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  • Ednold

Roses-N-Guns 1/19/20

Updated: Apr 12, 2020

Since the Ducks played in the Rose Bowl this New Year’s Day I have been doing a little Rose Bowl reading and it has reminded me of my favorite Rose Bowl story. If you haven’t heard it before then you should hear it now. For those already familiar with it I hope you’re like me and it only gets better and more interesting each time you hear it. There has only been one Rose Bowl played outside of Pasadena, California, and it was won by a team from the state of Oregon, from a school that has never won a Rose Bowl that was played in Pasadena, against a team led by a player who would one day end up as head coach of that winning team. As Winston Churchill might have said, and probably would have if he hadn't been busy with other things at the time, the whole story is an oddity wrapped in an aberration inside an anomaly.

The first Tournament of Roses Parade was held in 1890 as a way for the residents of Pasadena to advertise that they lived in a community where you could grow flowers and stage a parade at a time of year when much of the rest of the country was shoveling snow. The first Rose Bowl game was held in 1902 as a fundraiser to help pay for the parade. The idea was to pit the best college football team in the west against a suitable opponent from the east, and the champion of the old Pacific Coast Conference (PCC), the precursor to today’s PAC-12, got to choose their opposition.

In 1941, for the first time, Oregon State College won the PCC championship and the Rose Bowl invitation that came with it. OSC’s invitations to #1 Minnesota, Missouri and Fordham were all spurned before their fourth choice, #2 ranked Duke, finally said yes. So if you’ve ever wondered why Minnesota, Missouri and Fordham have always sucked at everything, now you know: The curse of Benny Beaver. At the time, Corvallis went nuts: Many thousands of dollars worth of tickets were sold and the Beavers made their arrangements to enjoy sunny southern California for the holidays. The euphoria lasted about a week until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and doubt began to spread as to whether the game would, or should, be played at all.

Given the star-crossed history of their football team, it may be easy for Beaver fans to believe the Japanese had planned the whole thing to prevent the Beavs from making their first Rose Bowl appearance. The fact is that while the Beavers were securing the conference championship with a 12-7 win over the Oregon Webfoots in Eugene on November 29, a force from the Imperial Japanese Navy had already left Japan three days earlier and were halfway to their attacking positions north of Hawaii. In the days after the attack some of the activities planned for the visiting Rose Bowl teams were curtailed, but the game itself was still planned for January 1. Then, on December 13, California governor Olson, at the request of the military, canceled the Rose Bowl game and parade “for reasons of national defense and civilian protection.”

Enter Duke coach Wallace Wade. Wade, unlike OSC coach Lon Stiner, had been to the Rose Bowl before. In fact, he had been five times already: He was a player on the losing side in 1916 when Brown lost to Washington State; he had coached Alabama to two wins and a draw in three visits with the Crimson Tide; after moving on to Duke he had coached their 1938 team to a narrow loss to Southern California. Wade wanted another shot at the Rose Bowl and put in a lot of work convincing his university, and the whole town of Durham, North Carolina, that the game could go on if they were willing to host it. Long story short, that’s what happened. The Rose Bowl association authorized Duke University to host a game at Duke Stadium that would be recognized as an official Rose Bowl.

Back in Corvallis, Stiner and Athletic Director Percy Locey got to work on the logistical nightmare of planning a cross-country trip for about 70 people on short notice, dealing with irate supporters who wanted refunds for the seats they had already purchased in Pasadena, and getting the team ready to play a Duke squad ranked #2 in the country.

By the evening of December 19, the Beavers were on the bus to Albany to catch the train that would take them 3500 miles in the next five days with stops in Chicago and Washington D.C. for short practice sessions. They arrived in Durham on Christmas Eve morning and by all accounts were treated extremely well by everyone during the following week. They even received gift boxes including chewing tobacco, cigarettes, and other locally produced items.

Game day was cold and wet. The comments of two of the participants may go a long way to understanding the final outcome: When asked about the weather, a Duke player remarked that he had never seen so much rain in his life, while OSC’s Gene Gray described the conditions as “misty”! Even so, the Blue Devils were favored to win the game by 14 points and before the game NBC radio announcer Bill Stern asserted that “the Blue Devils could beat the Beavers by throwing 11 helmets on the field.” So, not for the first time, North Carolinians would be underestimating the toughness and resolve of people from other parts of the country. Once again; big mistake. The Beavers rumbled through the mire to a 20-16 victory, still their only Rose Bowl win.

The story of how and where that football game was played is interesting but I think it’s appropriate to dig into my stash of great Winston Churchill quotes and say that that wasn’t the end of the story. It wasn’t even the beginning of the end. But it was, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Even before they arrived back in the Willamette Valley the players’ thoughts turned to a more important battle and in the days, weeks, and months that followed the game most of those players ended up in the military, most voluntarily. Even before US entry into the war there was a prominent military presence at Oregon State. Practice bombing raids and blackout drills had already been held that fall as the global situation deteriorated. For years there had been an emphasis on ROTC programs at OSC, and for many years Corvallis was known as “the West Point of the West”. After war was declared OSC was selected as one of seven schools for the Army Specialized Training Program and room was made in Waldo and Snell Halls, both just north of the baseball field on campus, to house the influx of military students. Faculty did everything from consulting on the construction of Camp Adair north of town to helping in the development of the atomic bomb. The Oregon State Extension Service worked to increase food production and find laborers to fill in for young men who had gone off to fight. The largest pool of laborers they found were children, which probably indirectly led to me, some 30 years later, spending my childhood summers in the bean and strawberry fields, picking produce and hauling irrigation pipe. Damn you, Extension Service.

Two and a half years later, in the summer of 1944, backup Duke quarterback Charlie Haynes was stationed in northern Italy fighting the Germans. One of the reinforcements sent to strengthen his regiment was Frank Parker, a lineman from Oregon State, and soon after meeting they realized that they had played against each other back in that Rose Bowl game. Three months later, In October of 1944, in the Apennine Mountains between Florence and Bologna, Haynes was critically injured leading his platoon in a hilltop assault. Heavy fire from the hilltop made it impossible for his buddies to reach him and remove him to safety. Hours later Frank Parker heard of Haynes’ plight and determined to go bring him in himself. After 17 hours lying on the battlefield with a huge hole in his chest, unsure if he was alive or already dead, Haynes was picked up by Parker who carried him downhill to a point where medics were able to attend to his wounds and save his life. After the war the two weren’t close friends but they did stay in touch for over 50 years and Haynes never forgot what Parker had done for him.

At the end of 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, a lieutenant colonel was tramping around the forest outside of Bastogne, Belgium in the sub-zero weather and asked a soldier in a foxhole for something hot to drink. They started a conversation over their cups of coffee that ended up surprising both of them: Former Duke coach Wallace Wade, now Lieutenant Colonel Wallace Wade, had stumbled upon the foxhole of none other than former Oregon State lineman Stan Czech.

One soldier who hadn’t played in the game but had been coached by Wallace Wade during his time at Alabama was Hugh Miller. In 1943 Miller’s ship was sunk by a torpedo in the Solomon Islands. He and five others floated for days before washing up on Arundel Island, which was teeming with Japanese. Suffering from internal injuries, Miller told the others to go on without him as he lay on the beach awaiting his death. Then his old coach’s words of encouragement came to him, “Never give up! If you believe you can win, nothing can stop you!”. He found the strength to get up and, without shoes or a weapon, surviving on water and coconuts, he went totally Rambo and killed over 30 Japanese during the 40 days he was on the island before being rescued.

I once had a coach, the former National Champion and Olympian Kasheef “Chief” Hassan, who left me with some similarly inspiring words. Someone must have implied that what he was asking us to do was impossible because his reply, in his heavily-accented English, was “Nothing impossible but impossible”. I have a distinct memory of looking up at my friend Kasey at that moment and seeing a stupefied grin on his face that I’m sure was a carbon copy of my own expression. What was he telling us? Was he agreeing that it was impossible? Was he trying to say it wasn’t? For years afterward it took very little alcohol consumption to make us both break out laughing remembering those cryptic words of wisdom. I’m just glad my own military service didn’t involve being stranded on an enemy-occupied island. I would have lain on that beach and died, trying to figure out what the hell Chief had been trying to tell me that day.

Oregon State’s Gene Gray, who caught the winning pass in the Rose Bowl, made several bombing runs over Europe during the war as a member of the Army Air Corps. When the war was over he stayed in the Corps and in 1948, during a routine test flight, a malfunction caused him to crash into the jungle in Panama. He was severely burned and the arms that had hauled in that winning pass were both amputated, though he moved back to Oregon, became a successful businessman and lived another 56 years.

Tommy Prothro, the quarterback for Duke in that Rose Bowl, served in the navy during the war. He then became a football coach and by 1955 he was the head coach at Oregon State. In 1958 he led them to their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1942. I’m not making this up.

Twenty-nine of the 31 players on Oregon State’s Rose Bowl roster served in the military during the war. One of them didn’t return: Everett Smith was killed when his Marine division stormed the beaches of Betio in the south Pacific. His remains are still there. Three players from the Duke roster didn’t make it home either. Another Oregon State player didn’t even make it onto that Rose Bowl Roster. Jack Yoshihara was removed from campus by federal agents before the team even left town to play the game. He spent much of the next few years in an internment camp in Idaho. Thankfully, he lived long enough to be awarded his Rose Bowl ring in 1985 and in 2008 he received the college degree he wasn’t allowed to finish over sixty years earlier.

Lon Stiner, who had stayed in Corvallis during the war helping to train all of those military students, resumed his coaching duties when the team began playing again in 1945 after a three year break during the war. By the end of 1948 his failure to repeat the success of that 1941 team cost him his job. He spent the rest of his working life based in Oakridge, Oregon as an executive in the lumber industry.

Finally, until recently, the source of my mother’s family fortune had been kept a secret from me. I had been left to speculate as to the origins of their vast wealth. As I was writing this my mom finally caved and revealed that her mother, who would soon leave the rest of her family behind, including her 6-year-old daughter, to work as a welder in the shipyards won $20 gambling on that Rose Bowl game. I hate to think how different my own life would be if the Beavers had lost that game.

I didn’t make a bibliography for this story because it seemed a little too much like work, which is something I’m trying to avoid. But if you’re interested in more details regarding these events, I have only scratched the surface of all of the stories of these men and the amazing things they did on and off the football field. There are tons of stories, books and articles written by professionals within easy clicking distance. Have at it! Also, if you have any personal stories or comments to add please post them. Thanks.

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Jan 20, 2020

Marc, I loved your story. You know how I love history. I had heard some of these stories before but you added lots I hadn't heard. Thanks so much. (I think my mom must have spent her winnings. I sure didn't see any.


Jan 20, 2020

Some really amazing stories of the men in that game and I've never heard the story of Mom's wealth either. Let's hope Jonathan can get them back to Pasadena before too long.


Jan 20, 2020

I don't know what position he played, but my high school coach, Lee Gustafson, always claimed to have played against Duke on OSU's Rose Bowl team. He was a tough one, who must have learned that from Lon Stiner. Ironically, he went on to coach at Corvallis High in the late 1950's. Good job with the history lesson. Finally, about your mother's newly discovered wealth........I hear she has kept that a secret from everyone.

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