On Sunday, December 7, the Brooklyn Dodgers traveled to Manhattan’s Polo Grounds to face their cross-town rivals, the Eastern Division-leading New York Giants, for the final game of the 1941 regular season. The Giants were honoring their Pro Bowl back with “Tuffy Leemans Day,” presenting him with a silver platter engraved by his teammates and $1,500 in defense bonds. As Pug Manders ran over his cross-town rivals for three touchdowns, Japanese bombs fell on Pearl Harbor and sent America to war.
“Attention please. Here is an urgent message,” the PA announcer called over the Polo Grounds loudspeakers, “Will Col. William J. Donovan call Operator 19 in Washington immediately?”
The head of the Office of Strategic Services didn’t get to finish watching the Dodgers come within 23 seconds of shutting out the Giants. The victorious Dodgers had busted up their opponents so badly that three Giants went to the hospital and another six had to see the doctor after the game.
Two Sundays later the Western Division champion Chicago Bears rolled over the Giants 37-9 to secure their second National Football League title in two years. Professional football didn’t rate much attention 78 years ago, as the 1941 equivalent of the Super Bowl is condensed into three paragraphs in this edition.
Many of the athletes playing in the NFL championship traded their cleats for combat boots, but all those mentioned in the article below either joined or tried to: Bears quarterback Sid Luckman signed up for the Merchant Marine in 1943, serving as an ensign. George McAfee joined the Navy, Norm Standlee the Army, and George Halas — a veteran of the first world war — rejoined to the Navy as a lieutenant commander. George “Sonny” Franck joined the Marine Corps, fighting on Iwo Jima — where he was next to former Notre Dame football star Jack Chevigny when he was killed — before becoming a fighter pilot stationed aboard USS Hornet. Tuffy Leemans and Chicago kicker Bob Snyder were both disqualified from service due to playing injuries.
On page 3, we see that Adm. Ernest King has been selected as Commander in Chief, United States Fleet (CINCUS). Adm. Husband Kimmel had served as both CINCUS and Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT) until he was temporarily replaced by Vice Adm. William S. Pye last week. It is on this day that Adm. Pye decides that Kimmel’s plan to send a battle group featuring the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga to Wake to relieve the besieged garrison is too risky and recalls the operation — dooming the men on Wake.
Once Adm. Nimitz takes over as CINCPACFLT at the end of the month, Pye will return to the job he occupied before December 7: commanding battleships. Prior to next year’s Battle of Midway, he is placed in command of a task force featuring seven battleships, several destroyers, and an escort carrier and ordered to guard the West Coast in the event of that the Japanese defeat our carriers and shift their sights to an attack on our mainland. Fortunately, our carriers are not wiped out and the Japanese pose no serious threat to the continental United States.
In March, King will also take over the job of Chief of Naval Operations from Adm. Harold R. “Betty” Stark, who moves to command United States Naval Forces Europe. Both Admirals King and Pye both lose sons in the silent service: Lt. Cmdr. Manning M. Kimmel was skipper of the submarine USS Robalo (sunk in 1944), and Lt. Cmdr. John B. Pye served aboard USS Swordfish (sunk 1945). Pye’s other son, Lt. William S. Pye, Jr. was killed on a training flight off the southern California coast while flying carrier-based aircraft for Fighting Squadron 3 (VF-3) off the Saratoga in 1938.
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