TODAY IN HISTORY, JANUARY 2, 1956:
The University of Oklahoma Sooners win at the Orange Bowl.
30 games into a historic 47 game winning streak, legendary OU football coach Bud Wilkinson led his team to victory at the Orange Bowl. Wilkinson set the standard for the program.
All of that very nearly never happened.
Wilkinson had been part of several football victories in Minnesota during the thirties.
When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Bud did what many American heroes did, he put his life on hold and joined up. In his case, it was the U.S. Navy.
So it was that Bud became a member of yet another legendary team. The crew of the USS Enterprise had earned 20 Battle Stars during the war.
On May 14, 1945, Lieutenant Charles “Bud” Wilkinson was the Hangar Deck Officer. The Big E was maneuvering violently to avoid an onslaught of Kamikaze planes off the coast of Japan. Finally one of the suicide planes got through, and crashed into the flight deck just aft of the forward aircraft elevator. The explosion sent a large part of the 15 ton elevator 400 feet into the sky. Fourteen men were killed, 60 wounded.
The hangar deck was devastated, 25 aircraft aboard were destroyed.
Lt. Wilkinson happened to be standing on the opposite side of a girder from the blast…by Bud’s reckoning, had he been three feet closer to the explosion, he would have been killed. (Barrett Tillman, “Enterprise”, 2012)
How many Bud Wilkinsons did we lose? And how many owe their success in life to a matter of seconds which saved the coach’s life that day?
Bud Wilkinson would begin his OU odyssey two years later, leading the program from 1947 to 1963.