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A rich history of military service

Posted May 27, 2007

ClevelandBrowns.com takes this opportunity to talk about former Browns who served their country.

Marion Motley

While Memorial Day celebrates those who died in military service, ClevelandBrowns.com takes this opportunity to talk about former Browns who served their country.

It was purely accidental, but the timing was nonetheless perfect.

Rich Crow, a tremendously knowledgeable Browns historian from the Columbus, Ohio area, recently provided the organization with a list of 26 events that spawned the birth of the team.

The information he came up, while extremely fascinating, is another story for another day, but in the meantime, after looking at the list, one of the first things that stands out is that the Browns franchise was actually a war baby, a fact that has never really been discussed in much detail before. For while the Browns last year celebrated the 60th anniversary of their first season in 1946, the club's lineage actually goes back to two years before that, when World War II was still being waged hot and heavy.

This dovetails nicely with the fact this is Memorial Day weekend.

For instance, in May 1944, Mickey McBride and Daniel Sherby attempted to but the NFL's Cleveland Rams. When they were unsuccessful, their attention turned to getting the Cleveland franchise in a new league that was being formed, the All-America Football Conference.

AAFC officials wanted to begin play in 1945, but decided against it because of the war. Nonetheless, McBride, trying to build the best team he could, hired Paul Brown as head coach and general manager on Feb. 8, 1945, while Brown was still in the Navy.

The team was still known then as the Panthers as the result of a newspaper contest to name the new club. But when legal issues arose from the fact there was a Cleveland Panthers football team that played from the 1920s through '35, the name was abandoned and Browns -- for Paul Brown -- was selected in its place.

The date of that announcement? Aug. 14, 1945. Interestingly enough, World War II effectively ended the next day when Japan surrendered to the Allies.

But here's what is even more interesting: The biographical information about nearly every single player listed in the first Browns media guide in 1946 contains a reference to their war service.

So these early Browns weren't just great football players, as evidenced by the fact they won all four championships in the four-year existence of the AAFC through 1949. More importantly, they were also brave, tough men who had put their lives on the line for several years before they reported to Bowling Green State University on July 29, 1946 for that initial training camp with the Browns.

Compared to their war experience, then, playing football, even for a demanding, no-nonsense coach such as Brown, was a relative breeze.

In honor of Memorial Day, here's the war service information about those first Browns, and after the fans read it, they're likely to put these men on an even higher pedestal than they previously had them (included are some of their nicknames listed):

*Tackle Chet Adams -- Entered the Army in February 1944 as a private and was discharged as a first lieutenant in June 1946. Served in the Corps of Military Police.

*Halfback Al Akins -- Served 32 months with the Marines, leaving with the rank of first lieutenant. Saw service in Guam, Saipan and Japan and won the Presidential Unit Citation.

*Tackle Ernie Blandin -- Served 3½ years in the Navy, including a year in the Marshall Islands and three months in Hawaii.

*Guard George Cheroke -- Was in the Army Air Forces more than four years, 19 months of which were in the European Theatre. Rose to the rank of captain.

*Halfback Tom Colella -- Served in the Marine Corps from July 1942 to August 1943.

*End Alton Coppage -- Served in the Army Air Corps for 31 months. Was overseas with the 20th Air Force.

*Tackle Jim Daniell -- Won the Silver Star for heroism aboard a destroyer off Okinawa. Held the Asiatic-Pacific Theatre ribbon with nine battle stars.

*Halfback Fred "Dippy" Evans -- Served in the Army Air Corps for three years, from February 1943 until January 1946. Got lost one night in a fighter plane and had but three minutes of gas left when he finally landed.

*Fullback Gene Fekete -- Served in the Army from April 1943 until June 1945.

*Center Frank "Gunner" Gatski -- Served 3½ years in the Army Infantry, including 18 months in the ETO.

*Quarterback Otto "Otts" Graham -- Entered the Navy on Feb. 14, 1944 and was discharged Sept. 19, 1945.

*Halfback Don "Slooie" Greenwood -- Enlisted in the Army Air Corps.

*Tackle Lou "Chief" Groza -- Entered the Army's Medical Dept. in the Infantry. In the service for three years, spending six months on Leyte, five months on Okinawa, two in Hawaii and six in the Philippines.

*End John Harrington -- Served in the Central Pacific before ending his tour of duty as a first lieutenant in early 1946.

*Guard Lin Houston -- Was in the Army from May 1943 until February 1946. Served in New Guinea and the Philippines.

*Halfback Edgar "Special Delivery" Jones -- Entered the Navy in April 1942 and was discharged in October 1945.

*Guard Alex "Tata" Kapter -- Was a Naval pilot.

*End Dante Lavelli -- Entered the Army in 1943 and served in France, Belgium and Germany.

*Halfback Bill Lund -- Served as an ensign aboard a Navy destroyer in the Pacific Theatre.

*Center Mel "Mac" Maceau -- Served for more than three years in the Army Air Forces, including 27 months in the China-Burma-India Theatre. Won two Bronze Stars and a Presidential Unit Citation.

*Fullback Marion Motley -- Served in the Navy.

*End John "Rock" Rokisky -- Served as a Navy athletic instructor for four years, including 11 months at Pearl Harbor.

*Tackle Lou Rymkus -- Entered the Navy in March 1944 as an athletic instructor and served until early in 1946. Was stationed nine months at Pearl Harbor.

*Quarterback Lou Saban -- Entered the Army in 1943 and had attained the rank of first lieutenant by the time of his discharge in 1946. Was utilized as an interpreter in China.

*Center Mike "Mo" Scarry -- Interrupted his schooling to enlist in the Army and served with the Infantry in the African Campaign.

*Fullback Gaylon Smith -- Enlisted in the Navy.

*End Mac "Speed" Speedie -- Enlisted in the Army in March 1942 and was discharged as a first lieutenant in June 1946. Served in reconditioning work in the medical corps.

*Halfback Bob Steuber -- Served in the Navy.

*Halfback Ray Terrell -- Joined the Marines two months after Pearl Harbor (February 1942) and left the service as a second lieutenant in April 1946. Spent 10 months in the Pacific Theatre, plus three months in Japan.

*Guard Ed Ulinski -- Entered the service May 7, 1942, terminating his Army career exactly four years to the day, on May 7, 1946, as a captain in the Army Air Forces. Served six months in the West Indies, during which time his B-29 made a forced landing in Cuba.

*End  John "Jumbo" Yonakor -- Enlisted in the Marines on June 6, 1942 (exactly two years before D-Day), and was called to active duty 13 months later. Served in the Southwest Pacific. Discharged in May 1946.

*End George "Pordy" Young -- Entered the Navy in 1943.

Are all these men heroes because of their gallant, courageous service? Yes, certainly.

But keep in mind -- and they would be the first to say this -- that they're the lucky ones. After all, yhey got to come home.

Don't forget that as you're grilling out, working out or just chilling out this weekend.