A 76th Anniversary Remembrance of the 1941 Spartans

Dec. 6, 2017

They Came For Football (2011) from Brodie Brazil on Vimeo.

On November 27, 1941, 26 San Jose State Spartans thought they would be the school's first football team in three years to enjoy a season-ending trip to Hawaii for a pair of charity games benefitting the Honolulu Police Department.

Team travel was different then. No restrictions on your arrival at the game site and none regarding a return home. You were limited by mode of transportation and/or budget.

The lengthiest known San Jose State football trip would turn out to be 29 days starting from San Francisco to Honolulu. And, that was for the ones choosing to return to the mainland at the first opportunity on the S.S. Coolidge as ambulance attendants and sailors.

Air travel was not an option heading west across the Pacific Ocean. The Spartans would be on board the S.S. Lurline with one of their opponents, Willamette College of Oregon. What they would find out after de-boarding seven days into the trip was beyond anyone's wildest imagination.

San Jose State's football games scheduled for December 13 against the University of Hawaii and December 16 versus Willamette were never played.

These Spartans would be at the forefront of thousands of heroes to millions who cherished the American ideals of freedom. They would receive a commendation from United States Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox for their service.


"We weren't in first class, but the treatment was special," said Bert Robinson in a 2001 interview with the Contra Costa Times about the ocean liner trip that arrived in Honolulu on December 3. "We were walking on the beach when the shore patrol told us to get off the beach. When we asked why, they said something about an attack."



Gray McConnell shared his first-hand experiences of December 7 with the San Jose Mercury News in 1981.

"...Then we saw these geysers of water spouting up from the Honolulu ship channel to the west. At first, we thought they were waterspouts. Then, we realized they were bombs because we began to see the planes. We didn't know Pearl Harbor was being attacked because you can't see Pearl (Harbor) from Waikiki," said McConnell who snuck away from the team hotel with teammate Allan Hardisty.

"We saw the planes diving and the battleship Oklahoma capsizing and slowly sinking into the mud. The flames and the smoke from the Arizona cast a dirty brown pall over the whole scene. It was horrible, but it was fascinating, too."

"Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territories and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces, with the un-bounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God," President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed in his "Day of Infamy" speech to Congress and broadcast to the American people about the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor.

"It took us a long time to absorb all this even though it was going on right in front of us," said Jack Galvin of Redwood City in a 2011 interview for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. He would be the last survivor from the 1941 team. Galvin died in 2012 at the age of 90.

"We went outside to see what was going on. Just then, a couple of American soldiers came out and set up a machine gun right next to the porch of the Moana Hotel facing outward, facing toward the sea. So, we knew something was going on."

"Here we were, just a bunch of kids, really, but we grew up quick. We had to. After riding around half the night in police cars, we had to take a bus from downtown Honolulu back to the Moana Hotel on Waikiki beach. The second night out, some trigger-happy Territorial Guardsman put a .30-caliber slug through the bus when the driver didn't see the signal to stop. Nobody was hurt, but the Marine sergeant who officially commanded' the bus was highly indignant," Robinson said in a 1991 San Jose Mercury News interview.

"There was a lot of indiscriminate firing that night and for the next few nights. Nobody got hurt that we ever heard of, but the Territorials bagged a cow in the bushes by the Ala Wai Canal the night our bus was fired on."

The 19-year old served in the Honolulu Police Department until December 19. He would eventually earn varsity letters in football (three), basketball (three) and baseball (one) and be named to San Jose State Sports Hall of Fame. His athletics honors sandwiched his feats as a decorated Army pilot.


Don Allen, Chet Carsten, Fred Lindsey, Jack Lercari, Bill Donnelly, Ken Stanger and Paul Tognetti opted not to return to the mainland at the first opportunity and joined the police force on a full-time basis earning $166 a month.

"...Some of us got together and said, `Hey, let's stay here.' And, we all joined the police force and the rest of the team went back. So, for three-and-a-half years, we were on the Honolulu police force. And then we got our training, went through training, police-work training and the whole bit," said Tognetti, who would make Hawaii his permanent home in 1950 for more than 60 years.

Stanger helped deliver a baby the night of December 7.

"...She was in labor. It was well past curfew and full blackout was in effect. The regular HPD officer and I did the only thing we could do. We went out and helped her deliver. It was a baby girl, but I don't think they named her Pearl," said Stanger who would become a high school principal in Santa Clara County and was the high school football coach of San Jose State alum Peter Ueberroth, former commissioner of Major League Baseball and president of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics Organizing Committee.


More than 4,200 San Jose State alumni served in World War II. There are reports that between 180 and 200 lost their lives. Here is a partial list of those 1941 football players to serve in the armed forces and underscore President Roosevelt's faith in victory.

• Don Allen served in the Army's 395th infantry regiment and in the 1944 Battle of the Bulge.

• Kenneth Bailey was killed in action. A second lieutenant, he was declared missing in action over Bari, Italy in December 1943. He was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart. His parents, Mr. & Mrs. Wilber Bailey of Palo Alto donated the lead gift for the construction of the Spartan Memorial Chapel on the main campus that opened in 1952.

• John Brown served in the Army Air Corps.

• Stu Carter served in the Navy. He was a skipper of a PT boat.

• Jack Galvin, the last of the 1941 team to pass away in 2012, joined the Marines and was stationed on the Samoan islands as a cartographer.

• Fred Lindsey served in the Army.

• Aubrey Minter served in the Air Force.

• Center Bob Hamill, a junior college transfer from Glendale College, was named a team co-captain for the 1941 team on December 7, 1940. Hamill achieved the rank of captain in the Army Air Corps. He earned one silver and two bronze oak leaf clusters. He flew in missions in Africa, Italy, Yugoslavia and Greece during World War II and in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

• Bert Robinson reported for duty in 1942 in the Armed Forces Army Air Corps. A B-17 pilot in the 15th Air Force, 301st Bomb Group based in Italy, he completed 50 missions from 1942 through 1945 and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross.

• Ken Stanger served in the Navy.

• Paul Tognetti was drafted into the Army in July 1944.

• San Jose State Sports Hall of Fame two-sport athlete Hans Widenhoefer was born in Karlsruhe, Germany in 1922 and raised in San Francisco. A star fullback and wrestler, Wiedenhoefer enlisted in the Marine Corps and was in the 36-day Battle of Iwo Jima Island in the South Pacific -- a major victory for the United States.


"Both on behalf of the Navy and myself, however, I wish to express appreciation for the spirit these fine young athletes exhibited in the face of grave danger. I believe that such is the true American spirit and I have no fear that such a spirit will ever be conquered," Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox wrote to San Jose State College President Dr. T.W. MacQuarrie.

Their spirit remains today for what they did 76 years ago.

Etc.: Brodie Brazil is a San José State University graduate and Emmy Award-winning sportscaster who is seen regularly on CSN Bay Area. Rememberance compiled by Lawrence Fan, San José State University Athletics Media Relations Director. Articles from The Spartan Daily and the San Jose Mercury News were used for this story.