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Tramel: How OU football great Bob Kalsu saved Dan Ruster from Vietnam

I love writing about Bob Kalsu for many reasons. First, of course, is the story of a true American hero. The only professional athlete killed in Vietnam. Kalsu was a 1967 all-American at OU, a 1968 starter on the Buffalo Bills’ offensive line and a 1969 soldier fighting a war. Kalsu died 50 years ago this year.

I also love writing about Kalsu because of the responses it instigates, mainly from people who knew Kalsu. So Friday, when Del City High School rededicated its renovated Robert Kalsu Stadium, I went out and talked to a variety of people about Kalsu. You can read that column here.

This time, I heard from a couple of former Sooners. Jeep Dewberry was an OU offensive lineman in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. His given name is Glenn, and he’s from Clinton. Dewberry wrote me about Kalsu memories, and it gave me a chance to tell Dewberry I always loved his name. When I was a kid, the name Jeep Dewberry always stood out.

I also heard from Dan Ruster, whose name is among those that trigger all kinds of memories. Ruster was a safety on OU’s great 1971 team. Those were the days of limited television. So road games were usually followed via radio. Which was not a bad thing. I can still remember many a September Saturday when I either went to the OU game or listened on the radio, then spent Saturday night lying on the floor, listening to the OSU game. In 1974, the Cowboys played three straight Saturday night road games against Southwest Conference opponents -- Arkansas, Baylor, Texas Tech. Scheduling madness.

Radio football might seem archaic and maybe it was. But it sure held my interest. Almost 50 years later, I still can remember elements of those broadcasts. Bob Barry Sr., calling the names of Cowboys, and not just stars like Duck White and Philip Dokes, but  Alfred Nelms and Robert Turner. But things like the commercials on old KNOR Sooner broadcasts, like Doye Todd & Sons and the Downtown Shopping Center. I still can sing the Downtown Shopping Center jingle.

Radios seemed to crackle more in those days. Maybe because it was mostly AM. Maybe they’re making car radios better these days. That was the thing about radio football. It was like cell-phone football. You weren’t chained to your house. I can remember listening to OU afternoon games while riding around town as my parents ran errands or on a trip to visit family.

And radio made you concentrate more. You remembered all the names. The 2020 Sooners debuted Saturday, and several names popped up on the PA system that made me think, oh yeah, he plays on this team. That didn’t happen in 1971. I knew who played for those Sooners.

Not just the stars like Jack Mildren and Greg Pruitt, but Steve Aycock and Albert Qualls and Steve O’Shaughnessy. Those names consistently rang out over the crackling radio.

Put Dan Ruster’s name on the list. He came to OU from Colorado, was a highly-touted quarterback but moved to defensive back and became a good player on the great 1971 and 1972 teams.

Ruster, who now lives in Franklin, Tennessee, has written me before, but he wrote me again this week about Kalsu. I thought I would share his story:

“Bob Kalsu’s death may have saved my life.

“It was the summer of 1970. I was an OU football player between my freshman and sophomore year and working for the summer in Norman helping install the new artificial turf. I was also deciding whether to transfer colleges due to the coaches moving me to a new position I didn’t want to play. My problem was getting drafted into the armed forces and possibly going to Vietnam. I already had a low draft number, 68, and my district was drafting up to 190. My dilemma was to transfer, lose my deferment for a semester and possibly be drafted.

“To get paid for our summer job, we had to go to the coach’s office. It was July, and when I went into the offices all the secretaries were crying and hugging the coaches. I didn’t know or even had heard the name Bob Kalsu. But it was the day the OU family found out about his death in Vietnam. It shook me to the core. Who was this man and why such a reaction?

“Bobby Warmack, who was my freshman coach, took me aside and told me who he was and why his death meant so much to so many. I left the offices that day committing to come back and finish my school at OU. In a roundabout way, Bob Kalsu’s death possibly saved my life if I had transferred.

“To this day that day stands out as an ah-ha moment and is seared in my memory. To never know of someone who sacrificed his life so I could finish college and stay out of harm’s way. My dad was a B17 pilot in WW2, shot down and a POW. My son is a Marine who was wounded in Iraq. God bless our veterans and may we never forget.”

Amen. Thanks for the story, and thanks for reviving memories of a different time.


Related Photos
University of Oklahoma offensive tackle Bob Kalsu in photo taken 8/27/66 by staff photographer Austin Traverse.

University of Oklahoma offensive tackle Bob Kalsu in photo taken 8/27/66 by staff photographer Austin Traverse.

<figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - University of Oklahoma offensive tackle Bob Kalsu in photo taken 8/27/66 by staff photographer Austin Traverse." title="University of Oklahoma offensive tackle Bob Kalsu in photo taken 8/27/66 by staff photographer Austin Traverse."><figcaption>University of Oklahoma offensive tackle Bob Kalsu in photo taken 8/27/66 by staff photographer Austin Traverse.</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 ›