Whataman!

By Thomas J. Cutler

Captain Cutter's wartime exploits take on more focus when his formative years are considered. As a midshipman at the Naval Academy, he stood out, his name actually used as a means of frightening new arrivals at the school. He was a formidable boxer and a powerful force on the football field. Known to his classmates as "Whataman," one of his greatest moments occurred in the 1934 Army-Navy game. Navy had lost to Army for 13 straight years, and the Army team that faced the Midshipmen in Cutter's last year came to the fight with a strong 7-2 record, with the two losses strong showings against Illinois (7-6) and Notre Dame (12-6). Navy was coming off a stinging defeat by Pittsburgh (31-7).

On the day of the game, the field was a sea of mud with gale winds blowing and horizontal sheets of rain adding to the misery. Both teams would have to do battle with the elements as well as with one another. As might be expected, scoring under the circumstances was difficult at best. Navy would only make three first downs and gain a total of 109 yards on the day, while Army's totals would prove to be only two first downs and 70 yards.

After Navy had been kept out of the end zone on a series of downs, the Midshipman quarterback called for a field goal attempt by his left tackle, Slade Cutter. Most expected a fake since none of Cutter's pre-game practice kicks had gone through the uprights, his long lineman's cleats catching globs of mud as he tried to make his kicks. But Slade was an improviser, even then. Just before kickoff, Cutter had commandeered a shoe with much shorter cleats for his right foot.

The Associated Press reported the moment of truth as follows: "Slade Cutter drew back his foot and struck. The ball…was still rising, almost whistling like a shell as it cleared the crossbar, with feet to spare, squarely between the uprights…" Navy won 3-0, and All-American Slade Cutter would be remembered for that moment from that day on.

It is difficult to assess how much is learned on the athletic field that can be drawn upon in later life, and how much is already there as part of an individual's character, standing them well both on the field and in life. But whatever the answer, Slade Cutter was certainly one of those who begs the question. Not surprisingly, many of those who saw him in action, said he led his submarine crew like a football coach, getting the most from others, demanding the most from himself.

In later life he developed Parkinson's disease. With the same approach that earned him many victories in war, he refused to let it get the better of him, often declaring, "Something will get me but it won't be the Parkinson's." Something eventually did; he died on 9 June 2005 at the age of 93. As is true of only a select few, his spirit is immortalized. Slade Cutter will long be remembered: in both gridiron legend and in the annals of armed combat.

 

Thomas J. Cutler is a retired lieutenant commander and former gunner's mate second class who served in patrol craft, cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers. His varied assignments included an in-country Vietnam tour, small craft command, and nine years at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he served as Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Seamanship & Navigation Department and Associate Chairman of the History Department. While at the Academy, he was awarded the William P. Clements Award for Excellence in Education (military teacher of the year).

He is the founder and former Director of the Walbrook Maritime Academy in Baltimore. Currently he is Fleet Professor of Strategy and Policy with the Naval War College and is the Director of Professional Publishing at the U.S. Naval Institute.

Winner of the Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Naval Literature, the U.S. Naval Institute Press Author of the Year, and the U.S. Maritime Literature Award, his published works include NavCivGuide: A Handbook for Civilians in the U.S. Navy; A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy [one of the books in the Chief of Naval Operations Reading Program]; The Battle of Leyte Gulf; Brown Water, Black Berets: Coastal & Riverine Warfare in Vietnam; and the 22nd, 23rd (Centennial), and 24th editions of The Bluejacket's Manual. His other works include revisions of Jack Sweetman's The Illustrated History of the U.S. Naval Academy and Dutton's Nautical Navigation. He and his wife, Deborah W. Cutler, are the co-editors of the Dictionary of Naval Terms and the Dictionary of Naval Abbreviations.

His books have been published in various forms, including paperback and audio, and have appeared as main and alternate selections of the History Book Club, Military Book Club, and Book of the Month Club. He has served as a panelist, commentator, and keynote speaker on military and writing topics at many events and for various organizations, including the Naval History and Heritage Command, Smithsonian Institution, the Navy Memorial, U.S. Naval Academy, MacArthur Memorial Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, U.S. Naval Institute, Armed Forces Electronics Communications and Electronics Association, Naval War College, Civitan, and many veterans' organizations. His television appearances include the History Channel's Biography series, A&E's Our Century, Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor, and CBS's 48 Hours.

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