Scott Rabalais: Remembering LSU’s heroes; a Veterans Day spotlight on Tigers who served
Saturday, the Golden Band from Tigerland will belt out the first four brassy notes of “Hold That Tiger” as it marches in precision across the playing field’s emerald expanse.
Elsewhere Saturday, a bugler will stand amid a field of neat rows of gleaming white headstones, playing taps.
Saturday is Veterans Day, a time for us to remember the loved and lost, the soldiers, sailors and airmen and women who have made football Saturdays and every day in between possible.
The LSU football family is filled with veterans. As LSU hosts Arkansas on this football Saturday, the first time the Tigers have played on Veterans Day since 2006, here’s a sampling of some of the program’s players and coaches who have served our country. This is by no means a complete list, and for those not included we also say thank you for your service and sacrifice:
• Everyone is familiar with the name Alex Box, who became the first LSU athlete to die in World War II when his tank struck a mine in North Africa on Feb. 19, 1943. His name went on LSU’s old baseball park later that year and was transferred to the Tigers’ current ballpark when it opened in 2009. Fewer know that Box first came to LSU on a football scholarship in 1938, his career cut short a year later by a shoulder injury. Box wore No. 20 two decades before Billy Cannon did. Box is buried near where he died, at an American military cemetery in Carthage, Tunisia.
• Cannon’s coach, Paul Dietzel, earned a football scholarship to Duke in 1942. Before he took the field, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps instead. Dietzel was a B-29 bomber pilot who flew missions over Japan in a plane his crew dubbed the “Banana Boat.” Though Dietzel led LSU to the 1958 national championship, he later said the two-plus-year stint he spent in the Air Corps was the greatest part of his life. The Army never left Dietzel’s mind. After serving as an assistant coach there in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he returned to Army as its head coach in 1962 before later returning to LSU as athletic director in 1978. Dietzel died in 2013.
• Probably no one in the history of LSU athletics wore more hats than Harry Rabenhorst. From 1925-57, Rabenhorst coached LSU in baseball and basketball, winning 560 games in both sports and leading the 1953 Tigers to the Final Four. He was a football assistant as well from 1925-42 and then became assistant athletic director in 1947. After then athletic director Jim Corbett died, Rabenhorst became acting athletic director in 1968. He started his juggling act early, competing in four sports at Wake Forest before serving in the Navy during World War I. Rabenhorst died in 1973.
• Rabenhorst was succeeded as athletic director by Carl Maddox, who worked in that role from 1968-78. Maddox was an assistant on Dietzel’s football staff. Before that he coached under Gaynell Tinsley. Before that he served in the Navy on a torpedo boat during World War II. Mixing football with his years in the service, Maddox played guard on the Motor Torpedo Boat Raiders football team played at Army in 1945 against the team featuring Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis. Army beat Maddox’s team 55-13, but as Maddox delighted in saying, Army beat No. 9 Notre Dame worse that year, 48-0.
• Alvin Roy is considered the father of modern strength and conditioning programs in college football and the NFL. His work helped make Cannon a star and helped the 1958 Tigers win the national title. Long before that, the Baton Rouge native was a highly decorated soldier, earning four battle stars and a Bronze Star Medal under Gen. George S. Patton. Roy’s great-grandson, Travis Roy, is strength and conditioning coordinator for LSU’s baseball team.
• George Tarasovic came from Granville, New York, to LSU, where he became an All-American center in 1951. His LSU career was cut short by his service during the Korean War, but he eventually played 13 seasons in the NFL and AFL with Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Denver.
• On New Year’s Day 1944, Joe Nagata was playing football on LSU’s first bowl-winning team, helping the Tigers beat Texas A&M 19-14 in the Orange Bowl. By that fall, the former LSU fullback had joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a unit made up mostly of Japanese-Americans like Nagata. Nagata fought in three campaigns in Northern Italy, earning eight medals including the Bronze Star. He returned to Louisiana and coached football at Eunice High and across town at St. Edmund High School, winning 142 games with six district titles and two trips to the state finals. Nagata died in 2001.
• Finally, there is Luke Boyd, who walked on to LSU’s football team in 2013-14 while serving as an active duty Marine after a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2010-11. In May 2016, Boyd achieved his goal of becoming an officer in the Marine Corps. Second lieutenant Boyd is currently stationed in Quantico, Virginia, training for another overseas tour of duty. Boyd said he doesn’t necessarily think of himself on Veterans Day but more of those who have already completed their service. “Of course,” he said, “anyone who signs on the dotted line deserves a thank you.”
So true. Thank you, veterans, from all of us.