This picture's worth goes beyond words.
It began with a photograph, the official picture of the 1942 University of Wisconsin Badgers, displayed prominently in the den of former Oregon football coach Jerry Frei, an 18-year-old lineman on that team.
After his father died in 2001, Denver Post reporter and columnist Terry Frei thought about that photo.
He was struck by how young the players looked, in the last official season of college football before the sport was engulfed by World War II.
He sensed how important that team, and those friendships, had been to his dad.
He knew the impact that his father's ensuing service in the Army Air Forces - Jerry Frei got his wings at 19, flew his first mission at 20 and ultimately flew 67 combat reconnaissance missions in twin-engine, single-seat P-38s in the Pacific - had on his identity and his coaching philosophy.
And so, two summers ago, Terry Frei set out to learn more about the young men in the photograph. About that season of '42, as war was being fought in Europe and in the Pacific, and about the Badgers' World War II experiences that came afterward.
The result is "Third Down and a War to Go," a touching book about the 1942 Badgers in football and war, published this month by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press and available through Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.
It's a compelling story; Frei will always wish he'd told it years ago.
"There's significant regret that I didn't write it sooner," he said. "And it tears at me every time I think that my father didn't get to read it, and didn't get to contribute to it. I know how encyclopedic and vivid his memory was, and so he took a lot of things to his grave that would have made this book better, and you can multiply that by the players who died before I wrote this."
But then Terry Frei isn't alone in wishing to have recognized sooner the sacrifices and stories of the World War II generation; indeed, until he wrote a Veterans Day feature in 2000, he knew relatively little about his father's experiences.
"I want (readers) to share that regret," he said. "To put it down and say `I wish I had paid more attention to the veterans in my neighborhood, or my grandfather, or my uncle.' '
The 1942 Badgers finished No. 3 in the nation, 8-1-1, the school's best season in 30 years. Some returned to football in 1946. Some didn't survive the war.
"They were young and fearful and naive and wild and exuberant and everything else we still hear about college students," Frei said.
"We've tended to mythologize some of the Greatest Generation's exploits. ... We're almost dishonoring them by making them something they weren't. That doesn't make them any less heroic; in my mind, that even heightens my respect for what they did, because they weren't any different than the kids of today.
"Their war was different, and everybody was for it, and we knew it had to be done, and they did it."
After the war, Jerry Frei played college football again and became a coach, starting at Grant High School in Portland. He was forever changed by the war-time experience. It influenced how he treated athletes, and he had a profound impact on his athletes as an Oregon assistant coach for Len Casanova from 1955 through 1966, and as UO head coach from 1967 through 1971. Wrote Terry Frei:
"After what he and his teammates went through as young men, he knew he was never going to call 21-year-olds `kids' or treat them like children or act as if winning was more important than teaching and nurturing. If that bothered some folks, to hell with them. He now knew what war was. And football wasn't it."
Jerry Frei felt a bond with others who served, such as Dee Andros, the Oregon State football coach who'd been a U.S. Marine and earned a Bronze Star at Iwo Jima.
"They were both in the Pacific, in different roles, and when you've been through that, you're not going to hate each other over a football game," Terry Frei said.
Nor would you forget the teammates who sat with you for a photograph in September 1942, before the battles of a football season, and the real battles that followed.
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|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Oct 22, 2004|
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