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Godman Field Bombers were ahead of their time

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By CATRINA FRANCIS/Acting Editor

I consider myself to be a little different than most women. Why?
I love sports, and it’s been that way since I was about 9 years old.

Growing up I was a tomboy, and that didn’t change once I became an adult. I played basketball on the asphalt with the rest of the boys in the neighborhood, and I was also one of the few girls who would play football in the streets with the neighborhood boys.

I’m one of those women who can hold her own when talking about football and basketball. In recent years I’ve expanded that knowledge to golf and women’s tennis. Well, it’s actually the Williams’ sisters and Tiger Woods.

A few weeks ago Matt Rector, a Fort Knox historic preservation specialist and the man who knows all things pertaining to history, and I were talking about Fort Knox’s history –specifically its history and treatment of African-Americans during World War II. I was shocked to find out that once upon a time Godman Airfield had a pretty successful football team. The football team was true of its time –it was completely segregated and made up of African-American players.

The Godman Field Bombers were coached by Lt. Archie Harris, a former Indiana University star end and international trackman, and Lt. Harold Brazil, formerly with the Detroit Pioneers pro team, as his chief assistant, according to an article written in The Courier-Journal on Oct. 13, 1945. The teams’ members were former college standouts who in their first game defeated Camp Lejeune Marine Panthers 12-0.

Although the team was made up of Soldiers, several times during the season they convincingly defeated other colleges. For example, the Bombers defeated Lane College 33-0 on Nov. 3, 1945.

On Nov. 18, 1945 the team played the Engineers of Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The Courier-Journal article stated that, “Godman will be out to add the Engineers to their list of five victims, who have only scored 17 points to the Bombers’ 153.” Like their previous games, the Bombers defeated the Engineers 26-0.

While there hasn’t been a lot told about this team in recent history, when I was reading a few articles written about them I learned one thing –this team had a high-octane offense. And the defense wasn’t too shabby either. The Bombers held five opponents to only 17 points, something that’s almost unheard of in teams today.

I’m now wondering who these guys were, and if any of them ever played professional football after their military careers. Although integration was slow in the NFL, the Rams added a second black player, Woody Strode on May 7, 1946. It would be another two years before a NFL team added another African-American player.

Since I had no idea about Strode’s accomplishments outside of acting, what about the Bombers? Did any of them become well-known actors? Were they standouts in other professional arenas? I should have known about players like Strode and the Bombers, but sadly I didn’t.

It seems the Bombers are buried in history, but this was a team that was taken seriously. The Bombers also received a nod to play in the Derby Bowl on Dec. 8, 1945. But a victory wasn’t in the cards because they were defeated 45-24 by Tennessee State College of Nashville. I’m sure the loss was a surprise because the team was favored to defeat Tennessee State.

This defeat wasn’t the only disappointment the team endured during the season. They also lost the Negro service football championship on Dec. 1, 1945 to the MacDill Field Bulldozers 25-7.

Although I now know a little about the Godman Field Bombers, I wish I knew more like when did the team disband and what was their final record. I also wonder how those players felt playing in a segregated league. Did any of those aspire to be the first in the NFL? Were African-Americans treated as harshly as Jackie Robinson when he was trying to break into MLB?

Even though little is known about the Bombers, it seems during this time they were known as the team to defeat. Maybe they were playing to prove the point –we are just as good as our white counterparts.