Spicer.jpg

2004

With Veterans Day three days away, a former University of

Colorado guard, Bob Spicer, here represents a generation.

In the fall of 1946, when Spicer returned to the Boulder campus after

a three-year absence, he announced to CU coach Jim Yeager he wanted

to play football again.

 
Remembering Spicer as a freshman letterman for the 1942 Buffaloes, and
as a tough guard from Leavenworth, Kan., Yeager welcomed him back.

Yeager didn't ask Spicer many questions.

   

Neither did the team doctors.

  

In fact, as Spicer remembers it, he didn't even have to take a physical.

  

"If you were walking, you were OK," Spicer said with a laugh last

week from his home in Park Ridge, Ill.

  
In the locker room, or at his fraternity house, there was just something
about Spicer that discouraged extensive interrogation. One could tell.
He didn't want to talk about what he did during the war. Some knew
he had been a soldier. Some knew he was a Marine. They didn't know
many details.

 

"I didn't want to think about it too much, much less talk about it,"

Spicer said. "Keeping quiet was the way to go."

In the immediate post-war years, when so many men were arriving back

on campus and attending school on the G.I. Bill, Spicer's veteran status

didn't make him unique.

 
The circumstances did.

 

His right eye was fake, a $75 piece of cosmetic glass.

 

He didn't tell anyone. Not his coaches. Not his teammates.

 

So needless to say, he also didn't relate the story of how he lost his eye.

It happened after he had played one year of football for the Buffaloes.

When Spicer was a freshman in 1942, the Buffs went 7-2. The fall term

ended prematurely, Spicer recalled, because wartime allocation of resources

meant "they couldn't buy enough coal for the furnaces." Spicer went home,

and then traveled to Kansas City, Mo., to enlist in the Marines.

  

"I wanted to go," he said, simply. "It was my duty."

  

As a sergeant, he came ashore with the Marines at Bougainville, the

largest island in the Solomons, in November 1943. "We secured

part of the island to build a landing strip," he recalled.

 

His unit moved on to another island, Emeru, by then calm,

but went back into action on Guam.

  

By late 1944, he was on Guadalcanal, where the Sixth Marine Division

was formed and he was the starting quarterback for the 4th Regiment

in a rough-and-tumble, scoreless Christmas Eve touch football game

against the 29th Regiment. Both rosters included NFL and college stars.

  

Okinawa was next. In the Battle of Sugar Loaf Hill, a week-long siege

of heroism for the Marines, many of Spicer's buddies died. He suffered

a shrapnel wound in his arm. "I was looking when I should have been

ducking," he said.

 

Spicer went off the lines, but returned a week later wearing a bandage.

In the final stages of the Okinawa fighting, when he and his unit

encountered a trench full of Japanese, he took a grenade fragment in

his right eye.

 

"That's what I think, anyway," he said. "You don't really know. I got

back in the hospital and my eye started scratching and it got all puffed up,

real big. They said they had to take it out."

   

Nearly 3,000 Marines died on Okinawa, including 12 who played in

the Christmas Eve touch football game.

 

 "I wondered why it was them and not me," Spicer said. "Nobody

could answer that."

 

Released from the Marines in January 1946, Spicer learned to

navigate with a limited field of vision. "You have no depth perception,

but that doesn't really figure into it where I played," he said.

  

He got good enough at it to prevent it from becoming an issue with his

coaches, Yeager in 1946 and 1947, and then Dal Ward in 1948. Starting

at guard in his junior and senior seasons, Spicer also was the Buffs' captain

in 1948, CU's first year in the Big Seven Conference.

 

Incredibly, he also played catcher for the CU baseball team. As a right-handed

hitter, at least, he could focus with his left, or lead, eye. "The worst thing was,

I couldn't follow pop-ups," he said. "My batting average wasn't very high. I either

hit home runs or struck out."

 

After leaving CU, he was a news editor for a Burlington, Iowa, radio station, and

then got into the banking field in the Chicago area. "I went in as a trainee and then

became an officer," he said.

  

He and Nancy Spicer have been married for 55 years and have five children and 17

grandchildren.

"Three times a week, I go to kidney dialysis," he said. "Other than that, I guard

the television set."

  

Two years ago, Spicer got a new glass eye. "First one was $75, this one was $750,"

 he said, adding he didn't have to pay for it. "That's how I measure inflation."

  

To Bob Spicer and all veterans, ex-football players or otherwise:

Thanks. We owe you.

   
(Bob Spicer died in 2006.)