‘Fighting Spirit’ exhibit set to debut at UGA Special Collections Library

Athens, Ga --   "War."  \ ˈwȯr \    Definition:  "A state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations."

On New Year’s Day 1943, Morgan County, Georgia native and All-SEC guard Henry Walter “Chief” Ruark led the University of Georgia football team onto the Rose Bowl field in Pasadena, California to conduct what many would describe as “war” against UCLA.  Ruark, along with future Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich and UGA legend Charley Trippi would successfully win the proverbial war and bring glory back to Georgia with a 9-0 victory.

Not long after, Ruark, along with many other members of the 1942 National Champion Georgia Bulldogs, would finally understand the true definition of war. Members of “The Greatest Generation,” college football players from around the nation found themselves in foreign lands fighting in World War II. Ruark would enlist in the U.S. Army where he was promoted to Master Sergeant and serve in the 47th Regiment of the Ninth Infantry Division.

On the day after Thanksgiving in Belgium, November 1944, Ruark volunteered to lead a patrol to combat German snipers who were  picking off American troops. He took the lead on the march so that he, not his men, would be the most exposed of the patrol in an effort to protect them. In doing so, Master Sergeant and Georgia Bulldog National Champion Henry Walter “Chief” Ruark was killed by a German bullet that he was seeking to eliminate.

Ruark  left behind his wife Hazel, who was a student at UGA at the time of her husband’s death, and would soon after give birth to their daughter, Pat, who never had the chance to meet her heroic father. The Army would later present Hazel with a Silver Star awarded to her husband for his bravery in the circumstances surrounding his death.

Starting Friday at the UGA Special Collections Library in Athens, you can see Ruark’s Rose Bowl jersey as part of the new ‘Fighting Spirit: Wally Butts and UGA Football, 1939-1950” exhibit, highlighting an era which saw the sport interrupted by WWII. In addition, Ruark’s Fort Benning football jersey will be on display, which he wore as part of a team designed for entertainment and physical training for the boys preparing for war.

Ruark’s story is only one of many in this year’s exhibit, open to the public and free of charge to get your UGA football home game weekends started. The exhibit will be on display in the Rotunda Gallery of the Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries until May 10th, 2019, and guided tours are being offered on Fridays before home games at 3 p.m.

“It’s the story of how coach Wally Butts built the program,” says Jason Hasty with the Special Collections Library, who will be giving the guided tours. “He built it up to where it could win a National Championship at the Rose Bowl in 1943, but then he had to really hold it together as the men in the program went off to war. Then he had to rebuild it when the men came back around 1945.”

During the tours, Hasty will be offering the backstory and insights to the exhibit, which go way beyond the materials themselves. The era of college football is considered to be so incredibly unique, as for the first time - and perhaps the only time - the sport consisted of seasoned men in lieu of fresh young boys away from home for the first time.

“You have these G.I.s coming back, that had been in the Service for three or four years, they had been overseas, they had been in combat situations and came back to get their college degrees, and football wasn’t really that intimidating for them,” Hasty said. “So you saw the level of play really in the late 40s elevate as these men, and they really were grown men at that point, coming back into college from the Service.”

Patrons of the exhibit will be treated to dozens of photographs and artifacts from the era, including an original program from the 1943 Rose Bowl Game along with an official game ball. Charley Trippi’s All-American sweater and Frank Sinkwich’s 1941 team jersey are displayed, which may catch patrons off guard as they may have never seen them in color. But perhaps the most visually satisfying piece is a pair of the original “silver britches” from the era.

Coach Wally Butts’ original playbook is also part of the exhibit, which are all hand drawn in meticulous detail. A far cry from the iPads coaches and players carry around today.

The Special Collections Libraries building, located at 300 South Hull Street, is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and on Saturdays from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. The building is CLOSED on home football game day Saturdays.

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