Army helped build Lombardi's character

The U.S. Army had a profound effect on the legendary Vince Lombardi, from his stint at West Point, to a visit to troops overseas, to his personal grief over fallen former players.<P>

Vince Lombardi credits the U.S. Military Academy with taking his coaching ability from novice to master. His philosophies were developed while he served as back coach for four years under Col. Red Blaik.

'If I ever needed a lesson, and I guess everyvbody does sooner or later, I got it with Colonel Blaik," Lombardi once said. "Red showed me what could be done by perseverance."

Lombardi's time at West Point was immeasurably impacted by the Korean War. The captain of the team during Lombardi's first season, Johnny Trent, was killed in action in 1950. He had planned to return to West Point and coach alongside Blaik and Lombardi as a graduate assistant.

About a year later, Lombardi was part of a coaching delegation which ran clinics in Japan. While there, the U.S. Army requested that the coaches travel to Korea to entertain the troops - a kind of sports-themed USO. While their supervisors back home balked because of the danger, Lombardi jumped at the chance. At military posts in Korea, Lombardi and the other coaches showed game films and told stories. The troops in turn told of their war experiences.

All this time, the coaches were in the line of fire and twice were in an area hit by enemy bombs. The coaching delegation escaped without injury, but the same cannot be said for some the men of the units they entertained.

If Korea impacted his collegiate coaching career, Vietnam had a similar effect on his life as an NFL coach and GM.

Toward the end of his time in Green Bay, and during the height of the Vietnam War, Lombardi arranged a Pride in Patriotism Day ceremony at Lambeau Field. The event coincided with the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7. Before the Packers' game that day vs. the Baltimore Colts, the St. Norbert choir sang "God Bless America," 50,000 miniature flags were distributed.

That was Lombardi's public display. Privately, he was said to have kept in his Bible the Mass cards from the funerals of former players killed in Korea and Vietnam.


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