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Sports Were Taken Away From Him in High School... So He Became a Coach

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
August 2, 2022 3:00 am

Sports Were Taken Away From Him in High School... So He Became a Coach

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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August 2, 2022 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, World War II history buff, Anne Clare, tells the story of how World War II impacted a small Navy town on the West Coast. Richard Herzog shares the story of an unlikely relationship formed between himself and his high school teacher, which became abusive and caused him to surrender the one thing he loved most: sports. After years of confusion and shame, he became a head football coach and led his team to win 3 state championships.

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Time Codes:

00:00 - America Builds Up: WWII and the Bremerton Naval Yards

23:00 - Sports Were Taken Away From Him in High School... So He Became a Coach

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This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, and we tell stories about everything here on this show, including yours.

Send them to Up next, a story from our regular contributor, Ann Claire. Ann is a teacher, organist, and choir director. She's also a World War II history buff. You can find her stories at Up next, a story on the Bremerton Naval Yards in Washington. Here's Ann to tell the story. On October 30, 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt made a campaign speech in Boston, in which he said, I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again.

Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign war. And of course, with hindsight, we know that didn't last more than a year because... We interrupt this broadcast and bring you this important bulletin from the United Press. Flash, Washington. The White House announces Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. However you look at it, this was a huge change, a huge impactful event in American history.

It had a profound impact on, really, everybody in the country, but in different places it hit differently. One place that had a really interesting historical connection with the whole Pearl Harbor attack and with the way World War II would change the U.S. is the town of Bremerton in the state of Washington. Now Bremerton's not a big metropolis. In fact, it largely grew because of some Navy connections. It's across Puget Sound from Seattle.

It's on the Kitsap Peninsula, which is a little peninsula sticking out from the larger Olympic Peninsula. And since it's on Puget Sound, it does have access to the Pacific Ocean, which is why in 1891 it was picked to be the site for the Puget Sound Naval Station, which was the first Naval establishment in the Northwest. Which was a pretty big deal because at that point, if U.S. ships needed major work, they would have to go all the way down to Mare Island in California, or they'd have to go all the way up to British Columbia. So this gave a facility where American ships could be tended on American soil.

Now over the years, the yard grew and changed significantly. Back in 1928, it had work on the very first U.S. aircraft carriers, the Saratoga and the Lexington. Actually, the Saratoga spent enough time in Puget Sound that eventually it got the nickname Sarah from the workers there. And as the fleet was authorized to build up by Congress in 1934, there was more work again in the yard for the people who were there. On the invasion of Poland in 1939, FDR declared a limited national emergency and they dug more dry docks for ships and expanded the ones that were there and began preparing to be able to build ships themselves.

They also became involved in something called de-perming. See, once Germany went to war with Britain, Germany started mining British shipping lanes and they'd used magnetized mines, which of course is a problem for any ship that's going through those areas. So one of the jobs that was done in the shipyard area was creating these big electromagnetic coils that would actually demagnetize the holes of ships so they wouldn't attract mines, ideally. Also, the battleships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were getting overhauled and repaired during this time, which kept about 6,000 employees very busy. Now, the first real look at war that Bremerton got, the first first-hand look, as it were, was actually through a foreign visitor. The yard hosted the HMS Warspite in the summer of 1941. This British ship had been pretty badly beaten up in the Mediterranean and had limped its way across the Pacific to Bremerton, which was kind of exciting for the citizens.

They got to host these British sailors and a lot of them invited them into their homes and tried to show them hospitality. And were naturally also very curious about the ship, though the Warspite kept up pretty strong security, even stronger than the shipyard itself had had in past days because times were changing. But still, even though it was a look at war, a look at people who'd experienced it, war still felt fairly far away until December. December 7th in Bremerton is, according to memories of people who were there, a pretty nice day for December in the Pacific Northwest. People were working on houses, coming home from church, out and about with friends, going to their jobs, when word came through that Pearl Harbor had been hit. And unlike some different parts of the country that were farther away from Hawaii, Pearl Harbor was not an entirely unfamiliar name to the people in Bremerton.

And it was a bit of a shock because while Hawaii, mileage-wise, is still a good distance away, just geographically, it felt uncomfortably like, I guess you could say like a neighbor had been hit. And they wondered, the people of the area wondered, if they might be next in line. Bremerton, the yard, is where the damaged ships would come. They had the facility, the only place on the West Coast, really, that would be able to repair any damaged battleships. So as soon as word came out that Pearl had been hit, people started looking to the skies.

They were concerned. And you're listening to Ann Clare, who's a teacher, an organist, and a choir director, but she's also one heck of a World War II expert and buff. When we come back, more of this remarkable story of Bremerton Naval Yards. These kinds of stories happened all around this country as the arsenal of democracy was put into high gear. More of this remarkable story, Ann Clare telling the story of Bremerton Naval Yards here on Our American Stories. Music Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country, and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history, from war to innovation, culture, and faith, are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College. A place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life, and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

Go to to learn more. Geico asks, how would you love a chance to save some money on insurance? Of course you would. And when it comes to great rates on insurance, Geico can help. Like with insurance for your car, truck, motorcycle, boat, and RV. Even help with homeowners or renters coverage. Plus add an easy to use mobile app, available 24 hour roadside assistance, and more, and Geico is an easy choice. Switch today and see all the ways you could save. It's easy.

Simply go to or contact your local agent today. Music And we return to our American stories and the story of the Bremerton Naval Yards with Ann Claire. When we last left off, the people of Bremerton, Washington, where the Bremerton Naval Yard sits, had just found out that Pearl Harbor had been hit. And big changes to this town were imminent. Here again is Ann Claire to tell the rest of the story.

Music There were a lot of changes. People tell stories of changes in the ferry routes because back in those days, just like now, there were ferries back and forth from Bremerton to Seattle quite frequently. One person wrote about hearing shots while he was riding the ferry home and walking out to see a rifleman standing on the front of the boat firing into the water. Because, well, if there were mines in Puget Sound, he hoped that they'd get detonated. The war spite, which was still docked in the yard, was turned around to face seaward. And every afternoon, 4 p.m., it would be disconnected from all of the lines that connected it to the land and all buttoned up just in case they had to go into some sort of combat situation. They started parking barges in front of the different dry docks to try and put up some sort of barrier to protect the ships that were being repaired.

Barrels of water and boxes of sand and rakes were put up around the shipyard. Tape criss-crosses were put on windows just in case blasts might blow out the glass. And people started looking for ways to create air raid shelters as well.

There were basements of some buildings that would serve, but also just in case people couldn't get to them in time, old ship boilers were brought out and cut in half to make dome-shaped shelters that, at least according to the signs on them, could get 30 people inside and give them some sort of protection in case the bombs started falling. It was just lots and lots of planning in a short time as everyone tried to figure out what we'd do if the Japanese came, if the invasion happened. The invasion by the Japanese, of course, we know, did not come to Washington state. The invasion that did come was of the U.S. Army, actually.

A week after Pearl Harbor on December 14th, lots of army trucks started rolling into Bremerton, which was quite another big change for this navy town. And tents cropped up in play fields and in parks and soldiers were sleeping in people's barns or garages or finding lodging in different houses and filled up a lot of the space. And that was also amplified a couple of weeks later when the 303rd Barrage Balloon Battalion rolled into town as well. If you've seen pictures of Britain during World War II, you might have seen pictures of those big silvery balloons floating above London or at the beaches, also when we were doing different invasions in Europe and things. Barrage balloons were designed in Britain. These ones were actually created in the U.S. And the idea was that these balloons with the long steel cables coming down from them would actually stop planes from dive bombing or if planes tried to dive bomb, the cables could sheer off the wings of the planes and it would provide protection to the ground area. So Bremerton was full of barrage balloons.

Wherever they could find a good open space to plant one, they planted one. But the barrage balloons were an interesting addition to the town. They also caused some problems because if a high wind came up and they weren't able to bring the barrage balloons down in time, they might snap their cables and go flying off. There's quite a few stories of barrage balloon cables taking out chimneys or power lines.

And since the barrage balloons also were flammable, there was one unfortunate incident in 1943 where one actually blew on the ground and injured seven soldiers who were taking care of it, one of them critically. So all these precautions, all of these different things to protect Bremerton were changing the whole landscape of life in this town. Add to that fact the fact that the shipyard itself was trying to amp up its number of employees because there was a lot of work coming in. The town itself was getting so full that there's stories from people working at the YMCA during this time that they'd have to just go and set up cots on the gym floor, 100 cots on the gym, and they'd all be rented out. They'd have people actually reserving seats just for a place to sleep and a place to keep their belongings while they were looking for more permanent lodgings.

Putting the cover on the pool table at night and having a couple guys jump up on there and use that as a bed. I heard stories of hotels actually renting out one bed to three different people and one person would be working the first shift and then they'd go off to work and then the next person would come and sleep and they'd have the next shift and they'd go off to work and then the next person could use the bed while they were off of work. As the shipyard was looking for workers, they just couldn't seem to fill the slots quickly enough, no matter how full the town was getting, and so teenagers in town were recruited too for different jobs, which worked out kind of well because the city was so crowded that the schools couldn't actually hold all of their students at one time. So the students were going to school, in the public schools at least, in two shifts. Half of the students went in the morning, half went in the afternoon. So there was a certain amount of time for outside employment as well for the kids and it was a very busy time for everybody.

The yard was keeping busy with a lot of different projects, of course. There was shipbuilding and there was refitting other things, but two days before the end of 1941, the first Pearl Harbor ghost arrived in the yard and that was a pretty significant event. The ship, this ghost ship, wasn't really a ghost, but Japan had reported that five US battleships were sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor, which actually the US was able to salvage, get back to Bremerton repair, and put back into the fight.

The first of these ghosts, as they were jokingly named since the ships had been declared dead an hour back out and about, was the USS Tennessee. And it was sailing under its own power, even though it had been battered by bomb hits and also by debris from the USS Arizona's explosion. The next day, December 30th, the USS Maryland made it into port as well. The ship yard took a break from lots of other projects and put people to work on it because we desperately needed ships in the Pacific and they were actually able to turn those ships around, get them repaired, and get them ready to fight and upgrade as well in just 53 days.

The Maryland and the Tennessee had sailed back out. In February, the Saratoga, the aircraft carrier, was back at the shipyard too because it had been hit by a torpedo, not during Pearl Harbor, but on January 11th. And then by May 1st, the third Pearl Harbor ghost, the USS Nevada, had made it to the shipyard. Just to give some perspective on the level of damage on these ships, it took about 700,000 man hours to get the Nevada ready to go into the fight again. The last two Pearl Harbor ghosts to show up were the USS California and the USS West Virginia. They had been damaged the most and they had been sunk and flooded and full of silty soil and needed quite a lot of work.

But eventually, they were all turned back into the fight. And these five ships were not at all the only ones that the yard worked on during World War II. All these workers and all these employees coming in and teaming up to work together to repair and equip these ships did a tremendous job.

There were about 32,500 employees in this workforce. And during the World War II period, they built 50 new ships and repaired 363, which was a pretty tremendous aid to the American war effort. And a special thanks to Monty Montgomery for the production on that piece. And a special thanks to Ann Claire, who's a teacher, an organist and a choir director, but she's also a World War II history buff. And we love having our World War II and history contributors be from all walks of life. You don't have to have a PhD in history to know history or tell stories about it. And my goodness, 50 new ships.

That's a crazy number of ships, folks. The story in a way of the arsenal of democracy. The story of Bremerton Naval Yard here on Our American Story. And we return to Our American Stories. Up next, we're going to hear from Richard Herzog, author of Pay Dirt. Through his childhood, Richard always longed for a role model, someone to look up to and help him navigate the world. He was facing in the home, but his inspiration ended up not being a person at all. It was sports. Here's Richard with his story. I grew up in a small section of Gretna, right on the other side of the river from New Orleans.

And historically, it's not much different from New Orleans, per se, as the culture goes. We had one room with a large number of people living on top of each other. In one bed, you had really at the beginning, you had one bed, so maybe three or four boys were sleeping in that one bed. And then eventually we got some bunk beds.

So you have one on the top, one on the bottom, and then maybe two or three would land in a big bed. And then my sister would land on the couch in the living room. You were always on the go, too, because you live by that rule. You just stay outside until it's time to eat. So you're either involved in games that you make up, your own little world of climbing on trains, jumping trains to get to the ballpark as they're moving.

I mean, come on. You got to try that once, right? Swimming in the river, and you could just get up on the barges and jump into the river. So that was fun. And it was kind of like growing up like Tom Sawyer. And, you know, we didn't lack for anything because we didn't know what it was like to have anything. The way I can describe growing up where I grew up, all you needed was a pair of shorts and some underwear and you were good to go. You know, you didn't have to worry about shoes. Well, you know, in New Orleans, you're either going to a celebration or you're going to make one up. There's never a worry.

You just go on to the next day or the next thing and the next event. New Orleans is not a part of this world as far as I'm concerned. But for me, it affected me, seeing how it affected other people, the drug life. I've seen people die at an early age, friends who have lost to overdoses, you know, fighting came early and often. And I was pretty good at it. So, you know, it's a hard environment to get out of.

I mean, they're entrenched, but it has that kind of spell on you. So at home, it's an abusive situation. You know, I'd had my share of abuse. I'd seen more than my fair share of abuse. My mother suffered severely with depression. She's trying to raise six children in a small house. My dad was a blue collar worker and their marriage was one big ball of conflict.

I would scratch my head every day thinking, how did they get married? So I watched a lot of wars. You know, then you got to in this small space, you got to witness alcohol, but you were also living under these guidelines or this, you know, paint by color orders. This is what you do.

This is how you do it. You don't ask questions, get moving. Boom.

So your curiosity was shot. So life's in motion. All these things that are happening inside the home get softened somewhat by sports. It was the one thing I was really good at that I could enjoy. I didn't, you know, I was lands away when I was playing ball. You know, you can get on a ball field and fresh grass and sweaty uniforms and basically knocking the snot out each other if you're in football and enjoying it and not get arrested for it.

Are you thrown in detention or whatever? It was like, man, I can do this. My mother's cousin was Mellott and I knew I had some athletic influences in me. You know, I would watch some things on TV. I'd see athletes play and I'd go out and try to replicate it. And I'd keep working at it until I got pretty good and loved it.

Just absolutely loved it. Loved competing. You know, I was determined on being the best on the field all the time. I played ball at school. So, you know, growing up had success at sports, had a lot of trophies. Trophies were put on the mantelpiece in a very interesting environment.

You know, it had a shotgun and a record play and a crucifix surrounded by it. So the heavy hand at home was coming down on me pretty good. And I'd run scared from everything I'd just witnessed.

And then I'd run trying to get back into the football game because that's where the comfort was. And I never got to have a relationship with someone to kind of soften the blows or maybe give me some sage advice or just point me along the way. So I think from that part of my childhood going in right before I hit high school, I was wanting something to kind of say that, you know, Richard, you are a decent human being or you are this, you are that. And kind of build up my self-esteem a little bit instead of always being held unto thumb and just generally just to feel like being loved. So I was a pretty, pretty confused child.

I had a lot of talent from my shoulders on down at that point, but I did not have a whole lot of confidence between my ears. Richard went to an all boys Catholic school. One day, a boy in his class decided to play a prank on the teacher.

And when he invited Richard to take part in it, he declined. So eventually the guys caught and I wanted to check to see how the teacher was doing. I was being sincere. I purposely missed the bus, stayed after school and went and visit her in a classroom. She was there grading papers and I knocked on the door and we started a conversation.

And that's where really the relationship began. You know, she was heavily influential on me because she was a mother figure to a degree. She was my teacher. She was the first homecoming queen at the University of New Orleans. She was absolutely gorgeous and she had it all. And the way she interacted with me and the conversations we had, I felt like for the first time I was learning and actually talking to someone who gave me the time and the attention and felt sincere about it.

So your mind goes to these places because you're hoping and thinking and wishing that this lady is going to set you straight and help you out. After Richard talked with his teacher for a while, she offered to give him a ride home from school. We walked to the parking lot and there is a burnt orange 1972 Montego.

And I thought, oh gosh, teachers must get paid a lot of money. I got in and it was this brand new smell and the ride home was unlike anything I'd experienced in my life. It was calm. It was musical. It was fun and funny. It was wit being shared.

It was laughter. And it stuck with me. But the drive home, you know, that day was the first and then she just asked me if I need a ride home.

So I stopped riding the bus and started riding with her. And we're listening to Richard Herzog, author of Pay Dirt, share his story with us. Growing up in New Orleans, small house, one bed, then bunk beds, always on the go, as he said, we stayed outside until it was time to eat. Kind of like growing up like Tom Sawyer, he described, but not so much for the home life. The celebrations of New Orleans, well, lots of drugs, lots of alcohol and lots of abuse in the family. My parents' marriage was one big ball of conflict.

I was lands away, however, when I played sports. And then that teacher of his who just taught him about a different world in that car ride home. Some peace, some laughter and some encouragement and love. When we come back, more of Richard Herzog's story here on Our American Stories. And we're back with Our American Stories and with Richard Herzog. When we last left off, he'd begun to form what he thought was an innocent relationship with his teacher, hoping she would be a mentor for him.

Let's return to Richard. It was the last day of school and she had driven me home. And well, I thought it's been good, but I've got all this tightness in me, like I'm a loser. I'm not going to get to talk to her anymore. You know, I was romanticizing, but I got to accept the reality of it. No matter what I'm thinking, I have to accept the reality. She's married and I just have to go on. Over the summer, Richard had a job working at a local family owned restaurant called Purdue's. I think that helped me move on a little bit.

You got the things you love, you got you've got sports, you've got your job. And so I learned how to keep busy in that moment. And we're at work one night and Ms. Purdue answers the phone and I'm just standing nearby and she says, Richard, you have a telephone call. I'm thinking, who's calling me at work? And it was her. She said, I've been thinking and I like talking to you and like being with you and I want to see you again.

Let's get together. And away we went. It was then that Richard's teacher told him if he gave up his sports, which practiced every Saturday, they could instead spend that time together. By then, I was heavily influenced. Now, she's my drug of choice, basically. So, you know, whatever she said, I listened to and it was like, yeah, OK, she wants to see me and I'm going to give up sports to do this.

So, yeah, by then, pretty much far gone. I didn't tell anyone until it started to get physical. But no one knew what to do about it.

After several months of spending time together and forming this inappropriate relationship, Richard's teacher asked him if he would come for a ride with her. She was quieter than she normally was and then just basically just tells me we can't go on like this anymore and we can't do this anymore. I think by this moment in time, people are talking and there's still no answers as to exactly what happened other than that she said she got scared and ran.

So that's where it was left, basically. I mean, it was like right then and there. So there was so much to deal with. I couldn't tell my parents. I couldn't tell the administration.

Certainly wasn't going to go to a priest. And that was the hard part. There's just no help.

It's just shutting the door. I had nowhere to go. I had no one to talk to.

I didn't think anybody would believe me. And so I would see her on a daily basis. And I'm a zombie.

I am in a total inexplicable fog. And so that's how I'm living every day. Two years of high school of going through that was excruciating, to say the least. But I was also determined that I was going to get through it. I wasn't going to let her kill me. By the time I got out of high school, you know, I had these jobs that were just crazy.

They were going nowhere fast. I could accept things as they were, you know, live where I was living, drink beer, get up and do it again and think life was good. You know, I could have settled for that. But and I got to thinking that, you know what? I've wasted all my talent, that this is not what I'm supposed to be.

I just was not fulfilling my potential that I think God had given me. At this point, Richard started going to football games at the high school he'd attended to watch his friend John, who was the quarterback. I would sit in the stands and I would be filled with so much anger and resentment and not towards John or the team or anything. I was pulling for them. But the resentment of that could have been me. So I would walk out of the stadium during these games being probably the meanest, maddest person.

And everybody else is celebrating. And I'm like, you know, just get away from me because I'm ready to fight. So that was me standing in the fire. I went and I faced that and I knew it would be hard. But that drove me. I got to do something. If I can't be a ballplayer, then I'm going to coach.

And I decided to turn the page then and there. Richard's friend John was being recruited by Ole Miss to play football, and he told Richard he should go there, too, for college. I never heard of Ole Miss except for Archie Manning. I didn't know who Ole Miss was, but I knew who Archie Manning was. Well, as John's getting recruited, I'm living right next door to him.

So all these recruiters are coming in his house and when he decides that he wants to sign with Ole Miss, Archie shows up at the house. And of course, I'm over there and I'm meeting Archie Manning and Steve Sloan. And so I got to thinking, yeah, man, I'd really like to go up there. I came up before I actually enrolled in school and saw it and I was like, yeah, I like this place.

And getting seven, eight hours away was kind of a cure for me. You know, I could separate myself at that point. And there was something about it that grabbed my soul. But I also know that I'm here to focus and I want to get my degree and I want to coach. So I got on that track of that's what's happening. And I mean, God must have been looking at me something because I end up running the athletic dorm here. I was in charge of 400 athletes.

And, you know, then I'm getting to travel with the team and I'm at some of the practices and it's like, wow. But, you know, in all this, the darkness is still there. The problem, the issue is still there. By the law and by definition, you know, it was statutory rape, which I had no idea what that was at the time, because I did not know the difference between improper and improper relationship.

In my mind, I was like, well, this is how relationships are, whether you're married or not, you know, that you can't really commit to something. And that's what I learned at an early age. So I was in therapy and knowing something was wrong, it was just like a miracle. You know, the lady said, I'm going to send you to this counselor who can give you this test.

And I think she can help you. So I take the test and I scored high. And that's not a good thing, but it does give you answers. And the answers for me were to get into the 12 step program. And I felt like it was the first time I had been in church in a long, long time.

But there's so much empathy and, you know, spiritual togetherness that you're all rowing in the same boat, going in the same direction, you know, and you just really want to get well. I quit drinking. I started lifting weights, started running, doing all these things, getting healthier.

After going through 12 steps and working with Ole Miss Athletics, Richard then went on to become head football coach at another school in Tennessee and led the team to four state championships. So one accomplishment is building on top of the other, which that in itself was the therapy, if there is such a thing for me. And then as you accomplish something, you gain more confidence. And that's when I started to think, OK, I got some confidence here.

It's time for me to be more proactive than I've been. And I thought that forgiving was important because it all boils down to she was an adult and what she did was abuse and caused a lifetime of grief. And I wanted to forgive her. I wanted to forgive myself. Forgiving her was extremely difficult because you're always caught between forgiving and forgetting. And then the ugly part of me would, you know, the anger would rise again and I cannot really forgive her.

You said you did, but can you really do this? And that was always very difficult. But I felt like I could confront all of it and have some clarity. And I was like, there's got to be a voice for people who have had the experience I had. This happens to males, too, believe it or not. And I want them to know that if they have this and they're going through what I went through, they don't have to take their life.

They can win. And, you know, I think the best thing that you can do is forgive. So in the end, I beat it. But in the end, he still had to face the darkness and the way to do it was forgiveness. We have found that again and again, that when the victim forgives the victimizer, life begins. The story of Richard Herzog, a terrific overcoming story here on Our American Stories.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-17 06:02:12 / 2023-02-17 06:15:31 / 13

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