Under the heading for the Marines, there’s placards for the late Steve Snapp, who earned two Purple Hearts in Vietnam before spending more than three decades working to publicize the athletics department, and Pandel Savic, who later would lead Ohio State to its first Rose Bowl win.
Under the heading for the Navy, it’s almost impossible to miss the placard in the upper right-hand corner, the seventh of eight that comprise the top row of the display. It gets no more mention than the others, but the placard that bears Woody Hayes’ name stands out simply because of his stature in the program.
Under the heading for the U.S. Army, there’s one for Don Scott, the All-America quarterback at Ohio State who was drafted by the NFL but instead chose to fight in World War II only to lose his life in a plane crash in 1943.
Collected together, the red placards in the shape of a Block “O”– each with a name, a number or job, and the seal of one branch of the United States armed forces – tell their own story. They tell of the more than 100 men who have represented two of the most American of institutions, the armed forces and the Ohio State football program.
They are part of a culture at Ohio State that in many ways closely ties the military and the university.
“I do think there’s a respect that sets Ohio State apart from some other universities who don’t respect the importance of defending our country and providing our freedoms,” said Greg Lashutka, who played football under Hayes before enlisting in the Navy. “I am eternally grateful for our alma mater to do that, and for Woody and Coach (Jim) Tressel and other head coaches who have allowed it.”
For many of those alums of both august institutions, the ties between the two are unbreakable.
“I wouldn’t call it an exaggeration to say after my parents and a really good high school football coach, the things that shaped me and made me the adult that I am today were really Ohio State football and the Navy,” said former OSU wideout Mike Lanese, who went into the service after his OSU career. “Everything that I think about, everything that I reflexively, unconsciously do, I do because of those two experiences.”
Of those representatives of both Ohio State football and the military, none gave more than Scott. As we celebrate Memorial Day here in the United States, it is worth remembering that Scott gave his life to his country in what was a much different time.
Everything about Scott’s life speaks to the era in which he was raised. He grew up in Canton, Ohio, where he was a star in both football and basketball, and he did it all on the gridiron, passing, running and kicking his way to stardom at Canton McKinley High School.
When he got to Ohio State, he continued his multifaceted ways. He continued to both pass and run as a Buckeye, twice earning All-America honors in the exciting offense of “Frantic” Francis Schmidt. He became the starting quarterback in 1939, engineering an early-season upset of powerful Minnesota with touchdown passes to Esco Sarkkinen, Jim Langhurst and Frank Clair. Scott both caught and threw TD passes in a late-season win vs. Illinois, then he threw for two more touchdowns in a season-ending loss vs. Michigan. No matter; the Buckeyes were Big Ten champions, finishing with a 6-2 record.
Though the Buckeyes were just 4-4 the next year, Scott repeated with All-America and All-Big Ten honors, scoring both TDs and kicking each extra point in his last win vs. Illinois.
He wasn’t just a football player, though. It being a different era, Scott also played baseball and basketball and participated in track; he was on the 1939 hoops team that lost to Oregon in the inaugural NCAA title match, scoring a single point in the 46-33 setback.
He was then selected in the first round of the 1941 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears, becoming the first OSU quarterback to be so honored. In the meantime, only one player – Art Schlichter – has joined him, but as war raged, Scott chose to go overseas to fight.
Scott eventually became a captain and a pilot in the Army Air Corps, but he died on Oct. 1, 1943 in England after a crash during a training exercise. He was the 100th former Ohio State student to die in World War II, and one week later, his wife gave birth to a child, also named Don.
Around the same time, Ohio State was finishing construction on its own airport northwest of campus, and shortly after Scott’s death, university president Howard Bevis sponsored a resolution to name the airport after the star athlete.
“(Scott) was one of the nation’s great athletes; he was a sportsman in the finest sense of that term; he was a thorough gentleman, beloved by all who knew him; his life brought great credit to his alma mater,” it read in part. “As a fitting commemoration … I desire to propose to this Board that the airfield now owned and operated by the University be designated ‘Don Scott Field.’ ”
The airport still exists at the intersection of Sawmill Road and West Case Road on the northwest side, and it still bears Scott’s name (the Don Scott Trot 5K will be held in October). It has had an illustrious history.
Today is a day about honoring those who have fallen. Scott is not the only football player or Ohio State student to give his life for his country, but his story as much as any is an example of the extraordinary marriage between Ohio State and our fighting forces.