|Coach Wallace Wade of Duke University|
(first published in North State Journal 5/29/19)
Memorial Day has come and gone. Many people went to the beach which signifies the official beginning of summer. Others had cookouts with family and friends or attended baseball games.
Less than 5% of Americans attended a parade, a memorial service or visited gravesites of fallen soldiers who gave their lives in defense of our freedom and way of life.
Originally called “Decoration Day” after the Civil War because people would decorate the graves of soldiers with flowers, Memorial Day became an official federal holiday in 1971.
Less than 500,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in WWII are still alive today. As revisionist historians try to expunge all of the good America has done in the world, younger generations need to be reminded time and time again about past heroism so they can pass it on to their children and grandchildren.
Why did such heroes fight the Nazis and Japanese in World War II in the first place?
One prime example was Coach Wallace Wade of Duke University for whom the football stadium is named.
In 1941, Coach Wade had maybe the best job in college football. He was the “Coach Nick Saban of Alabama” of his time not only because of what he did at Duke but because he won three national titles by taking the Crimson Tide to three Rose Bowls in the 1920s to establish Alabama as the king of college football which they still rule today.
He was of such stature that when the 1942 Rose Bowl was about to be canceled due to the attack on Pearl Harbor, he persuaded the Rose Bowl committee to move it to Durham, the only place outside of Pasadena it has ever been played.
After Duke lost to Oregon State 20-16, virtually all of the players enlisted in the military within 30 days. They were 18-to-23 years old.
So did Coach Wade. He was 48 years old at the time. Think Nick Saban leaving LSU to volunteer for duty in Afghanistan at the time; everyone would have thought he was nuts.
Why did Coach Wade do that? He didn’t have to give up a great job and go to war. The upper age limit for the draft was 37. He was 11 years over the limit.
No one would have begrudged him for not serving if he stayed at Duke to coach during the war so that fans could get some respite on fall afternoons from the dreary war news of the day.
Lt. Colonel Wallace Wade fought in Europe in the Battle of the Bulge in the bitter winter of 1944. He faced real danger and live ammunition in the face of a desperate enemy simply because he believed the freedoms of America were at risk of being lost forever to a despotic dictator, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
He did not think American values of freedom and independence were terrible. He thought they were great and worthy of preserving for us, the future generations of Americans.
When asked later in life by a sports reporter if losing in the last 40 seconds of the 1939 Rose Bowl to Southern Cal which ended a perfect undefeated, untied and unscored upon national championship season for Duke was the worst moment of his life, Coach Wade smiled and said:
‘No. The worst moment of my life was when I was not allowed to be in the first wave at Normandy on D-Day.”
He was age 52 on June 6, 1944.
4000 Allied troops died in the first day at Normandy. 37,000 Allied soldiers were killed over the next 5 days in the Battle of Normandy.
That is why we must remember men like Wallace Wade on Memorial Day. Without them, we would not enjoy the freedoms we do today. We should make every day a living breathing “memorial day” to them so we never forget.