NewsOK: Oklahoma City News, Sports, Weather & Entertainment

Oklahoma football: Readers tell stories about Bob Kalsu

My Bob Kalsu column from earlier in the week generated a ton of response, much of it from people with a personal connection to the 1967 OU all-American who was killed in Vietnam 50 years ago, on July 21, 1970. I thought you might enjoy hearing from people who were touched by Kalsu or have interesting perspectives on the Oklahoma hero:

 Teresa: “I just wanted to thank you for the wonderful article on Robert Kalsu. My husband, Earl Shuck, was Robert's high school football coach in Del City. A wonderful surprise to read and to remember Robert and his family. Your article described Robert perfectly -- he was an amazing young man and his death was so sad for so many reasons. Our family moved from Del City in 1965. Since we were both teachers, California and higher salaries beckoned. Robert came over to our house to help my husband load the UHaul truck for our move. We even bought our first color TV so we could watch Robert play for OU. Robert's parents always kept us in the loop on his marriage and the birth of his children. When Robert's father called my husband to tell him that Robert had been killed, my husband broke down and cried. I only saw him cry twice in our 40 years together -- when his mother died and when Robert was killed.  Again, thank you for remembering Robert and his legacy. He was one in a million! And you are right, he was a Patriot.”

Powerful story.

Terry: “The excellent column on Bob Kalsu hit close to me because I recently lost my father to lung cancer that had been tied back to his exposure of agent orange in Vietnam. I've been telling friends and putting it on social media that the University of Oklahoma should retire Kalsu's number. OU can't retire every number of every great player, they wouldn't have enough numbers, but I think you make his the only retired number for all the reasons you've brought up. Put his number on display on the stadium and the older generation can educate the younger generations on what kind of man he was and the sacrifice he made for our country. OU already has statues for the great players that have won Heismans and soon will have one for the Selmons, who are more than deserving of that great honor. I think retiring Kalsu's number would be a wonderful gesture so that people in the future won't forget what kind of man Bob Kalsu was. I was wondering if you thought this is something OU has ever considered or would ever consider.”

Terry: It's certainly a solid idea and potentially doable. OU obviously has considered the case for retiring numbers. Prentice Gautt, Bob Kalsu, Heisman winners, etc. One factor to consider is that OU also has Waddy Young, a 1939 all-American defensive end who was killed in World War II, shot down over Tokyo in 1945.

Bruce: “I know OU doesn’t retire numbers, but do you know of any movement currently or in the past to retire Bob Kalsu’s number? I know the reasons why OU doesn’t retire numbers and the potential folly of deciding what is worthy of inclusion. As long as you make that the requirement to retiring a number being an all-American and dying in service after putting your major league sports career on hold, I think you are more than safe since I only know of two people that fit that description in the last 65 years.”

I think there are ways that OU could honor Waddy Young and Bob Kalsu, even without a retired jersey or a statue, though it would be kind of cool if the Sooners had statues of those two. Maybe place them over by the renovated ROTC building, which sits just northwest of the football stadium. On the other hand, a lot of OU people have died in the wars. So I don’t know.

Dick: “Nice piece on Bob Kalsu yesterday. In 1970, I was teaching at (Fort) Sill, just back from Vietnam, when word filtered back that Bob had been KIA (killed in action). The news was passed somberly and reverently -- he was known and respected so much by the staff and faculty. Another sad footnote to that war.”

Now that’s a moving three sentences.

Ben: “Great story on Bob Kalsu. He and my dad were roommates. Dad introduced Bob to Jan Darrow. Very sad.”

Amazing. Fifty years after his death, and so many people still feel a connection to Kalsu.

Allan: “Bob was GREAT in all ways and I knew him well. I went to junior and high school in Del City with him. For six years I played tight end right beside him. The right side of our line where he and I were was the best, so that's what we did most of the time. We were tight. I always wished I could have gone to OU with him but I was just too small. I did go watch him most Saturdays, though, and as you know he was quite good. A wonderful person. We had lots of laughs. The last time I talked to him was in his junior year and then quietly at his funeral. Your article brought back so many memories and I have cried multiple times today. Thank you so much.”

The story of Kalsu is of honor and valor and commitment. But it’s also a story of loss. When Bob Kalsu Jr. did the math for me, pointing out that his father has been gone twice as long as he was alive, I was stunned.

Mark (a retired Army major): “A fraternity brother posted a link to your article on Bob Kalsu and it struck a nerve that brought memories flashing back. I remember exactly where I was when I heard about his death, walking into the old ROTC building, where a bunch of guys were gathered around a bulletin board when one said Kalsu had been killed in Vietnam. I knew him tangentially from ROTC and of course the football team. He was a nice guy and it was one of those shocks that prick at the bubble of invincibility that young men assume surrounds them. Nice guys shouldn’t die. I went on to graduate and serve in the Infantry on active duty and then the National Guard for 20 years. My next reminder came in Atlanta, at Hartsfield Airport (2001), where I was drawn to a newsstand by the picture of a young soldier on a magazine cover, it was Sports Illustrated and Bob, and a flood of memories came rushing back of Bob and the friends I had lost in the war and the service over the years. In this age of the Glitterati and paper heroes, simple service to country seems to have been forgotten and often mocked. Thank you for reminding us of Bob and the sacrifice he made on behalf of his country and fellow soldiers.”

Safe to say that Kalsu left an impact.

Mike: “Thanks for remembering. Although I didn’t know Bob, I followed him to Vietnam by a few months and served with the same Division, the 101st Airborne Division in the same general area where he fought and died. It means a lot to those of us who served to have you remember one who served and made the ultimate sacrifice.”

I’m no expert, but it seems to me the Vietnam veterans have a bond that is somewhat uncommon even within the military. Maybe because at times, even after the war, they had little support outside their families.

Bart: “Today's story gave me chills, among other things. We should never forget him or any of the men and women who served in that awful conflict. I also had a wonderful trip down memory lane. Bobby Warmack, Steve Zabel, Ken Mendenhall, Granny Granville Liggins and Ron Shotts were players I watched at my first Oklahoma football games. I was 10 years old. My sister was an OU cheerleader and I got to go on the field and meet the players (the good ol’ days). What a deal.”

Times indeed were different.

Royce: “Thank you for the Bob Kalsu article. I was a freshman at OU in 1967, a wonderful year for the Sooners. Bob was such a key part of the team as you have shared in this and other articles and rankings. I was fortunate to work with two of his younger first cousins in my years working in the Mid-Del School System. They were top notch, caring people and educators. It seems to run in that family. Thank you for this great reminder and great story of a man who was killed 50 years ago in service to his country.”

The Kalsu family indeed seems quality.

John: “This was a great article on Bob Kalsu today. This really hits home as a lifelong OU fan. Our lives are similar somewhat. I will be 75 in September and also am a Vietnam combat veteran. I have the copy of William Nack's 2001 Sports Illustrated story. I remember in 1967 when I was a junior out at Southwestern State coming to Norman for an OU game. They played a good Colorado team and won. Just as you said on the radio this morning, people don't realize how good the 67 OU team was with Bob Kalsu.”

I stand by what I said. Kalsu’s football acumen has been widely overlooked, for good reason, the good reason being his military heroism.

Al: “Great article about the tragedy of Mr. Kalsu. One of about 58,000 young boys slaughtered for absolutely nothing in the Vietnam catastrophe. I joined the Army and spent three years in the infantry. Spent 13 months literally living in the various rice paddies of Asia. Hell on earth.

As your article pointed out almost all athletes of that era evaded service, while the poor and uneducated went and fought the war. I'm a 100 percent disabled veteran from that war.

Our athletic heroes have no idea how real men live their lives. They are the pampered princes of our society in that era of American life.”

Indeed, professional athletes volunteering for military service are a rare breed.

Steve: “Thank you for remembering Robert Kalsu. I am a Del City guy, and we always referred to him as Robert. Your article showed a 1966 photo of Robert as an OU junior and posing in a four-point stance. The photo brought back memories. In 1966, Robert’s family and my own were friends; our moms were co-workers at Townsend Elementary in Del City, and Robert, an only child like myself, had assumed big brother-type responsibility for my athletic development and successes. I didn’t measure up to Robert in any fashion but did OK; made alternate All-State in football and got picked up by Don Jimerson to play in the All=State game. OU was in turmoil, so I signed and played ball at Vanderbilt. I was overwhelmed freshman year; homesick, football at a school that that didn’t really value the sport, being yelled at by ROTC drill instructors and being in the bottom 10 percent of my class (26 ACT). It really uplifted my spirits when I would get a letter from Robert, providing experience-based counsel on how to balance the competing demands on your time focus and energy. During this time Mom sent me the four-point stance picture referenced above. I proudly displayed it in my room. It caught the eye of a Texan who lived in my dorm. Bill bled orange and was a self-professed expert on sports in general and UT in particular. He worshipped Chris Gilbert, the Horns’ halfback. He was a vintage Texas fan -- obnoxious, condescending and proud to a fault. He hated the Sooners, much the same way I felt about his team. It was easy pickings to take a $10 spot from Bill in October of ‘66 as he gave me OU and eight points. Thank you, Mike Vachon. Bill wrote sports for the Vanderbilt Hustler, the school paper. He was the lone recipient of VU’s annual Grantland Rice Scholarship, given to an aspiring sports journalist. We both managed to graduate in ‘70. It was 34 years before we would speak again. In 2004 I got a random call in my law office. My receptionist said it was Bill Livingston. I answered my phone ‘Super Bill Bradley speaking.’ We both laughed and quickly summarized one another’s lives over the last 3-1/2 decades. Bill was in ‘04 (and still is I think) a writer, maybe sports editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He said ‘I am calling you because I remember freshman year the picture scotch-taped to your wall at Vandy (38 years after the fact) and that you and Kalsu both hailed from Del City. You were his friend and I need your input as I am doing a piece that contrasts America’s response to his death in 1970 vs how America is presently responding to the death of Pat Tillman.’ Bill’s piece was timely and thought provoking. It illustrates that the good ones in your profession talk to us about how sports connects to us in a larger sense than just the game itself and when it does something burns inside, deep from within that helps us see life with greater perspective and clarity.”

Great story. Yes, Bill Livingston is a long-time chronicler of Cleveland sports.

John: “Terrific, terrific article on Kalsu. I spent six weeks in a tent with him at ROTC summer camp at Fort Sill. Most fun guy ever! My mom worked in the Army ROTC department at OU and was one of the people who talked to him about getting a deferment. He told her he made a commitment and was going to honor it. Don’t know many like him these days.”

It’s always good to get extra confirmation on a story. And this was that.

Kay: “Thank you for the article on Bob Kalsu. I was on OU’s baseball team and had ROTC with Bob. I had been in Vietnam for two weeks when I heard the news of Bob’s death. I remember how sad I was for his family and the hurt never went away. Again, thanks.”

Wow. You think about new things all the time. I guess I never thought about soldiers hearing about the deaths of other soldiers.

Mike: “Thanks for the column on Bob Kalsu. His example, placing country over self, is a lesson for every one of us that claims citizenship in this country. When I coached football at Westmoore, each time we played Del City on the field that bears his name, I was honored to tell my team of the ultimate sacrifice of a Del City Eagle named Bob Kalsu. It certainly put the game in perspective for all of us. Thanks for honoring his memory today.”

It is cool that Del City plays in Robert Kalsu Stadium. There’s not a better-named stadium in the state.

Teresa: “Thank you for the great article on Bob Kalsu. My daughters grew up going to school with Bob Jr. at Mount St. Mary and now my grandson goes to school with Robert, his grandson. They have heard my stories, but to see you article will elevate what he stood for. His son and grandson are from that same mold.”

I can tell you that Bob Kalsu Jr. has always been completely classy in every manner as I’ve dealt with him over the years.

Mary: “I did not know Bob Kalsu, I only saw him play. I had the honor years after he died of meeting his Mom and telling her that I still remembered how he tackled. She thanked me. I had a cousin who was in ROTC with him. He said Bob Kalsu was totally gung ho about the military -- that that was how he was, 100 percent all the time. Thank you for writing his story. It will always be good news.”

Good news, bad news. Sometimes the lines are blurred.

Jeff: “Thank you for your Bob Kalsu article. While he was a bit before my time, I've always been obsessed with his story. He's the reason I chose 77 as my first football number. I remember Dad laughing and saying, ‘You never even saw Bob Kalsu.’ I loved seeing his story remembered and getting out there more. I always hoped OU may one day erect a statue or something for him. I didn't realize he had one in Canton. That is awesome.”

Well, actually, it’s a plaque in Canton, but still, it is awesome.

Paul: “I always remembered the story about Bob Kalsu being killed in Vietnam at Firebase Ripcord. As I remember, the men under his command were in the process of unloading supplies for the base. He refused to go to a bunker provided to him as an officer! Bob joined his men humping supplies up the hill while they were under a mortar attack from the VC. Needless to say, I have tremendous respect for Bob as a football player and a man who led his men on the day he gave his life.”

And here’s a good time to credit William Nack’s Sports Illustrated, which gave us so many details about Kalsu’s life and death in Vietnam. Wonderful work.

Sam: “Thank you for the article about Bob Kalsu! It was an excellent piece of writing about an excellent American patriot. In Del City, we are very proud of him and of his ultimate sacrifice serving our country. Thank you for letting your readers everywhere know about him and his selflessness in putting his country before his career. His story transcends sports and reminds me to put others before myself. I appreciate your remembrance of him 50 years later.”

Del City should be proud.

Related Photos
University of Oklahoma offensive tackle Bob Kalsu in photo taken 8/27/66 by staff photographer Austin Traverse.
Staff photo ran in the Oklahoma City Times on 10/3/67, 11/30/67 and 6/10/76.  Photo also ran in the 6/9/95 Daily Oklahoman.
File:  Football/OU/Bob Kalsu/1966

University of Oklahoma offensive tackle Bob Kalsu in photo taken 8/27/66 by staff photographer Austin Traverse. Staff photo ran in the Oklahoma City Times on 10/3/67, 11/30/67 and 6/10/76. Photo also ran in the 6/9/95 Daily Oklahoman. File: Football/OU/Bob Kalsu/1966

<figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - University of Oklahoma offensive tackle Bob Kalsu in photo taken 8/27/66 by staff photographer Austin Traverse. Staff photo ran in the Oklahoma City Times on 10/3/67, 11/30/67 and 6/10/76. Photo also ran in the 6/9/95 Daily Oklahoman. File: Football/OU/Bob Kalsu/1966" title="University of Oklahoma offensive tackle Bob Kalsu in photo taken 8/27/66 by staff photographer Austin Traverse. Staff photo ran in the Oklahoma City Times on 10/3/67, 11/30/67 and 6/10/76. Photo also ran in the 6/9/95 Daily Oklahoman. File: Football/OU/Bob Kalsu/1966"><figcaption>University of Oklahoma offensive tackle Bob Kalsu in photo taken 8/27/66 by staff photographer Austin Traverse. Staff photo ran in the Oklahoma City Times on 10/3/67, 11/30/67 and 6/10/76. Photo also ran in the 6/9/95 Daily Oklahoman. File: Football/OU/Bob Kalsu/1966</figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›