UCLA’s Very Bravest Bruins


It is the last day of September in 1939. The UCLA BRUINS are busy celebrating their monumental 6-2 victory over the defending national champions from Texas Christian University at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and, even though Babe Horrell’s charges are not necessarily aware of such ahead of time, have only just begun what will be the most successful football season in school history up to that point. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Pacific Ocean on the continent of Asia, the Empire of Japan and the Republic of China are engaged in combat for a third consecutive year while, over on the continent of Europe, a beleaguered Poland is being overrun by the invading armies of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union advancing from the west and east, respectively — whether or not the majority of people then occupying Planet Earth actually realize such, the conflict which will become known as the SECOND WORLD WAR has also ‘only just begun’, as well.

Not surprisingly, a good many people who had played varsity football for the UCLA Bruins during the mid-to-late 1930s ended up in the service of the United States military during the World War II era. Among the former UCLA players who ultimately became U.S. servicemen were All-America center JOHNNY RYLAND as well as HAL HIRSHON, the versatile halfback who had caught two long touchdown passes late in the fourth quarter of the epic 1937 clash with the intra-city rival Southern California Trojans. Even the speedy wingback JACKIE ROBINSON, who had certainly been a “difference-maker” during the Bruins’ landmark conquest of the visiting TCU Horned Frogs, would find himself wearing Uncle Sam’s uniform soon enough.

This being MEMORIAL DAY here in the United States and all, it is the aim of this blog post to honor the four bravest UCLA BRUINS varsity football players who heroically made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of their country during the time of the SECOND WORLD WAR.

UCLA Bruins head coach BILL SPAULDING (kneeling down in light sweater and holding a football) addresses his troops at practice sometime during the 1937 NCAA campaign … standing just behind the long-time Westwood gridiron guru while looking to the right would be junior tackle C.M. “Slats” WYRICK (# 60), the beefy lineman recruited from the midwestern flatlands of Oklahoma … to the right of Wyrick is center JOHNNY RYLAND (# 36), the standout lineman who was destined to be honored by the Los Angeles County American Legion as the Bruins’ Most Valuable Player for the 1938 NCAA season.

Lieutenant DONALD L. HESSE … # 4 – Fullback … letterwinner (39) … carried the ball from scrimmage three times for nine yards as third-stringer during the UCLA Bruins’ satisfying 20-7 victory over the University of California Golden Bears in November of 1939 … killed when airplane exploded in mid-air over what is today the west African nation of Ghana on September 9th, 1943.

Lieutenant CHARLES B. PIKE … # 25 – End … letterwinner (34, 35, 36) … scored a touchdown for UCLA (presumably on a pass reception) during the Bruins’ 49-0 rout of Cal – Davis in late October of 1934 … killed in action at the battle for Speyer in Germany on March 24th, 1945.

Captain FRANCIS B. WAI … # 49 – Quarterback … letterwinner (37, 38) … always behind others on the depth chart among a crowded field at his position but often cited in public by UCLA head coach Bill Spaulding as being an especially rugged blocker … killed in action at the Battle of Leyte in the Philippines on October 22nd, 1944 … posthumously awarded Medal Of Honor for his heroism under fire.

Lieutenant CELESTINE M. WYRICK … # 60 – Tackle … letterwinner (36, 37, 38) … a two-year first team player whose size (6’4″ 215 lbs) made him one of the biggest linemen to have appeared for the UCLA Bruins throughout the entire decade of the 1930s … killed when accidentally electrocuted by a live cable wire while working as a photographer on top of a railroad car in Bolzano, Italy, on May 9th, 1945.

UCLA Bruins quarterback FRANCIS WAI (# 49), the only Chinese-American in the lengthy history of the United States ever to be awarded the nation’s highest military award, brings down the USC Trojans ball carrier during the Pacific Coast Conference intra-city tussle at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 24, 1938.







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