Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Michigan Today: Article by Fredric Alan Maxwell

The Late Great 98
Tom Harmon on the field and at war

By Fredric Alan Maxwell

The odds were against him, six to one, but if Tom Harmon didn't do something, they would all die.

On football fields in the late 1930s, Tom had pioneered a risky technique called "running the rapids," turning directly into trailing defensemen, stopping them in their tracks, then racing by. Now, piloting his P-38 fighter over China, he reacted the same way. His famed commander, General Clair Chennault, later wrote that "oblivious to his personal safety," Harmon turned his craft directly into the half-dozen Japanese Zeros that had suddenly appeared above him. He raced into their midst, firing away. It worked. The group split up as this crazed plane spewed bullets at them.

Harmon's was one of four P-38s protecting a flight of American bombers. It was October 30, 1943—the middle of World War II. Harmon was one of the bold American pilots who took on the Japanese in the skies over occupied China. The skill and bravado of a fighter pilot came naturally to Harmon. On the ground, as a University of Michigan football star, he was fast, brave and strong: quite possibly the best college football player ever.

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