Heroes on the Playing Field and on the Battlefield: Maryland Athlete-Soldiers

In the last blog post in this series, we showed you how President Harry Clifton Byrd fought hard to defend college football in the face of a growing national movement against the sport in American colleges. But why was President Byrd so convinced that football was an essential part of our American way of life and our national defense, when so many other university presidents were abandoning it?

The likely answer came from a long list of distinguished Maryland alumni, in both football and a number of other sports, who went on to serve with distinction in the military, especially during World War II.

Here are just a few:

Colonel John R. Lanigan—Class of 1926

Football—1924- 1925

Eventually promoted to Brigadier General in the Marine Corps, John R. Lanigan was simply known as “Pat” during his school days at the university. Under Coach Byrd, Lanigan played two seasons on the varsity football squad, “a substitute lineman whose aggressive play featured in nearly every game.” (Reveille yearbook, 1925) A colonel by the start of World War II, Lanigan was awarded the Navy Cross for heroism for his leadership of the Fourth Marine Division at the Battle of Iwo Jima, where he personally commanded half the American troops in the island assault. Lanigan was also a participant in the D-Day invasion in 1944. After many other battalion commanders had been killed or wounded, Lanigan personally led an attack which led to the capture of a fortified enemy bunker on the Normandy beach.

Lieutenant General Joseph Burger—Class of 1925

Football—1921- 1924

Burger
Joe Burger, 1925

A star athlete from Washington, D.C., Joe Burger was an All-Maryland tackle selection in 1923 and played for four years on the varsity squad. In a 1924 game versus V.P.I., Burger was instrumental in a tough defense that devastated “play after play of Poly’s before they could get started.” (Reveille yearbook, 1925) Shortly after graduating, Burger served in China where he was part of a highly decorated Marine unit. Burger went on to serve with distinction in both World War II and the Korean War, and by 1953, was the assistant division commander of the First Marine Division. An eventual member of the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame, Burger was also the commanding general at Parris Island, the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, in 1956.

Lieutenant General Robert Young—Class of 1922

Football—1921

Another Washington, D.C., native, Young played varsity football at Maryland for just one year, but was noted for being an important part of the team’s victory over a tough V.P.I. team in the 121 season. After graduation, Young joined the Army and served in the General Staff at the War Department until 13, when he was assigned to command the 70h and 3rd Infantry Divisions in Europe. General Young also served with distinction in the Korean War and commanded the 2nd Infantry Division during the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge.

Colonel Leonard “Max” Schroeder, Jr.—Class of 1941

Soccer—1937-1940

Before he was charging the beaches of Normandy, Max Schroeder was attacking opponents as a member of Maryland’s soccer team. After starring on his high school team in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, Schroeder came to the university on a full athletic scholarship. He was a consistent scorer on the team and let the Terps in goals in 1939 and 1940. After graduation, Schroeder was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army shortly before the start of World War II. By June 1944, Schroeder had been promoted to the rank of captain and famously became the first American soldier ashore in the D-Day invasion. Together with 32 other soldiers, Schroeder helped break through enemy fortifications on Utah Beach and liberate a French village a few miles inland. Despite being wounded multiple times, Captain Schroeder survived and was awarded the Silver and Bronze Stars.

John “Bill” Guckeyson—Class of 1937

Football—1935-1937

Baseball—1936

Basketball—1936-1937

Track & Field—1936-1937

Perhaps one of the best all-around athletes to have ever played at the University of Maryland, Bill Guckeyson epitomized the competitive spirit and determination to win that President Byrd felt was football’s contribution to American society. A native of Bethesda, Maryland, Guckeyson excelled in every sport he played at Maryland. Whether it was on the football field, where he was an all-state and all-conference selection for three years, or in baseball, where he batted .320 without even participating in pre-season practice, Guckeyson excelled in any competitive sport he played. After graduating from Maryland in 1937, he was drafted by football’s Philadelphia Eagles, but instead enrolled at West Point, where he was also a star athlete in track, basketball, hockey, baseball, and basketball.

After turning down yet another professional sports career with the Washington Senators, Guckeyson was commissioned an officer in the U.S. Army and served as a pilot once World War II began. Credited with at least 2.5 enemy kills and awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart, Guckeyson was tragically shot down during a Mar 21, 1944 mission and killed.

President Byrd, who coached many of these talented athletes and watched many others play during his tenure as university president, believed the competitive spirit that they learned and displayed on the playing field was also present on the field of battle. It comes as no surprise that he spoke so forcefully in defense of college football in the early 1950s, in the middle of the Cold War. For Byrd, the skills and talents that he observed in his athletes were a critical part of the American way of life and is success as a world power.

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