It was 1961 and Dwight Eisenhower was still going back to that game in 1912—West Point v. Carlisle.
West Point and Carlisle were winning teams. One featured two future generals—Eisenhower and Omar Bradley—and the other featured all-around athlete and gold-medal-winning Olympian Jim Thorpe and the now-legendary Coach Pop Warner.
Eisenhower and a team mate strategized and hit Thorpe high and low, doubling up on the already-famous young athlete. The three stopped play, sprawled across the field.
Thorpe knew what to expect.
Carlisle won the game.
“Here and there, there are some people who are supremely endowed,” said Eisenhower in 1961. “My memory goes back to Jim Thorpe . . . he could do anything better than any other football player I ever saw.”
War stories are about victories and defeat—and then they are followed by remembering, dissecting, learning from, and honoring.
And then—as Shakespeare put it—what is past becomes prologue.
The earlier stories become opening acts for the future.
Eisenhower held onto that 1912 memory, as well as those from years before. Earlier in his 1961 speech:
“In my young years—high school and college—I was a member of some athletic teams, and in all of those years there were coaches who were men of character who were always telling us boys that when you had to take a defeat you had to be a good sport about it. I believed that, and I still believe it. But I never had a coach that told me I had to get used to it. . . .
“I find that every time there was a loss, they just took you out and instead of scrimmaging once a week or twice, you were doing it four times. You practiced not an hour and a half but two hours and a half. Then you got down to the fundamentals, whether it was in football or baseball or any other game you were playing.”
War stories have a way of sticking in your head, the way the coaches and Thorpe stuck in Eisenhower’s.
You remember them. You dissect them. You learn from them. When due, you honor them.
When they become the opening act, you use them to warm up for the headliner.
And when they are forgotten, and the warriors who lived them are long gone, wheels are recreated, and history repeats—without past’s prologue.