As I see it: American football in France, 1945 | Columns

When World War II ended in Europe, all the soldiers’ thoughts were to go home. We really didn’t realize what a huge task this was going to be. It took months to bring millions of us home. Meanwhile, what was the government going to do with all of us? The government had a brilliant idea: to play football in the camps. What a great idea, we were delighted.

My outfit, the 128th AAA Gun Battalion was completely dismantled. I was posted to a German prisoner of war camp in France. It was a large fenced yard and there was no problem with the prisoners because they had survived the war and were waiting to return home. You can probably imagine the talent of these soldiers. We needed tailors and also some doctors they had. The equipment the US government sent us was not suitable for all of us. So the tailors there made some football pants with our puppy tents, which worked really well.

The government sent the necessary clothes for us to use, but not all of them were suitable. Some stuff was so old, so inferior, it was laughable. We never complained because we were going to play football again. Some of the shoes we wore were actually soccer shoes. The helmets were so cheap that they sometimes folded up after a hard hit. Often times I had to take my helmet off and put the crown back into shape. Of course, there were no face masks in use at that time. Our jerseys were of good quality so we looked good. The officials had white striped shirts to wear, so that was enough.

They made a football field out of a hay field and lined it with a white line with wooden goal posts at each end. There were no grandstands, so when teams arrived to play they had to line up their trucks along the sideline. Our changing rooms were in the back of a truck. We only had a few games, four or five, with camps that were close to us. It was a strange experience to see when we played a game without knowing anything about each other. As a linebacker in defense, I was amazed to see the different types of attacks lining up. It was a great learning experience for me to adapt to the teams we have played. We had a coach named Ron Corbett, a former Boston College football player. He coached the team and gave us an offense to learn. It was like mini-professional football, we had so much to learn that all we did was play football – we didn’t have time for other tasks.

Coach Corbett knew a team in England made up of former BC players. He organized a game for us – it was like going to a bowling alley. We flew to London in a C-47 plane, the kind from which paratroopers would jump. We sat along the wall of the plane on benches like the paratroopers did. It was quite an experience in itself. The team we played had a nice field with stands. The players were bigger and stronger than us – in fact, one of the players was a huge back who finished college and ended up being an All-American. They outperformed some of us, but we gave them a big game. The next day, we returned to France and that was the conclusion of our season.

I had no idea that in a few months I would be on the Boston College football field to practice during their spring training. I had to prove to them that I was a good enough player to be there. Coach Corbett organized everything for me to make sure I was there. Thanks to the football I played in France and what I had done before, I was ready for big-scale football.

Bob “Boots” Chouinard lives in Salisbury.

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