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Legendary Hoosier Athletes That Served During Times of War

Indiana University has a rich history of its student athletes serving in the military.  On this Memorial Day weekend we take a look back at some of the more well-known Hoosiers that served their country and risked their lives during times of war.

War time often had a significant impact on the ability to field a team, and often impacted the outcome of seasons.  The 1917 football team struggled to maintain enough players on its roster due to World War I, but they still managed to be one of the highest scoring teams in IU history, scoring more than 32 points per game.

The 1943 football Hoosiers were widely expected to be a juggernaut before several of the team’s stars were called to serve in World War II.

  • Football center Russell Hathaway was first-team All-Big Ten for the 1917 Hoosiers. He served in the Navy in World War I and then went on to a NFL career.
  • Charles Severin Buschman was a 1917 basketball team captain.  He graduated and then enlisted in the Army for World War I.
  • Three letter winning IU athletes were killed in World War I:  Joe Barclay (track), Claude Whitney (basketball), and Harry Gray (football).
  • IU football and baseball star Roscoe Minton served in World War I.
  • IU football fullback Corby Davis was the first and only Hoosier selected with the number one pick in the NFL draft.  He would later be part of the American storming of Normandy in World War II.
  • IU quarterback Hal Hursh was the 1939 Big Ten passing leader.  He served and died in World War II.
  • Billy Hillenbrand was IU’s first consensus All-American back.  He served in the Army during World War II and then played in the NFL.
  • IU football end Pete Pihos was a Lieutenant in General George Patton’s 35th Infantry Division during World War II before going on to a NFL Hall of Fame career.
Pete Pihos was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1970.  Photo credit – IU Archives.
  • IU football star George Taliaferro served in World War II.  He became the first African-American to be drafted in the NFL.
  • IU Hall of Famer and football star Russ Deal served in World War II.  Deal was captain of the 1945 Big Ten champions.
  • IU Hall of Famer and football star Lou Saban served in World War II.  Saban was a 2-time NFL All-Pro and an AFL champion coach.
  • IU Hall of Famer and football star John Tavener served in World War II.  He was first team All-America in 1944.
  • IU football player John Cannady served in World War II.  He played in the NFL’s first Pro Bowl game in 1950.
  • IU football player Bob Hoernschemeyer served in World War II.  He played professionally for 10 years and played in two NFL Pro Bowls.
  • IU football player Bob Ravensberg served in World War II.  He was a 1945 first team All-American.
  • IU track star and two-time Olympian Fred Wilt served in the Navy during World War II.
  • IU basketball player and coach Lou Watson served in the Navy in World War II.
Lou Watson played for IU from 1947-50 and coached the Hoosiers from 1966-71. Photo credit – IU Archives
  • IU track star Ray Cochran served in World War II and would later win Olympic gold in 1948.
  • IU Hall of Famer and track star Campbell Kane served in World War II as a Navy pilot.
  • IU football lineman Howard Brown won three purples hearts fighting in the Army in World War II in Europe.  He was first team All-Big Ten in 1947 and played three season for the Detroit Lions.
  • IU football kicker Charley Armstrong was a three-year bomber pilot that won a Distinguished Flying Cross during World War II.
  • Legendary IU basketball coach Branch McCracken left the program to serve three years in the Navy during World War II.
  • IU basketball player Ward Williams served three years in the military during World War II.
  • Cross-country star Earl Mitchell won Big Ten titles both before and after four years of war time Marine duty.
  • IU baseketball player Bob Dro served in the Navy in World War II after helping the Hoosiers win the 1940 national title.

Countless other IU athletes served during war time.  Got another Hoosier hero that you would like to see mentioned here?  Let us know about it in the comments below or by contacting us.

[Special acknowledgement:  Much of the historical data discussed in this article was obtained from the great book “Glory of Old IU, 100 Years of Indiana Athletics” by Bob Hammel and Kit Klingelhoffer.  You can purchase that book here.]

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