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Recruiting the 1918 Mare Island Marines
This is the second in a series of articles over the next five months that will follow the 1918 Great Lakes and Mare Island Marines teams on their way to the 1919 Rose Bowl.
Men who enlisted in the Marines west of the Mississippi River during WWI were sent to Mare Island in the San Francisco Bay area for training. Those enlistees who did so in 1918 and were good football players had the added benefit of knowing they would have the chance to play for the famous Mare Island Marines, winners of the Rose Bowl on January 1, 1918.
None of the Marines that played for Mare Island the previous season remained in California as the 1918 football season approached. Most had been sent east for further training; some remained in training through December 1918. Eleven of the twenty-eight men who played for Mare Island in 1917 were in France by September and another served in the Dominican Republic. One teammate from last year’s team was missing in action and was later found to have been killed in action.
For the 1918 season, Mare Island needed to identify a coach and find an entirely new roster of players. One way to build a roster was to recruit talented football players to join the Marines and the task was handed to Dick Hanley. Hanley was a football star at Washington State and was elected team captain for the 1918 season, but he gave that up in June 1918 when he enlisted in the Marines. From Mare Island, he was soon sent north on a fourteen-day furlough to recruit teammates and other friends who could help on the playing field while training for the battlefield. He successful added three teammates from Washington State. One was his brother, LeRoy, and the other two were Lloyd Gillis and Mike Moran. All three became regular starters for Mare Island.
Hanley also tried to lure Clarence Zimmerman and Benton Bangs, former Washington State players. Zimmerman’s enlistment was delayed due to the Marines placing a cap on enlistments, while Bangs was a county agricultural agent and ineligible to enlist, like all government employees. Both appealed their situations with Zimmerman being accepted within a few weeks, while Bangs did not arrive at Mare Island until early November.
We know the Marines held tryouts in early August since hometown newspapers announced that their local lads had made the team by mid-August. The tryouts were likely short and efficient. Mare Island had less than a tenth the number of Marines when compared to the number of soldiers at Army training camps or the sailors at Great Lakes Naval Training Station, so there simply were not that many men who might try out for the team. In addition, most of the roster was comprised of players from what is now the Pacific 12 Conference, so many of the candidates were already familiar with one another.
Unlike the Great Lakes team that was rife with talent, Mare Island had a small group of excellent players that would struggle with injuries as the season progressed. As with all college and service teams that played in 1918, other challenges would upend the football season. One challenge came from late decisions concerning the Student Army Training Corps (SATC) that effectively federalized American higher education in the fall of 1918. Those decision would create turmoil with team schedules nationwide. The second challenge resulted from the second wave of the Spanish Flu which began its deadly march at Boston's Commonwealth Pier in late August 1918. It would take the lives of 675,000 Americans and its quarantines led to hundreds of cancelled football games and other played in empty stadiums. It was an odd and very deadly year.
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