ENID, Okla. —
Today on this Memorial Day is a good time to remember former Oklahoma All-American tackle Bob Kalsu.
Kalsu was the only U.S. pro athlete to die in the Vietnam War.
Kalsu, who was commissioned a second lieutenant after being an ROTC command leader at OU, was killed on July 21, 1970, at Fire Base Ripcord.
He was a man with the courage of his convictions.
Kalsu was called to serve after playing a season for the Buffalo Bills. An eighth-round draft choice, he was voted the team’s rookie of the year.
He was one of only six NFL players to serve in Vietnam. Kalsu was urged to join the reserves where he could fulfill his military commitment and continue his promising pro career.
Teammate John Frantz said in a July 23, 2001, story on Kalsu he told his friend he should join the reserves because there was no hope of the war ending soon.
Kalsu would hear nothing of it.
“John, I gave ’em my word,’’ Kalsu was quoted in the story about his promise to serve on active reserves. “I’m going to do it.’’
According to the Sports Illustrated story, he responded “I’m not better than anybody else.’’
Frantz, according to the story, reminded Kalsu he had a wife and child. Kalsu’s son was born two days after he was killed.
Kalsu would hear none of it.
“I’m committed,’’ he said.
The troops under him told SI Kalsu was well-respected and liked. He exposed himself to fire, they said, when he could have stayed in the bunker.
One captain was quoted as telling him “It’s good to run around and show what leadership is about, but when rounds are blowing up in your area, you ought to hunker down behind a gun wheel. Or a bunker.’’
Kalsu would hear nothing of that either, the captain said. The captain said Kalsu thought he was “invincible.’’
An 82-mm mortar landed five feet from the bunker door on that tragic day. A solider, according to the SI story, felt a tremendous weight crushing him. He pushed it off and realized it was Kalsu.
Kalsu’s leadership could be seen in his demeanor and character. He never cussed, not even in the heat of battle. He was “always laughing and joking’’ with his close friend, Spc. 4th Class David Earl Johnson, who would die alon-gside of him.
Kalsu’s leadership could be seen at OU when he was the senior leader of an overachieving Sooner team, which went 11-1 and was ranked No. 2 nationally under first-year coach Chuck Fairbanks.
According to the SI story, Kalsu told a then-sophomore tailback Steve Owens not to run on the backs of his legs.
“Listen, Steve,’’ Kalsu was quoted as saying, “I’m on your side. Find the hole.’’
Owens would find the holes enough to win the Heisman Trophy two years later.
The Sooners, on plays they ran behind Kalsu, averaged 6.2 yards per carry. Fairbanks would say in the story, “this is what we coaches grade as ... near perfection.’’
Owens, who was in Kalsu’s battalion, said the tackle took his ROTC duties just as seriously. He told SI “he was all over us all the time.’’
He was one of three ex-OU players to die in Vietnam (Alan Henderson and John Benien being the other two). His two children would not get to know him.
He made the ultimate sacrifice.
Del City High School, his alma mater, named its football stadium after him. Let’s remember him today as a true hero.
Campbell is a News & Eagle sports writer.�