May 26, 2013
Editor's Note: The following story is the 15th installment of the Stories That Live Forever series. The series originated in 2007 to commemorate Memorial Day and honor the names listed on the Washington State University Veterans Memorial on the WSU campus. Beginning Veterans Day 2008, the scope of the series was expanded to include Washington State student-athletes who have served, or are serving, the United States in the military. To access the entire series please click HERE.
By Jason Krump
An excerpt of Margaret Hurley's handwritten note to Washington State College President Ernest O. Holland reads:
"My heartfelt thanks for your very kind words and comforting letter of sympathy. So many people share my grief. John was always a friend of his alma mater. His college days at Washington State were unusually happy, and he loved to talk about them."
The note, dated Feb. 7, 1944, was in response to a letter Holland sent to Margaret two weeks earlier in sympathy over the loss of her husband at the battlefields of Italy in World War II.
"Long John" Hurley
As a student at Washington State College from 1927 to 1931, John Hurley's career ended as a member of one of the greatest teams in Washington State football history.
It was a career that began auspiciously.
On a late October afternoon, the 1927 Washington State College freshmen football season began vs. Oregon in Pendleton.
Two minutes into the game, Hurley recovered a fumbled punt setting-up a Cougar touchdown. Later in the first quarter, he caught a 35-yard pass for a touchdown, propelling the Cougars to a 28-0 victory.
Hurley played for Coach Babe Hollingbery at Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco. When Hollingbery left to coach Washington State College in 1926, Hurley soon followed.
During his junior season, Hurley, playing right end, propelled the Cougars to a hard-fought 9-0 win at Oregon State by scoring the game's only touchdown.
"Long John" Hurley, veteran end, towers 6 feet 3 inches for altitude honors."
Daily Evergreen description of John Hurley
The Washington State student newspaper, The Daily Evergreen, gave this account of the play:
"Carly "Tuffy" Ellingson, dynamic Cougar halfback, gave his team a six-point lead by lifting a 40-yard pass play in the waiting arms of John Hurley. "Long John" made a spectacular catch of Ellingson's flip and hurdled his way for 10 yards to score early in the first quarter."
Standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 172 pounds, it's not hard to see why Hurley was described as "Long John." As the Evergreen described: "Long John" Hurley, veteran end, towers 6 feet 3 inches for altitude honors."
Predicted to finish seventh in the Pacific Coast Conference in 1930, expectations were not high for the Cougars entering Hurley's senior year.
But, with a team that featured two future Pro and College Football Hall of Famers, Mel Hein and Glen "Turk" Edwards, the Cougars defied those expectations, rolling through the season with a 9-0 record.
As starting end, Hurley made his share of plays for the Cougars. Returning to his Bay Area home Hurley caught a seven-yard pass for the Cougars' first score in a 16-0 win at Cal, Oct. 4.
As Pacific Coast Conference champions, the Cougars earned a trip to Pasadena and the program's second Rose Bowl appearance. Thought the season ended with a disappointing 24-0 loss to Alabama, Hurley did put the Cougars in a position to score in the second half, hauling in a 16-yard pass to the 'Bama four-yard line, but WSC fumbled on the next play to end the scoring chance.
After his Washington State playing career ended, Hurley continued his career in the professional ranks, playing one season for the NFL's Cleveland Indians.
But it was a professional career that lasted as long as the Indians' franchise, one season, and Hurley tansitioned his career to coaching.
He returned to California to coach at high schools in Orlando and Tracy, Calif. before returning to the Palouse in 1936 to coach freshman football, basketball and baseball.
The Spokane Daily-Chronicle stated that "Hurley had marked success, especially in basketball, where his frosh clubs lost but four games in three years including an undefeated team in 1939."
"If future generations of Americans fail to express gratitude to those who made the extreme sacrifice, then the ideals for which they fought will be in jeopardy."
- President Holland's letter to John Hurley's wife Margaret, Aug. 24, 1944.
While coaching, Hurley earning his master's degree in education. In 1939, he decided to return to California once again, this time to attend Taft's Teacher College and coach football at Orland Joint Union High School in Oakland.
World War II
As with all Americans, Hurley put his career on hold with the onset of World War II
In 1941, he entered the service as a first lieutenant in the Army infantry.
Initially stationed at Fort Mason, Calif., Hurley was sent to Europe in 1943.
That year, Hurley performed an act of heroism that earned him the the Silver Star for gallantry in action during the invasion of Sicily.
The Sept. 6, 1943 Spokane Daily Chronicle reported an account from Hurley's former coach Babe Hollingbery.
"Hollingbery said a friend advised him Hurley, an infantry officer, led a furious attack of ground troops following dive bomb activities."
A firsthand account of Hurley's heroics is described in Ernie Pyle's book, Brave Men.
"...German bombers kept us awake all night with their flares and their bombings...what happened in this special case was that one of our generator motors caught fire during the night and it had to happen at a very inopportune moment. When the next wave of bombers came over, the Germans naturally used the fire as a target."
Pyle went on to describe that Hurley was among a group of nine who dashed to put the fire out. As Pyle said, "they stayed while bombs blasted around them and shrapnel flew."
Just a few months later, Hurley's heroics once again would earn him accolades, this time the Distinguished Service Cross.
But this time it cost him his life.
The Washington State College war record card states: "Hurley earned the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in action. After being serious wounded, he led his men through a mine field while 350 yards from the enemy and under heavy fire, to within 150 yards where he was mortally wounded."
In his Jan. 18, 1944 message to Margaret, (which was sent in care of John's brother George Hurley, also a Washington alum and football star) Holland said he was shocked and grieved to learn of Hurley's death, and described him as "one of his dear friends and a man who enjoyed the respect of both the faculty and the students of the State College of Washington."
Later that year, Aug. 24, Holland sent Margaret a framed tribute to her husband. In the back was an envelope Holland thought would be a proper place to add John's official records, letters received from him, newspaper clippings, and photographs.
In his letter, Holland said:
"It is our hope that this tribute to Major John J. Hurley will be kept in the Hurley family, not for the next decade or two, but for one hundred years or more, in order that future members of your family will appreciate what he did to protect the ideals of free people throughout the world. If future generations of Americans fail to express gratitude to those who made the extreme sacrifice, then the ideals for which they fought will be in jeopardy."
Holland did not forget. Although the war was over, in October 1945, he sent Margaret an addition for the envelope.
It was a poem by Archibald MacLeish titled, "The Young Dead Soldiers."
The young dead soldiers do not speak.
Nevertheless, they are heard in the still houses:
who has not heard them?
They have a silence that speaks for them at night
and when the clock counts.
They say: We were young. We have died.
They say: We have done what we could
but until it is finished it is not done.
They say: We have given our lives but until it is finished
no one can know what our lives gave.
They say: Our deaths are not ours: they are yours,
they will mean what you make them.
They say: Whether our lives and our deaths were for
peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say,
it is you who must say this.
We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning.
We were young, they say. We have died; remember us.