Hughesair (Inflection Point)

Retired physician and air taxi operator, science writer and part time assistant professor, these editorials cover a wide range of topics. Mostly non political, mostly true, I write more from a lifetime of experience and from research, more science than convention. Subjects cover medicine, Alaska aviation, economics, technology and an occasional book review. Globalization or Democracy documents the historical roots of Oligarchy, the road to colonialism and tyranny

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Location: Homer, Alaska, United States

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Sunday, April 02, 2023

Memories, Veterans, WW2, KU, 1947

In 1947, veterans returned from the war and entered college in droves. The GI Bill offered opportunity to readjust to civilian life and find direction. It also gave college athletics a dramatic boost from older seasoned veterans. I reported for football practice as a freshman walk-on, fresh out of high-school. Practice started well ahead of the fall classes.

Kansas in early August simmered in the heat. Dusty winds brought the smell of ripening wheat fields, and on the practice field the body odor of sweaty linemen. I played as a tackle in high school and started practice against returning players and older veterans, a mismatch despite my confidence. 

            We wore black leather football shoes with cleats, white socks crumpled above, bear legs with shorts for Summer practice. We wore shoulder-pads under short sleeve practice jerseys,  red for one side and blue for the other. The only thing new were the high tech helmets.

Blocking-practice deployed an offensive line against its defensive counterpart, with line coach shouting various blocking tactics with the yell of “hut” or the whistle to stop. Returning players communicated with a gesture or knowing glance. Us newbies had to guess or ask dumb questions. Practice also incorporated various blocking dummies and the machine that three or four pushed against to strengthen legs.

I probably lost 10 pounds or more from dehydration with every practice. I was not alone. Some of us met at the Oread (hotel) after practice where we drank gallons of cold lemon-aid, droplets of condensation dripping from the pitcher. Three of us were high-school team mates.

Amburg, our quarterback, complained, 

“They moved me to linebacker. There was a lot of standing around.” 

Smith, our end said, “We never stoped running.” 

“At least you cool off running.”

“You think?”

“I should switch to end.”

“You gotta catch the ball Hughes”

“You too.”

“Skip that, I’m now a defensive end. Those days are over.”

            “Same here, no chance for quarter-back, i’m stuck a linebacker. Tomorrow I’m on the defense for your blocking practice.”

“You got it easy, my opposite, is a Vet, nice enough guy, tries to help, but keeps doing head-switchless. Coach says, ‘Block left,’ but Paul, I think that’s his name, slaps my head to his right, so it looks like, I cant follow instructions.”

“Everyone wants on the roster.”

“You know that guy Ettinger?”

“Yea, he’s a tank.”

“Yea, well I heard he gave it to the coach.”

“Coach is an asshole.”

“Don’t say it so loud.”

“I heard Sykes kept yelling, ‘kill, kill kill, to drive attitude. Ettinger took exception. He was a BAR gunner through Germany and must have killed enough. He lifted Sykes by his coat collar and hung him on a spike from that post in the training room.”

“Did he get kicked off?”

“No, and nobodies talking.”

“You heard it somewhere.”

“I tried to block Ettinger once. No way. He’s older, married, kids, pro level, but off the field, he’s gentle n kind. I like that, a real asset.”  

And so it went, day after day. I suppose we gained toughness. I don’t think we were fitter. I felt torn down, but that was the level of training under Jewels Vern Sykes, the hard-ass Kansas football coach. Amburg made the team and went on to play for the Giants. Smith was a  defensive end, but did better with basketball. He went on to coach. 

The only relief during practice was the wind-sprints. An additional gut-wrencher repeated 5 or 6 times during practice, it came as a relief for me. These sprints were races. Coaches recorded the times. Many of the slower runners would not make the cut. I was fast in the wind sprints beating all but one halfback. Nonetheless, in the end, when it was time for cuts, Coach pretended to put his arm around me and said, 

“Your not competitive at tackle, but come back in the spring, and we can try you at end.” That was that.

I struggled scholastically my first year. Pre-med was not working. Talking to my councilor, I decided to change my major to economics. I told the counselor about my experience with football. 

“Do you have any other sports?”

“Will yes, I ran track in high-school.”

Without further discussion, he went down the hall and came back with KU’s new track coach, just off the buss. When he introduced me, I took a double take. 

“Meet Bill Easton, our new track coach.”

            Bill Easton, famous for the Drake Relays, had just arrived in Lawrence looking to build a similar dynasty. Three things happened within minutes. We immediately hit it off. I had the high-school times to qualify.  Easton made me his first recruit, offering full ride, tuition, books, room and board. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. 

Tuition was only $45 a semester but training-table was big. I was back eating with my football friends. Players shared a private dining room in the Union on the hill, overlooking part of the campus, lake, running track and football stadium. Kansas beef in unlimited quality. 

Living in the snow today, I recall my time at Kansas. Running cross-country on the campus, spring and fall, with the smell of bougainvillea and the vivid yellow and red  colors of mums and daffodils and the bright sunlight, co-eds wearing long pleated skirts, bobby-socks and penny loafers. Dusty winds from wheat fields – I can just hear the bells from the Campanile.

Track was not easy, but it did not interfere with studies like football, and Easton proved to be a role model, coach and leader, stressing academics. He built the Kansas Relays into a World event -  watched Harrison Dillard set the world record in high-hurtles. 

I took to economics and economics took to me. It was a hard choice to make because Dad so wanted me to study medicine. I loved medicine and road with Dad on house-calls from the time I was big enough to climb over the running-board. Everyone assumed I would be just like him.

“How does an economist earn a living?”  Dad would ask, but I was fascinated by how business worked.

My professor was John Ise. Ise was from a German family, sod and stubble, from the dry prairies of Kansas. He earned a Harvard PhD and was president of the American Association of Economics. He wrote the book. Students said he was the best professor on campus and his classes the hardest. 

            I went from a “C” student if lucky, to a 3.5 or better. Hard work, but I loved it. I planed graduate school to study international trade at an Eastern University. I was on track to graduate my senior year, when the Chinese crossed the Yalu River. I spent the Korean War in theAir Force. That’s another story. Married with a young son, after the war, I too became a veteran on the GI Bill. No more athletics or economics, I took up my dads dream and went to Medical School.


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