1941 Willamette Pearl Harbor Football Team

As long as Americans remember Pearl Harbor, Willamette’s 1941 football team will be in the minds of Salem-area residents and followers of the University. For many people, head coach Roy S. ‘Spec’ Keene’s Bearcat team and Pearl Harbor go hand-in-hand.

On the gridiron that year, the bearcats forged an impressive 8-2 record; including six shutouts. They easily won the Northwest Conference title; outscoring their five opponents 218-7 The team included future Willamette University Athletic Hall of Fame selections Ted Ogdahl, Marvin Goodman, Dick Weisgerber (assistant coach) and Keene.

Willamette had 11 of 23 players on the NWC first-team all-star unit: ends bill Reder and Marshall Barbour; tackles Martin Barstad, Neil Morley and George Constable; guards Anthony Jo Fraiola and Gordon Moore; and backs Al Walden, Buddy Reynolds, Gene Stewart and Ogdahl.

1941 Willamette Football Team

The 1941 Willamette University football team. See the photograph with player names in caption.

After losing only to the University of Idaho on the mainland, the Bearcats thought they’d be in for a treat with a trip to Hawaii. The football teams from Willamette and San Jose were to play a series of games with the University of Hawaii called the Shrine Bowl.

In the first game of the Shrine Bowl on Dec. 6 Willamette lost a 20-6 contest against the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. The next morning, the Willamette contingent was preparing for a tour of the island when Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor. That led to the United States’ Involvement in World War II.

After the initial attack, Keene volunteered his players and male supporters for 10 days of guard duty at Punahou School while the women on the trip were sent to a Navy hospital as nurses’ aides. Most of the Willamette group left Hawaii two weeks after the initial bombing, arriving on the ocean liner President Coolidge in San Francisco bay on Christmas Day.

The 1941 football team was inducted into the Willamette University Athletic Hall of Fame on Sept.13, 1997. Also inducted that year were Wayne and Shirley (McKay) Hadley, longtime supporters of Willamette athletics who were with the football squad in Hawaii.

Since the 50th reunion of Willamette’s ‘Pearl Harbor’ football contingent in 1991, there have been numerous feature stories written in newspapers up and down the West Coast. The most prominent stories appeared in The Oregonian (Portland), Statesman Journal (Salem) and the Honolulu Advertiser.

In November of 2000 the story of the football team in Hawaii was featured on a weekly ESPN show called “NFL Films Presents.” The show entitled “The Moment of Impact,” aired during the week of Nov. 24-28.