Eddie LeBaron has spent much of his career in uniform—as a Marine and as one of America's best-known football players. Now 79, he says what he learned as a Leatherneck in the 1950s played a key role in making him a better quarterback later on. And he has the medals—a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart—and a place in the College Football Hall of Fame to prove it.
As a high school kid in Oakdale, California, during the 1940s, I never had any doubt about what I'd be doing when I grew up. I wanted to become an all-American football player and a combat Marine. As it turned out, I did both—and the two have complemented each other throughout my career.
World War II had just broken out when I began my teen years, and my heroes were the great college football players of the day and the Marines who were fighting at places like Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. I'd entered high school at age 12, and quickly became the starting tailback. But I was too young to join the Marines when I graduated, so I went to the College of the Pacific, where I ultimately made all-American. At 18, I joined the Marine Corps Reserve in nearby Stockton.