Shuffield has written several books related to Texas genealogy and military history. She has spoken before numerous genealogy and veterans groups. Also, is a County Coordinator for the Texas GenWeb Project. Regretfully, she cannot help with individual genealogical research. Please visit the website for this column at: http://www.geocities.com/lks_friday/COLUMN-001.htm or if you have any questions, comments, suggestions for column topics, genealogy or historical society announcements, please contact her at: P. O. Box 16604, Houston, Texas 77222-6604 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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