The All Americans

The All Americans

by Lars Anderson

Paperback(First Edition)

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On November 29, 1941, Army played Navy in front of 100,000 fans. Eight days later, the Japanese attacked and the young men who battled each other in that historic game were forced to fight a very different enemy. Author Lars Anderson follows four players—two from Annapolis and two from West Point—in this epic true story, The All Americans.

Bill Busik. Growing up in Pasadena, California, Busik was best friends with a young black man named Jackie, who in 1947 would make Major League Baseball history. Busik would have a spectacular sports career himself at the Naval Academy, earning All-American honors as a tailback in 1941. He was serving aboard the U.S.S. Shaw when it was attacked by Japanese dive-bombers in 1943.

Hal Kauffman. Together, Busik and Kauffman rode a train across the nation to Annapolis to enroll in the Naval Academy. A backup tailback at Navy, Kauffman would go on to serve aboard the U.S.S. Meredith, which was sunk in 1942. For five days Kauffman struggled to stay alive on a raft, fighting off hallucinations, dehydration, and—most terrifying of all—sharks. Dozens of his crewmates lost their minds; others were eaten by sharks. All the while Kauffman wondered if he'd ever see his friend and teammate again.

Henry Romanek. Because he had relatives in Poland, Romanek heard firsthand accounts in 1939 of German aggression. Wanting to become an officer, Romanek attended West Point and played tackle for the Cadets. He spent months preparing for the D-day invasion and on June 6, 1944—the day he would have graduated from West Point had his course load not been cut from four years to three—Romanek rode in a landing craft to storm Omaha Beach. In the first wave to hit the beach he would also become one of the first to take a bullet.

Robin Olds. The son of a famous World War I fighter pilot, Olds decided to follow in his father's footsteps. At West Point he became best friends with Romanek and the two played side-by-side on Army's line. In 1942, a sportswriter Grantland Rice named Olds to his All-American team. Two years later Olds spent D-day flying a P-38 over Omaha Beach, anxiously scanning the battlefield for Romanek, hoping his friend would survive the slaughter.

The tale of these four men is woven into a dramatic narrative of football and war that's unlike any other. Through extensive research and interviews with dozens of World War II veterans, Anderson has written one of the most compelling and original true stories in all of World War II literature. From fierce fighting, heroic rescues, tragic death, and awe-inspiring victory, all four men's suspenseful journeys are told in graphic detail. Along the way, Anderson brings World War II to life in a way that has never been done before.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312308889
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 11/01/2005
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 316,530
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.63(d)

About the Author

A graduate of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, Lars Anderson earned a masters degree from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University and is now a staff writer at Sports Illustrated. He's also the author of the critically acclaimed Pickup Artist: Street Basketball in America and The Proving Ground: A Season on the Fringe in NFL Europe. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife, Sara.

Read an Excerpt



The young man stood on the deck of the U.S.S. "Garfield," looking across the English Channel, into darkness. It was just after midnight on June 6, 1944, and the defining hour of Henry Romanek's life was at hand. The "Garfield," a transport ship, had just left the coast of England and was motoring south across the channel, its destination the waters off northern France, about ten miles outside of a quiet, enchanting beach the Allies called Omaha.

As Romanek gazed onto the black horizon, a cold wind dusting his cheeks, beams of moonlight filtered though the clouds to reveal an armada of ships so vast that it took his breath away. Over five thousand vessels were plowing through the whitecaps, the column of ships stretching as far as Romanek's eyes could see to the east and the west. The day of reckoning, D-day, had arrived. "Good God," Romanek said softly to himself, "Lord, have mercy on us."

The twenty-four-year-old Romanek was a platoon leader in the 149th Engineer Combat Battalion. Like all the soldiers in his company, he was dressed for battle. He wore a steel combat helmet that was outfitted with a fabric interlining. A life belt (a flotation device) was wrapped snugly around his waist. His first layer of clothing was a wool undershirt, underwear, and thick wool combat socks. On top of that were protective leggings, wool pants, a flannel shirt, an olive drab jacket, and waterproof jumpshoes. He also carried a field bag on his back that held a pancho, toilet articles, a towel, canned food, and a knife, fork, and spoon. A loaded carbine hung over his shoulder, and his dog tags dangled from his neck. On the ring finger of his left hand was his graduation ring from West Point, his dearest possession.

Romanek had received the ring a year earlier, and now as he looked down on it, the black onyx stone glittered in the moonlight. Romanek was in charge of a platoon of forty-five men, and they were constantly asking him to tell stories from his days at the military academy, especially what it was like to be an Army football player. Romanek had been a two-way standout at the Point in 1941 and '42, playing tackle on both offense and defense. The game he was most often questioned about was the '41 Army-Navy contest, which was played before 98,942 screaming fans at Philadelphia's Municipal Stadium. As Romanek drew closer to what he knew would be the bloodiest fight of his life, that game was still alive in his mind, its details burned into his memory. He must have told his men about that Army-Navy clash a hundred times, maybe more.

Though three and half years had passed since he last donned an Army football uniform, Romanek still looked like the strapping star he was. Barrel-chested and long-armed, Romanek, at 6'2", 195 pounds, was more toned than muscular. He didn't seem to have an ounce of fat on his tight frame. He had a fair complexion, sleepy blue eyes, caramel-colored hair that was in a crew cut, and a soft, gentle smile that made ladies blush whenever he looked their way. He was, by all accounts, a dashing figure, the kind of clean-cut, riveting young man that people turned to stare at whenever he strolled into a room.

Yet the boys in his platoon and to Romanek, they were "boys," as most of them were still teenagers—looked up to Romanek not because of his handsome looks but because he was their leader. Romanek thought of his men as an extension of his own family, and he worried and fretted about them probably more than he should have. He spent every night after training reading all their V-mail letters that they were sending to loved ones back home. Because Romanek was the official censor in charge of screening all outgoing U.S. mail for his platoon, he came to know all of his men's deepest secrets and greatest fears. He talked to the men in his platoon about everything, from how they missed their sweethearts back home to the art of making a proper block on the football field. Even when Romanek was agitated, he rarely raised his voice when speaking with his men. Instead, in a firm and steady tone, he would simply lay out what needed to be done and how it would be accomplished. Then he always ended by saying how much he trusted everyone and how they should treat each other like they were blood brothers.

Romanek's soldiers were from the Midwest, mostly raised on farms and in small towns in Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska, and they were as gritty as any soldiers Romanek had ever been around. Romanek cared deeply for them, which made him vulnerable on this early morning: Romanek knew that many of them wouldn't survive the coming day. "If all the soldiers on our side are as good as you guys," Romanek told his men a few days before the invasion, "the Germans don't have a chance."

Along with the rest of his battalion, Romanek and his men had sailed out of New York harbor on the early morning of December 29, 1943 and had spent the better part of six months on the south coast of England preparing for the invasion. The 149th practiced everything from landing on beaches to laying live mines to booby-trapping houses with explosives. The combat engineers had perhaps the most complex mission of any on D-day. They would be among the first to hit the beaches, and they were assigned multiple tasks. They were to identify and blow up any beach obstacle—most were large pieces of steel rail—that would interfere with the landing of troops as the tide began to rise. Then, as quickly as possible, they were to set up signs that would act as guideposts for incoming landing craft. Finally, if they were still alive, they were to clear roads from the beach and set up supply dumps.

Romanek had gone over the mission dozens of times with his men. He explained to them that the first assault waves on D-day were going to be DD tanks ("duplex drive" tanks that were modified M4 Sherman tanks, which could travel on water as well as land). These tanks would be rigged with rubber devices so—the hope was—they would float. The tanks would be followed by a wave of infantry and engineers. Romanek's engineering platoon was married to the 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division. They would ride into Omaha Beach together on landing craft, and they would be among the first of the forty thousand men scheduled to land on Omaha, a beach that was about six miles long and slight crescent-shaped. Romanek reminded his men over and over that what they really had to focus on was erecting the large marking panels for the D-3 exit so that subsequent landing craft would know where to go.

Now on the "Garfield," the landings at Omaha just hours away, Romanek told his platoon to gather around him. When Romanek looked at his men, their eyes seemed to glow like full moons—wide-open and bursting with anticipation. "Now is our opportunity to participate in the greatest armada ever launched in history," Romanek said above the drone of the "Garfield's" engines. "And history will be made by what we do here today. Now let's do our jobs and make our country proud." There were no replies from any of Romanek's men. They merely stared at their leader in silence.

At around two in the morning, when the "Garfield" was about twelve miles off the coast of France, the order was sounded; "Now hear this! All assault troops report to your debarkation areas."

Romanek made his way to the spot where he would descend onto a LCM (Landing Craft, f0 Mechanized) that would ferry half of his platoon—approximately twenty-three men—and about eighty infantry personnel to the beach. Along with the hundred or so men on the LCM, there would also be explosive devices and marking panels on board, which Romanek and his platoon of engineers would erect. The marking panels were stored in twenty-foot-long polelike casings. The markers were large triangles that would be staked into the sand and would signify the D-3 exit at Les Moulins, an area on the beach that included a road that led inland to St. Laurent—a D-day objective for the infantry. Romanek carried one of the cases with him as he walked to the disembarkation point.

Boarding the LCMs was treacherous. The small vessels had already been lowered into the water and they were now bobbing up and down in the ten-foot swells. The men threw a rope net over the side of the "Garfield." In a firm tone, Romanek told his men to go, to climb down the net and then jump into their LCM. "This won't he easy," Romanek said as men began to descend. "Don't lose your grip." Because the engineers were loaded down with weapons, ammo, rations, and a life preserver, mobility was limited. At the disembarking point, one of the men turned to Romanek. His face was white and he was so cold with fear he could hardly move. "Sir, I'm scared," he told Romanek.

Copyright (c) 2004 by Lars Anderson

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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I stumbled across this book when my grandfather suddenly started talking about his time in WWII about one year ago. Now age 87, he told me during one interview that he served in the 149th Engineer & Combat Battalion. After learning that one of the star characters in this book, Henry Romanek, was a commander in the 149th Battalion, I purchased this book to learn more. Soon after, I noticed a name hand written on my grandfather's military reunion mailing list -- Henry Romanek. To my amazement, the story that unfolded through Henry's eyes was very similar to the story my grandfather had been telling me in pieces throughout 2009. Once I received the book, I couldn't put it down. The first hand accounts of the soldiers from football field to battlefield were very thorough and told in such a way that opened up my eyes even more to what these servicemen gave for their country. I would highly recommend this book to others. It is full of life lessons in determination, relationship-building, teamwork, etc. I will forever view this period in history differently after conducting my own research and by reading this book. It is something that many young people today should take time to reflect on and learn more about. I'd strongly encourage this book as a starting point in doing that.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
November 29, 1941. The date seemed like the most important day of the year to the players on the two football teams. It had been circled on the calendars by the coaches of both teams before practice had begun in the summer, prior to the season kickoff. The match was the kind of game that is used to measure how successful the season was. The Army and Navy football teams traditionally met on the final weekend of the football season. It was a showdown between the two powerhouses that even casual football fans paid attention to. The first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt was among the 98,542 fans who attended the contest. This year the game seemed to carry a bit more importance that late fall day in 1941. Hitler had been waging war in Europe for two years. A tension griped the country as America seemed destined to enter the war. The future military officers on both sides of the ball knew that they would face more important battles in the near future, but on that Saturday afternoon all they could do was think about was the game. Little did they know that the world would be forever changed a mere eight days later with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. The All-Americans, by Lars Anderson, tells the story of four men, Henry Romanek and Robin Olds from the Army and Bill Busik and Hal Kauffman from the Navy, who played against each other in that gridiron classic. Anderson follows the careers of these men, from their arrival at their respected academies, through their football careers, and finally through their courageous service in World War II. These young men would battle each other as bitter rivals that day on the football field, only to find themselves teammates fighting the Axis Powers a few months later. The book is divided into two distinct sections. One deals with their days as cadets and the game that was the pinnacle of their football careers, while the other section covers their service in the military. Anderson¿s in depth research into the psyche of America at that time helps the reader to understand how important the game was, not only to the players on the field, but to virtually every person in the country. The pride that nearly every American felt during the days prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor seemed to culminate at that football match-up. Anderson devotes a chapter of the book to the attack on Pearl Harbor to masterfully link the two portions of the book. As much as Pearl Harbor helps to connect the book, football linked these four soldiers. Romanek, Olds, Busik and Kauffman, even years later, testify that their experience on the football field helped them to be better soldiers and more importantly better leaders. All four were looked at differently by their fellow soldiers because they had played for their academy¿s football team. They were both officers and celebrities. This translated into an immediate demand for leadership by both their subordinates and their peers. This was especially true during intense battles. Busik, serving in the Pacific aboard the U.S.S. Shaw, tells of several instances of comforting dying sailors who requested him to tell about his playing days at the Naval Academy. Romanek, lying wounded on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion, continually thought of playing football for the Army in order to stay alert and alive. Olds would use those same memories of playing football to sustain him during long flights as he guided his plane back from numerous bombing missions over Europe. None of the men used what they had learned on the gridiron more than Kauffman. His ship, the U.S.S. Meredith, was sunk in the Pacific. He and a handful of his crewmates survived the initial attack. The crew endured four days of shark attacks until they were finally rescued. Kauffman says that he realized that ¿only the strong would survive¿. Throughout the continued attacks, he encouraged the other survivors to fight back when the sharks struck. Finally four da
Guest More than 1 year ago
Another example of how the generation that won World War II was patriotic, willing to sacrafice for each other and unbelievably brave. The book also chronicles a time when the service academies because of the times attracted the best athletes, and the Army - Navy game was 'the' game.