As we assembled the all-time roster of University of Maryland men’s basketball players over the summer, we came up with some unlikely finds, some gentlemen who were better known for their achievements later in life than they were for the exploits on the hardwood.
We’ve already told you the stories of Charlie “King Kong” Keller, the only Terp to ever play in baseball’s All Star Game and World Series, and author Munro Leaf, most famous for his beloved work The Story of Ferdinand.
But did you know that we had a future lieutenant general playing for the Terps under head coach H. Burton Shipley in the 1940-1941 season?
George Simler, born in 1921 in Johnstown, PA, entered the University of Maryland in fall 1940 and played freshman football and basketball and ran track for the Terps, but left in June 1941 when he was called to active duty in the Navy.
Two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Diamondback published a letter he sent to the university community, showing his love for Maryland and how much he missed being on campus:
Nine days later, he enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Army Air Forces on December 18, 1941, and he received his pilot wings on August 5, 1942.
Simler served two combat tours as a pilot in the European Theater of Operations during World War II. He was shot down in July 1944 but successfully evaded capture and returned to the Allied lines two months later. Following the war, he returned to the university serve as a professor of aerospace science and tactics and to complete his education. As he finished out his student days, he rejoined the football team, participating in the Terps’ first-ever post-season bowl game, the Gator Bowl, versus Georgia on January 1, 1948. Five months later, he received his degree in Military Science and was awarded the Sylvester Watch, given to the man who typified the best in Maryland Athletics.
Following graduation, he took on a variety of assignments for the Air Force in the U.S. and overseas, including command of various fighter groups and director of operations of the Seventh Air Force and the Headquarters of the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam, even flying several combat missions during that conflict. He also served as vice commander of the United States Air Forces in Europe.
Throughout his 30-year career in the Air Force, General Simler received numerous awards and decorations, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, Legion of Merit, Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal, and the Vietnam Air Gallantry Cross. You can find the text for many of his award citations here.
He was killed in a jet crash at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas on September 9, 1972, shortly before he was to have been promoted to full general and assigned to head the Military Airlift Command.
Simler played in 14 games as a freshman under head coach H. Burton Shipley, scoring 29 points. While perhaps you wouldn’t characterize as a star on the hardwood, he did make an impact as a freshman baller and is certainly a Terp of whom we can be very proud.