For many Americans, this weekend marks the unofficial beginning of summer. Lost in our trips to the beach, barbecues, and perhaps even the current political rhetoric, is Memorial Day and its meaning: a time to thank veterans, but ultimately to recall and honor those that made the ultimate sacrifice.
Some Notre Dame fans are familiar with the impact of the military on the University of Notre Dame dating back as far as the Civil War era. The book Notre Dame and the Civil War by James M. Schmidt is an excellent account of the Civil War history and its impact on Notre Dame. Others will recall the “God, Country, Notre Dame” entrance to the Basilica which honors Notre Dame students who were killed in action during World War I.
More likely, almost every Notre Dame fan knows the impact that the Navy had on the University during World War II. At that time, the decision by the Navy to utilize Notre Dame as a training center helped keep the university struggling with enrollment afloat.
During this era, numerous athletes in all sports answered their nation’s call to arms in a global defense of freedom. Some college football fans are familiar with the stories of Nile Kinnick (Iowa), the 1939 Heisman Trophy winner, who was killed in a training mission while preparing for World War II. Others remember Chuck Bednarik (Penn) who flew 30 combat missions in World War II and would later be inducted into both the college and pro football Hall of Fame.
The post-World War II era of college football is considered by many as the “Golden Age” of college football. No team dominated that period more than Notre Dame, as World War II veterans Frank Leahy and Moose Krause led the Irish to a 36-0-2 record from 1946-1949 and three National Championships. Less remembered during that period were the 19 former Notre Dame Football players who were killed during World War II. Inching closer into the modern era, we have the story of former Notre Dame and NFL star Rocky Bleier’s service in Vietnam, further advancing Notre Dame’s history with military service.
Being fans of a school like Notre Dame, a university that exemplifies service to others, it seems only appropriate that we remember all Notre Dame students who answered their nation’s call this Memorial Day weekend.