Memorial Day has Special Significance for Army Football
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On Monday, in small towns and big cities all across the United States, there will be ceremonies of remembrance for those who made the greatest sacrifice for our nation. American flags will wave from doorways and porches across the land, and television screens will show tributes to those who committed themselves to a greater cause. While Memorial Day has become the "unofficial beginning of summer" in America, it is also a time where people will take pause at their barbecues to honor the greatest heroes of our nation.
West Point plays an important and significant part in that parade of memories. For many fans of Army Football, it is the higher calling, that great commitment to service to our nation that makes the Army team special. The year when we first posted our annual Memorial Day article, it was at a time where the players who took the field that fall had come to West Point when the United States was deep in battle on the streets of Iraq and the Mountains of Afghanistan. The young men that put on the Black & Gold will one day turn in their football uniforms for Army green, as the 2021 graduating class will do. In 2009, the senior class that wore camouflage football uniforms for the Army-Navy game will most likely be wearing that uniform on the battlefield on foreign soil in the not-so-distant future.
It's days like Memorial Day when we recognize just how special the commitment of an Army football player is, and where we understand why Army football is different than ten out of the other twelve teams the Black Knights face each fall.It's days like Memorial Day that were member former players like Major Don Holleder. In 1954, Holleder was a junior All America end for the Cadets (Army was not yet known as the Black Knights), a team that ended up ranked seventh in the nation. The following season,legendary head coach Red Blaik faced a dilemma - he had no quarterback. Blaik knew that Holleder did not have the tools of a quarterback, but that he had the leadership qualities needed to run the team. Holleder, living up to the character Blaik recognized, accepted the challenge though he had never played a down at the position.
The 2018 football season has been historic and like Blaik, never waivered, and Holleder led that team to a 6-3 record and a win over heavily favored Navy. It was the refusal to quit and commitment to victory that made Holleder and that Army team winners. Rather than take the easy road and gain personal glory at his end position, he made the sacrifice and showed his selfless commitment to the team at quarterback. Following the 1955 season, he was honored by Sports Illustrated with their cover for what he did that year. Holleder later served as an officer inVietnam. He never waivered from the selfless performance he showed in that 1955 season. Flying over the battlefield, he saw fellow soldiers being ambushed, and landed his chopper to go into the fray to save them. He was hit by sniper fire and died on the battlefield trying to save his fellow soldiers.The stories of heroism are synonymous with Army Football.
When each player runs onto the football field each Saturday ,they touch a plaque that reads, "I want an officer for a secret and dangerous mission. I want a West Point Football player," a statement General George C.Marshall made in World War II.In 2004, when then Army Football coach Bobby Ross addressed the team the day an article appeared profiling him in USAToday, he stated that to that point, over 250 former Army Football players were serving in either Afghanistan or Iraq without a casualty - a statement that spoke volumes about the performance of Army players on the battlefield.
Former Army linebacker Curt Daniels served in Iraq. During his football days, the undersized defensemen was known for playing bigger than his stature, and that has transcended to the battlefield. Almost two years ago, Daniels was run over by a Humvee on a mission and was seriously wounded. Where many would give up, Daniels fought hard to get back to his unit. Though he is still in pain daily, Daniels approaches it with his normal gritty attitude. "I can still keep up with the fast group during PT so that's all that matters."The list of heroic moments by former Army football players on the battlefield and beyond is long. It is a part of what is expected of anyone who puts on the Black & Gold. Most of the players we have watched on Blaik Field over the past few years are now commanding units in Iraq, with great success. So with Memorial Day coming around again,let's not just remember those we have lost, but also remember those who still serve with distinction.
And let's always keep in mind that what we admire most about the guys we cheer for on Saturdays - playing against top competition while committing to something greater - is what continues to help make our troops victorious on the battlefield.