Former Andersen Airman recalls Guam, base's football history
TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- I spent two weeks TDY at Andersen Air Force Base, and as James Earl Jones said in the movie "Field of Dreams", "the memories were so thick I had to brush them away like flies." 32 years later, I could still remember it all as if it were yesterday.
I was stationed on Andersen AFB from April, 1976 to May, 1979 - arriving three weeks ahead of Typhoon Pamela. Guam was my first assignment in an ongoing 36 year military career. Some of my fondest memories and longest friendships were during my time on "the rock."
The next time you walk or run on the base track, or play flag football or soccer on the field inside of the track, consider this:
The field is known as Gilkeson Field, named after Brig. Gen. Adlai H. Gilkeson, Commanding General of the 19th Bombardment Wing from Nov. 29, 1949 to May 27, 1951. Gilkeson Field was constructed around 1947, and served as the home of the North Field Bombers, the base football team. Andersen Air Force Base was actually North Field Air Force Base until October 7th, 1949, when it was named after Brig. Gen. James R. Andersen, who perished in the Pacific Ocean during a flight from Kwajalein to Hawaii during World War II. Gen Gilkeson himself gave the base re-naming dedication speech.
Immediately after World War II, the American military stationed in the South Pacific began playing full-contact football - pads and all. Teams in Japan, Okinawa, the Philippines and Guam played in local military leagues, and occasionally would fly long distances to play each other. A league champ on Guam wasn't determined until 1947, when the 1st Marine Brigade and the 501st Port Battalion tied for the island championship. The North Field (later Andersen) Bombers went undefeated in the 1948 season to capture the island title, which began a long legacy and the most successful football team on Guam for the next 34 years. All in all, the Bombers won at least 17 league/island championships - including 11 titles in a row from 1955 to 1966. The last Bomber championship was in 1974. The years between 1949 and 1954 are still being researched, and may uncover even more titles.
Other teams on the island were also rich in tradition and history. The Naval Communications Station (NCS) Blue Devils played at least 26 years. The Naval Station Bull Dogs, which later became the Apra Harbor Bull Dogs, lasted for 23 seasons. The Naval Air Station (NAS) Flyers - later changing their name to the Cardinals, saw action over the course of at least 21 years. The submarine Proteus also had a team - the Packers, competing in 16 campaigns. In short, while the Navy dominated the league with their number of teams in action, it was the Andersen Bombers that dominated on the scoreboard and in the standings. The naval teams only amassed 13 island championships between them, but more may be uncovered during future research. All four Navy teams mentioned above lasted, along with the
Bombers, until the leagues' end after the 1981 season.
A sixth team began play in 1971 - the University of Guam Tritons. The Tritons played 11 seasons, and during their short history won seven island championships - including four of the last five league titles. An influx of American talent - GI's separating on Guam and attending school, along with outstanding local athletes that had developed their skills in junior high and high school, made UOG the force to be reckoned with during the twilight of the Guam Football League.
With the Air Force population increase during the 1960's, the base fielded two football teams from 1963 to 1969. The second team was the Reingers, who later changed their name to the Comets. While the team never won any island championships, they enjoyed some success against their arch rivals and neighbors - the Bombers. Other short-lived teams on the island included the Southwesters, the Army Pioneers and the Navy submarine The Hunley - who temporarily replaced The Proteus in 1972 and 1979.
Teams from Japan, Okinawa and the Philippines that visited Guam and also hosted GFL teams included the Clark Air Base Diplomats, the Subic Bay Admirals, the Kadena Jets, the Ashiya Mustangs from Japan, the Okinawa Army Rangers, Yokota Air Base, Zama Field and the Itazuke Japan A's. Without question, the dominant teams not from Guam were the Diplomats and Admirals. Routinely, those two teams from the Philippines would travel to Guam early in the fall season, and once the GFL season was completed, the Bombers would fly to the P.I. to play them again.
I played for the Bombers as a backup quarterback and starting place kicker. As a youngster right out of high school and just 19 years old during my first season, I was in awe of some of my Bomber teammates. Wendell Ulmer was a fantastic running back from Michigan. In his last game as a Bomber on Nov. 12 1977, he rushed for 280 yards and scored three touchdowns. Middle linebacker Ernie Rider played professional football for the World Football League's San Antonio Wings at night, and was a drill instructor at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas during the day. Linebacker Don Lusty played college football at Arizona State. Center Dave Nichols spent time in Dallas Cowboys training camp in the late 60's before blowing out a knee. Tackle Tommy Bolin and linebacker C.D. Jones were just big and mean, and I was glad they were on my team. The other GFL teams had players just as big and mean, with just as many stories to tell and careers to boast about.
Sadly, between military budget cuts and commanders wanting to prevent further injuries to military personnel, the Guam Football League and all Pacific Air Forces full-contact football was shut down after the 1981 season, and 34 years of outstanding football. U.S. Air Forces Europe Command continued football until the end of their 1992 season. Football on Guam was sorely missed once the GFL came to an end, and to the credit of the local civilian population, the Miller Football League was formed in 1991, and has competed off and on to this day.
Towards the end of the Guam Football League in the late 70's and early 80's, the island championship usually came down to the Andersen Bombers and the UOG Tritons - who met during the last game of the season. At that time, a wooden press box stood at the 50 yard line on the north side of the Gilkeson Field - unlike the current concrete press box on the south side of the field at the 35 yard line that looks out at the back of a concrete light pole. There were wooden bleachers in those later years - installed after Typhoon Pamela in 1976, that held only a few hundred spectators. Most of the fans stood or sat on the grass. Some island championships attracted as many as 8,000 fans at the Navy field and at Gilkeson Field. Comedian Bob Hope and his holiday USO Tour visited Andersen Air Force Base six times in seven years - ending in December of 1973 when more than 17,000 fans sat and stood on Gilkeson Field to see the show. Coincidentally, one of the shows included former NFL great and my favorite football player of all time -Roman Gabriel, quarterback of the Los Angeles Rams.
So the next time you take your fitness test, walk or jog with a friend, play catch or participate in intramural sports, or just drive by and take a look at Gilkeson Field, try to imagine good old American tackle football being played under the lights on a Friday night with 6,000 fans cheering on the
mighty Andersen Bombers as they came running out of the locker room - which is now the base thrift shop - wearing their blue helmets, yellow jerseys with blue numbers, and blue pants. 17 championships in 34 seasons, and an all-time win-loss record of 143-68-9 (and still counting thanks to on-going research). Go Bombers!