From the Football Field to the Battlefield

Brian Curtis’ new book tells the stories of men who played in the 1942 Rose Bowl, then joined World War II.

The idea for Brian Curtis’ latest book came from an unexpected place. Curtis, a New York Times bestselling author, was skimming through a newsletter when he noticed a tiny blurb that said, “Did you know that the only Rose Bowl game not played in Pasadena was in 1942?”

“For a guy who had been in sports most of his adult life, I was shocked that I never heard of it before,” says Curtis, a 1990 graduate of Wilmington Friends School.

So he turned to Google. “The more I found out about the circumstances around the game and the people, the more intrigued I was,” he says.

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Curtis, who has worked as a college football and basketball reporter for CBS College Sports, wrote about the topic for Sports Illustrated in 2013. Then the story became his seventh book, “Fields of Battle: Pearl Harbor, the Rose Bowl and the Boys Who Went to War.” It hit bookstores Sept. 27.

The book follows what happened to the players and coaches from Oregon State College and Duke University during the game, then as they joined the military in World War II. The game was moved to Durham, N.C., for fear that there would be more attacks by the Japanese on the West Coast in the days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Curtis says the book is one-third sports, one-third war and one-third of what happened to the men who came home. Some of them faced alcoholism, divorce and the “demons of war.”

The most difficult thing about researching the book—it took two years and more than 40 interviews—is that most of the men are deceased. Curtis had to track down sons and daughters. Many of the men never talked about war and rarely talked about the game, so Curtis had to rely on military records and newspaper accounts.

“One of the great things about this book is I’ve been able to go to the families and share with them what I learned about their dads,” he says. “That’s been really rewarding to me.”

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