Are we running out of WWII stories?
Certainly some of the premises are getting a little thin, and this is a case in point. The setup is just right for Sports Illustrated reporter Anderson (The Proving Ground, 2001, etc.): On November 29, 1941, the Army-Navy game proved to be one of the most thrilling matches ever waged between Annapolis and West Point, with 100,000 spectators (including Eleanor Roosevelt) in the stands. By the end of the game, writes Anderson, “the undermanned Cadet players had fought as hard as Vikings, but the Midshipmen prevailed 14–6.” Nine days later the US was at war with the Axis, and Anderson’s Rockwellian evocations of prewar military life (“Just the name of the naval academy sounded glamorous to him; it conveyed some magical faraway place where everyone was smart and strong”) give way to the hard realities of combat in episodes starring four of the game’s players, now commissioned officers. Anderson’s account of the game itself is first-class, and the lessons to be drawn vis-à-vis football and war will be familiar to anyone who’s been inside a locker room: “We were officers in the war,” one officer recalls, “but really, we were just kids in our early twenties. But most of us were put in charge of hundreds of soldiers. It’s much easier to deal with that kind of responsibility once you’ve had the experience of playing football in front of 100,000 people.” Anderson’s war tales are pretty well done, too, though there’s a been-there-done-that quality that will make some readers wish he had done a Seabiscuit and stuck to the game and others of its kind during the war years—as he notes, and most interestingly, the 1944 bout alone raised $58 million in war bonds, while for other reasons “never in the history of the Army-Navy game had the two service academies played each other with so much on the line.”
Surely enjoyable for a readership among academy grads and fans of sports history. Of less service as a window onto WWII.