On a warm fall day in 1986, the halftime program of a University of Oklahoma football game included a ceremony involving a man whose name few in the packed stadium had ever heard. As his story was told, over 80,000 fans began to pay attention...
Ponca City native Walter Roland “Waddy” Young stands as the first consensus All-American football player (1938) ever for the Oklahoma Sooners. He also led OU to its first conference championship, its first bowl game (the 1939 Orange Bowl), and an undefeated regular season. But that is only part of his enduring mystique.
A standout tight end for the Brooklyn Dodgers pro football team, he was known as the “Iron Dodger,” for playing every down on offense and defense for two straight seasons. One of those games, against Davey O’Brien and the Philadelphia Eagles, was the first televised football game. Around 1,000 “television boxes” in New York City received the broadcast.
During another Dodger game, Young proposed marriage to a former Oklahoma A&M beauty, New York City fashion model Maxine Moody of Cushing. He did so over the public address system at halftime.
With the onset of World War II, Waddy Young’s leadership, maturity, and physical power spurred his commission as Captain and pilot of a B-24 Liberator. After flying the full schedule of 25 missions in the European Theater—an immense accomplishment—he could have returned stateside. Instead, he volunteered for more action, telling his sister-in-law that he felt like the war was over, but "there are things to do before the world is right.”
He wanted to fly a Mustang fighter plane, but the Army Air Force had bigger plans for him. Those involved command of one of the first 16 gigantic new B-29 Super Fortresses in the Pacific Theater against Japan. As usual, he excelled, landing with his aircraft, “Waddy’s Wagon,” in a Time magazine pictorial spread for being the first plane to return from the initial post-Doolittle raid on the Japanese home islands.
Returning from a Tokyo bombing run just three months before the Japanese surrender, “Waddy’s Wagon” was in the clear. One of Young’s fellow B-29s lagged behind, one engine out and besieged by Japanese Zeros. The Oklahoman committed the unprecedented act of turning his own plane around and going back to help. He was never seen again. During that far-future OU halftime program, Waddy Young was inducted into the Collegiate Football Hall of Fame.
The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book
Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
which can be purchased HERE.
View the inspiring 2-minute preview video HERE.