More than spectators

In April 2010, I wrote something similar to this as a comment on Dan Loney's Big Soccer blog, not in reply to Dan but in reply to another commenter. Dan says it's OK for me to recycle it.

Some American soccer fans seem to believe that at the time of World War II, soccer in America was played almost exclusively by non-citizens, who could not be drafted, and that American soccer thus was relatively untouched by the war, unlike baseball and some other sports. This is not the case. Here are some facts.

---At least three of the United States 11 who upset England in the 1950 World Cup were World War II veterans, goalkeeper Frank Borghi and forwards Frank Wallace and John Souza. Borghi and Wallace both were from St. Louis, both were Italian-American (Wallace's family name had been anglicized from Valicenti) and both had been in the U.S. Army. Borghi, who was a medic, was part of the Normandy Invasion, although not the first day of it. His unit landed on Omaha Beach three days after D-Day and subsequently fought its way across Europe, including being involved in the capture of the Remagen bridge across the Rhine in March 1945. Wallace fought in southern Europe. He participated in both the Salerno and Anzio landings and ended up spending time in a German POW camp after his tank was hit by a shell. Souza, who was from Fall River, Mass., and who died on Sunday at 91, served aboard a navy supply ship in the Pacific.

---Seven American Soccer League players were killed in World War II. They were Johnny Crabb and Hans Meier of the New York Americans, Jimmy Hammer of the Baltimore Americans, Anthony Nunez of Brooklyn Hispano, Walt Patykula of the Philadelphia Americans, Jimmy Reid of the Kearny Irish and John Wojciechowicz of the Kearny Scots. I only know details about four of those deaths. Patykula was the bombardier on a B-29 that was shot down over Tokyo in December 1944, Wojciechowicz died during a training exercise in Colorado in 1943, Crabb died at home in New York in 1945 of wounds suffered the year before in Italy and Meier died in a hospital of a shrapnel wound suffered in Italy in September 1943.

---Seven American Soccer League players who later were elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame served in the armed forces in World War II, George Barr of Brookhattan, John Boulos of Brooklyn Hispano, Jack Hynes of the New York Americans, Nick Kropfelder of the Baltimore Americans, Millard Lang of the Baltimore SC, Jukey Nanoski of the Philadelphia Americans and Gene Olaff of Brooklyn Hispano (Olaff is the goalkeeper in the photo above, and Hynes is the forward). All of them were able to resume playing soccer after the war, although Hynes not until after some time in hospitals recovering from wounds suffered on Christmas Day 1944 in the Battle of the Bulge. Olaff was able to play in some games during the war, because he was stationed for a while at a navy diving school in Washington and got away on weekends. Barr would have been captain of the Brookhattan team that won the ASL-U.S. Open Cup-Lewis Cup triple in 1945, but he was in the western Pacific at the time. Another Hall of Famer, Gene Edwards, who was president of the U.S. Soccer Federation from 1974 to 1984, served in the Marine Corp and was wounded on Okinawa.

---In September 1943, at the start of the 1943-44 ASL season, the American Soccer League News published a list of 109 ASL players who were in the armed forces, quite a number for a league of just 10 teams. A year later, at the start of the 1944-45 season, that list was up to 143 players. At that time, the ASL was a relatively regional league, concentrated in the Middle Atlantic states. Presumably, teams in the rest of the country suffered just as badly.

American soccer's contribution to the American war effort of 1941-45 is not as well known as that of baseball or football, but it definitely did exist.