THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICEUpon learning of his initial capture, Sage's Cougar teammate, center and team Captain Chris Rumburg, wept for his good friend, fearing the inevitability of his execution once the Nazis discovered his O.S.S. ties. Thankfully, the Germans never learned they had a spy on their hands. Sage never had the opportunity to thank his buddy for the concern. In 1944, the transport ship carrying Rumburg sank in the English Channel. He would drown, but only after swimming others to the safety of lifeboats - - even giving up his own life vest --despite being severely wounded. It wasn't the only loss that would hit especially close to home for Sage. His high school football coach at North Central in Spokane, one-time Cougar football standout Archie Buckley, was killed in action during the 1945 battle of Iwo Jima. He served aboard the USS Saratoga and was killed while directing seaman out of harm's way as two Japanese planes bore down. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Navy Cross for his heroism. Buckley, from Colville, had quarterbacked the 1929 Cougars to a 10-2 record and also starred on both the diamond and hardwood for Washington State. However, Sage would suffer his greatest war-related heartbreak in 1968, when his son, Captain Terence F. Sage, was killed in Vietnam. Buckley's gridiron teammate, end John Hurley, died in 1943 while leading his men to safety through an Italian minefield. A mainstay as an end for the Rose Bowl-bound 1930 Cougs, Hurley was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his bravery. He'd previously been awarded the Silver Star for "gallantry in action" during the Sicilian Campaign and his heroism is cited in Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent Ernie Pyle's 1944 book, Brave Men.
A NAME ON THE WALLHe -- like Terry Sage -- is just one of the 58,220 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. You can find his name on panel 23E, row 96. But like every other lost life, there's so much more to Don Steinbrunner (pictured above) than just a name on this wall of the fallen. Steinbrunner, a Wickersham native, was a star end for Washington State from 1950-52, earning first team All-West Coast and all-conference honors following his junior season. Football glory seamlessly continued with the gentle giant into the National Football League. The sixth-round draft pick of Cleveland in 1953, Steinbrunner saw considerable playing time as an offensive lineman for the Browns that year, including the NFL championship game (the Browns lost to Detroit, 17-16). Following his rookie season, Steinbrunner, an ROTC enlistee while at Washington State, honored his two-year commitment to the Air Force. When it came time to decide which career path to take in 1955, his love of country won out over his love of the gridiron. "To him, football was all about sportsmanship and camaraderie," Steinbrunner's son, David told Air Force News in 2001. "That's the same way he felt about the military…and he loved the discipline and organization." In 1966, Steinbrunner was called to serve in Vietnam. After being shot in the knee during an engagement, the major -- a navigator on aerial missions -- could've ended his tour of duty but felt his years of experience were too important to shelve stateside. He was killed on July 10, 1967 when his C-123 Provider was shot down by enemy forces. He was 35 years old and left behind a wife and three children.
HEROESBravery. Courage. Heroism: All nice, colorful "highlight film" prose we like to use to describe something that is likely nothing more than an admirable athletic feat. But these words are far too noble for a mere game. No, the truly brave and courageous and heroic of this country don't hear the applause and cheers of packed stadiums. We'll never know most of their names, nor will we recognize their faces. Some of these courageous sat in relative anonymity in the solitary confinement cells of German POW camps. Some were lost at Sicily or Iwo Jima, in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. Memorial Day offers a moment to reflect on their sacrifices.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Day One of the Iraqi War. As is always the case with our historical essays, Richard Fry's outstanding book," The Crimson and the Gray," was an invaluable tool in researching this article.