This Month in History – Wartime football takes the bases by storm

On October 30, 1943, thousands of soldiers stationed in southeastern North Carolina woke up and got ready to see the big game — a football match between the Camp Lejeune Leathernecks and Camp Davis’ Blue Brigade.

Both Camp Lejeune and Camp Davis were the products of World War II, and so were their football teams. Camp Davis, named for North Carolina native General Richmond P. Davis, was built in tiny Holly Ridge, North Carolina. It became the country’s premier Anti Aircraft Artillery Training Center, and was home to tens of thousands of troops by 1943. In nearby Jacksonville, Camp Lejeune was also a part of the military’s wartime expansion. With its miles of beach and piney woods, the Marine Corps used the camp for amphibious training.

In 1943, both bases put together winning football teams. By the 1940s, football, which first appeared on Ivy League college campuses like Princeton in the late 1800s, was a growing sport. College football had a longer history and was more popular than professional football. Both collegiate and professional players and coaches left their civilian lives behind and served in the Armed forces in various capacities. Promoted as healthy training for combat, and as a good diversion for troops stuck on isolated bases, military football benefited from access to this pool of talent.

The Camp Davis AAs were led on the gridiron by former Villanova All-American and New York Giant, Johnny Mellus. Norm Standlee, who played college ball at Stanford, and for the Chicago Bears, was also on the team. Other members of the forty-three man squad had played college ball at UCLA and Texas A&M, among other places. Camp Lejeune’s Leathernecks had four Pros on the roster, including Charles J. “Chuck” Drulis, formerly of the Chicago Bears, two Detroit Lions, and Lt. James R. “King” Cotton, who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Lejeune team was coached by Jack E. Chevigny, an All-American from Notre Dame, previously head coach of the Chicago Cardinals, who later died on Iwo Jima.

On October 30, 1943, a capacity crowd was expected to fill the stands of the New River, North Carolina stadium.  Kick off was scheduled for 2 p.m. The Wilmington Morning Star reported that 1,500 soldiers from Camp Davis traveled to the event and declared that “only a limited seating capacity prevented a far greater delegation from taking the jaunt.”

Military teams played a mix of opponents. In the 1943 season, Camp Davis’ Blue Brigade (also known as the AAs) played Wake Forest, Davidson, and N.C. State as well as teams from Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune. When the team arrived in New River, they had yet to lose a game in the season.  Their five game winning streak screeched to a halt as Camp Lejeune’s marines dominated the field. In the first half, Camp Davis did not get the ball past their own 35 yard line. When the Blue Brigade finally rallied a little in the third quarter, two passes were intercepted by the Leathernecks.  The final score was 14-0 in Camp Lejeune’s favor.

View more wartime football photos in the Museum’s collection here.

Previous Columns

September: Circus Day
Motorboat Racing
Celebrating Independence Day at the Beach
Wilmington Turns 200, June 21, 1939
Laura Grace Cox graduates from Tileston
Saint Marks Turns 100, April 1969
March: Troops Return Home, March 29, 1919
February: Black History Month turns 40
January: Fort Johnston and Fort Caswell are seized, January 8, 1861

Camp Lejeune vs. Camp Davis program
Date: October 30, 1943
CFM 1988.006.0008
Gift of Ethel V. Botesky
814 Market Street • Wilmington, NC 28401 • Phone 910-798-4370 • Fax 910-798-4382