The Packers and World War II
By Kris Leonhardt
UW-Green Bay began the inaugural session of its “History of the Green Bay Packers Certificate” program on Sept. 6. The virtual, eight-week, two-hour class allows participants to “uncover the team’s storied history and get an inside look at the Packers Hall of Fame.” Over the next eight weeks, we will provide a glimpse of the class experience through Titletown 101.
World War II had a large impact on the Green Bay Packers as well as other National Football League teams.
Almost three dozen Packer players were active members of the team when they were inducted into military service during the war.
“There are two that are probably the most significant players (to enter service.) One of them would be Tony Canadeo, who was a Packer Hall of Famer,” explained Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame Curator Brent Hensel.
“He missed most of the 1944 season and all of 1945 while serving in World War II. In fact, he tells a story where he came home on furlough… his wife had just had a baby. And then, he actually stays a couple of weeks longer, saying that his wife’s not feeling well and they kind of made it up so he could spend more time with his child, for obvious reasons.
“He would return then in 1946 to lead the Packers in rushing in their ground attack, eventually retiring in 1952.
“Probably the most interesting story though for the Packers would be Howard “Smiley” Johnson.”
Johnson was killed in action on Iwo Jima in 1945
“He had played guard for the Packers in 1940 and 1941. Because he died in that significant battle in World War II, he was later awarded the Second Silver Star for his service,” Hensel said.
“Another kind of fun unique story involving World War II was Sue Wallen. Sue Wallen worked at the Astor Hotel. From the mid-1930s until she was married in 1947, Sue Wallen ran the front desk at the Aster Hotel.
“The hotel was located in the heart of Green Bay and almost all the players lived there during the season. From 1929 until eventually when the Packers bought Rockwood Lodge… .
“The Astor Hotel was kind of like a fraternity house for the players, and Sue Wallen was kind of like their housemother.
“According to Charley Brock, one of the Packer players during this time period, when many of the Packers were called into service in World War II, Wallen would become a pen pal to them writing letters back and forth telling them what was going on in Green Bay and with the Packers. She would send personal notes and updates about the team and then sadly she would lose her only son at Pearl Harbor which happened to be the first Green Bay casualty of World War II.”
Wallen’s son, Earl, died during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, on the U.S. Battleship California.
He was just 21.
Green Bay’s American Legion Sullivan-Wallen Post No. 11 now carries his name.
Author’s Note: Two weeks ago, this column noted that original Packer players, Dutch and Riggie Dwyer, were cousins. While there were cousins who played on the team, the Dwyers were brothers.
Read more in next week’s edition.
For more on the program, visit www.uwgb.edu/certificate-programs/history-of-the-green-bay-packers.