A look back at Baylor’s long history of connections to America’s armed forces
With Baylor football playing in this year’s Armed Forces Bowl, this seemed as good a time as any to look back at BU’s long history of connections to the U.S. military via the BaylorProud archives.
Whether it’s preparing students for service to our country, or alumni who have dedicated (and even given) their lives serving and defending America, the Baylor Family loves the red, white and blue almost as much as the green and gold.
Baylor’s long history of military education dates back at least as far as 1888 — just a couple of years after BU settled in Waco. Over the years, Baylor has prepared a long line of future military officers through the Air Force ROTC and Army ROTC programs; today, these programs offer students the option to earn their degrees while preparing for careers as officers in the U.S. military. Baylor’s Air Force ROTC chapter will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year.
During World War II, two Baylor alumni — both former student-athletes — were recognized with our nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, for their bravery. Today, these two heroes have been honored in perpetuity with statues outside McLane Stadium.
John Kane (BA ’28) played football and basketball at Baylor; in fact, he survived the train crash that claimed the lives of the revered “Immortal Ten.” In 1943, Col. Kane led a daring air strike through difficult weather to take out Nazi refineries in Romania. Over the course of the grueling 2,400-mile round trip mission, his bomber had lost an engine and been struck more than 20 times by anti-aircraft artillery. For his “conspicuous gallantry in action and intrepidity at the risk of life above the call of duty,” Kane was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Jack Lummus played football, baseball and basketball for the Bears, earning recognition as both an all-Southwest Conference defensive end and center fielder. He played in nine games with the NFL’s New York Giants in 1941 before enlisting in the Marine Corps, where he eventually rose to the level of First Lieutenant. In 1945, Lummus led his rifle platoon against Japanese fortifications on Iwo Jima. Mortally injured by a land mine, he continued to exhort his men to keep going in a victorious day for the Marines. Lummus succumbed to his injuries later that day and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Chaplain Major General Robert P. Taylor (BA ’33) is celebrated alongside Kane and Lummus in Baylor’s Ring of Honor, just outside Pat Neff Hall. A military chaplain during World War II, Taylor was one of tens of thousands of American soldiers forced to march miles through intense heat (and through harsh treatment by Japanese guards) in what has become known as the Bataan Death March. Following the march, Taylor (alongside countless others) was imprisoned for 3.5 years in a Japanese prison camp; during this time, he served as the prison camp’s unofficial chaplain, ministering to more than 10,000 patients — continually encouraging and inspiring them, and even smuggling in medical supplies, an offense punishable by death. Finally freed in 1945, Taylor returned to work in the U.S. as an Army Air Force chaplain. In 1962, he was promoted to major general and named Air Force chief of chaplains. As the senior chaplain for the entire U.S. Air Force, Taylor was the top advisor on religious issues to the Air Force chief of staff. He retired in 1966, and passed away in 1997 at age 87.
Col. Althea Williams (MHA ’60) was one of the highest ranking women in the Army when she retired from the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in 1970. She served sick and wounded soldiers in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, spending time all over the world — in Australia, New Guinea, the Netherlands, East Indies, Philippines, Japan and Vietnam. Inbetween, she earned two bachelor’s degrees from Colorado State and a master’s in hospital administration from Baylor. During the Vietnam War, she was Chief Nurse of the United States Army and earned the Legion of Merit for her lifesaving work in Vietnam.
More recent Bears in military leadership include:
- Brigadier General Deydre Teyhen (DPT ’95), commanding general at San Antonio’s Brooke Army Medical Center
- Brigadier General Stephen Purdy Jr. (BS ’93, MS ’95), commander of the 45th Space Wing, U.S. Space Force
- Vice Admiral John G. Hannink, Retired, (JD ’94), the U.S. Navy’s highest ranked lawyer from 2018-21
- Colonel Walter “Sparky” Matthews (BA ’92), the first Space Force surgeon general and now a Baylor Honors College professor
- Brigadier General Joel Carey (BA ’92), commander of the U.S. Air Force’s largest combat wing, the 18th Wing
- Brigadier General Shan Bagby (MHA ’11), chief of the U.S. Army Dental Corps from 2019-22
Sic ’em, Bears in the armed forces!