“USFA Travelers” — An American Football Team, Europe, 1946

(Click on “ABOUT”, above, to see an explanation of the photo.)

“USFA” is “United States Forces in Austria”. The “Travelers” was the name given to the football team that was assembled in the Fall of 1946 to represent American armed forces stationed in Austria.  We played a season of 8-10 (?) games.

I am putting up this blog to record a tiny footnote to the history of the occupation of Europe,  especially Austria, regarding this event in which I participated in the occupation of Europe after WWII. Also, there may be the possibility of getting hits from members of that team or of any team we played, to obtain their perceptions of their experience during that season of football. Perhaps I may renew some of my old acquaintances with those players. I suppose most of them are gone now, or have forgotten about the event. We’ll see.

For me, playing organized football was a great event. I tried out for the high school team. I once, in practice, was called out by Russell Arndt (who played second team end on a Knute Rockne team at Notre Dame) to demonstrate the “spinner” move of running backs. I presume I was deemed too light to remain on the team. I, on the other hand, believe I was very athletic.

I was infantry-trained at Camp Hood in Texas in 1945. I was shipped to Europe just before Christmas, 1945, and sent by 40 and 8 train (the box cars)  to Linz, Austria.

My first assigned duty was to guard trains going from Linz, through the Russian zone of occupation, to supply the troops stationed in Vienna, which was entirely surrounded by the Russians. Later, I was assigned as the Information and Education non-com to go to Nürnberg to report back to the company on the War-Crimes trials there. Then I was given the duty of company (468 AAA) medic.

One day, a call for players was posted. I applied to play on the football team. I told the officers I had played high school football, which was not true. “What position?” “Quarterback.” Which was not true. So I made the team, first string QB. We were a rather scrawny bunch. But we were given the full uniform. The helmets were leather . No face mask, which later in playing the games made its mark on my eyebrows.

I was their first-string QB and free safety on defense — that was before platoon football was invented. I also did the kicking on fourth down. I remember once hitting the ball perfectly and it soared far and beautifully– in practice. But I’ll never forget that kick. Once in a while we did a quick-kick –one step back then hit it– on third down from the normal third-down formation that caught the other team by surprise.

I often wondered who put together our play-book. Our coach was a second looey.

How do I judge the quality of my play? By this, do I judge it adequate. One looie on the team, John Joseph I think his name was, had connections to the Northwestern University football team. He asked me to show up at N.U. after discharge to play football there. I never did, of course, but I did do my graduate work there, as it turned out.

I must tell you about Col. Gladding. He was full Colonel, called a “chicken colonel” because of the insignia for that rank. He was old, grey-haired, but he always had wanted to play the game. So he pulled rank to put on the uniform and put himself in the game as running back. Then it happened, as I see it in my sporadic eidetic memory. He was near the sidelines where I was located. The play came over toward me. Col. Gladding was hit on his lower right leg in such a way as to break it. The sound was sickening, like the splintering in two of an old dried out wooden board. I am sure that ended his career as a football player, if not as a colonel in the army. Poor Col. Gladding, following the fantasy of an older man wanting to play a young man’s game.

I had to sit out one game because I had torn ligaments and water on one knee. Before the season was over, I had the same problem on both knees. We never had the time to train and get in shape.

The team was based in Linz, Austria. It played a schedule that took us all over the American occupation zones in Germany and Austria, including Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna, among others. We traveled by train. One notable place was our game in Olympic stadium in Berlin, where Adolph Hitler hosted the 1936 Olympics, of Jesse Owens fame (and if you were Hitler, “infamy”), when a black man from America defeated the “pure Aryan”, superior-race Germans in four events. (I am of German and Dutch descent.) That was after the concrete Swastika (Hakenkreuz) on one end of the stadium had been blasted away by American forces. I did not look up much into the stands. I can remember that there were only, maybe, at the most, 500-1000 fans in the stands.

In that Berlin game, the home team had several players from Hawaii on their defensive line. Our offensive line could not stop them from leaping high over our linemen and reaching me before I could hand off the ball. Tough. It was a Hawaiian style we saw nowhere else. Our linemen were not very big, but they were scrappy.

One player on another team was Earl “Jug” Girard. I think he was a very well-known player as a running back for U. of Wisconsin. My most memorable play was on defense. The opponents threw a long pass. I can hear even now the smack of the ball on my shoulder pads as I leaped to intercept that throw. I ran it back about 30 yards heading for the sideline. It seems their whole team hit me at once knocking me out of bounds and landing on top of me, with a vengeance, it seemed. I felt a smothering panic at the bottom of that heap. We ran single wing right and single wing left and “T” formations. My play was “T-29 on 2”, a bootleg run in the opposite direction. I called all the plays, but I called my bootleg only rarely.

After the football season, I was assigned to the 25th Regulating Station. I collated all the morning reports of military units in western Austria and reported that to the headquarters of all the forces.

The “March of Time” movie makers were there to take movies of the football game, which became part of one of their newsreels called “Germany Today”. I bought two photos of me in a couple of action shots. An enterprising photographer had made pics of the game and was selling them. My evidence I kid you not!

I appeared in the footage of that movie film. I had taken a date to the movies at the Northside Theater in Mishawaka, IN. Between features — those were the days of double features — they showed the newsreel “Germany Today”, and there I was, running across the screen. I stood up and said, “That’s me!” I asked the theater manager afterward about getting a copy. No dice. I have never been able to find a listing of that episode of “March of Time”.

X American Football in Europe 1946X American Occupation after WWIIX Armed Forces in Europe after WWIIX Berlin Olympic StadiumX Occupation of Austria 1946X The March of Time film “Germany Today”X United States Forces in AustriaX USFA

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