There's a reason it's called Memorial Gym.

by John Ring

The next time you visit Memorial Gym on the Knox campus for a basketball or volleyball game, there's something you need to check out.

You should do it for yourself. You should show your children this, too.

Just to the west of the left entrance of Memorial Gym -- named to honor both World War I and World War II veterans in 1951 -- sits a small display that's anchored to the wall. It's tucked away in a corner, illuminated by just a single light that can be turned on by the pull of a chord.

On display are photos of Knox alumni who have died in American wars of the 20th century -- 78 in all.

61 of them perished during World War II, nine died in Korea, eight more in Vietnam.

It tells when they graduated from Knox, when they died, and a little bit about where and how they met their respective fates.

Three of those 78 veterans are Tom Dean, Glenn Moller and Cleaveland Bridgman.

All three are honored by having prestigious Knox awards named after them. All three died in Vietnam. All three present different stories.

I spent the better part of two weeks going to libraries, making phone calls and talking to as many people as possible about Tom Dean, Glenn Moller and Cleaveland Bridgman. Very early into this, I realized I needed two months instead of two weeks to do them justice.

Names, awards and trophies often become anonymous over a period of time. They become more ordinary, more bland.

Were these three guys heroes? What happened to them? Were they drafted or did they volunteer?

I don't have all the answers. But this is their story of their lives at Knox -- and their deaths in Vietnam.

­­ The Tom Dean Award is given annually to the outstanding Prairie Fire football player in the Knox-Monmouth game. Dean, who graduated from Knox in 1966, was a football player and the son of Knox trustee Bill Dean.

''Tom had an up and down career here at Knox, both on the football field and the classroom,'' said longtime Athletic Director Harley Knosher. ''His Dad and I were friends and it was Bill Dean's dream that Tom come to Knox and play football.''

Dean enlisted in the Army and was assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia but wanted to see action in Vietnam. He pleaded for the assignment, filled out the proper request forms and his Dad interceded by writing to their Congressman. Tom Dean got his wish.

''Tom went to Vietnam before the public turned against the war,'' said Owen Muelder, who knew Dean at Knox as a student. ''When he went it wasn't a politically charged issue.''

In December of 1967, he was severely wounded and hospitalized in Saigon. He survived for two weeks, which was long enough for his Dad to fly to Vietnam to visit him one more time.

''It was good for both of them,'' said Knosher, who still has a photo of Dean in the hospital while being visited by Bob Hope.

Ironically, it was Tom Dean who, in his last meeting with his father, begged him to tell Knosher about a football coach named Al Reilly. The Siwash football program was struggling.

''That's how I heard about Reilly,'' said Knosher ''and eventually it was Al Reilly who saved the Knox football program.''

Tom Dean was wounded during a military operation in the Mekong Delta. He died from his wounds on 9 January 1968 in Saigon.

''Tom was a quiet guy,'' added Tim Heimann, now the Prairie Fire basketball coach. ''He didn't want the fanfare, he didn't want the attention.''

Knox Running back Drew Sherman won the Tom Dean Award for his efforts against the Fighting Scots last November.

­­ The Moller Cup was named after Glenn Moller. It was established by Dale Littney, one of his teammates on the basketball team and is awarded annually to a female athlete who competes in two or more sports and has a high academic grade average. It's the companion award to the Hunter Trophy, presented to the male athlete with the same criteria.

Glenn Moller came from the St. Louis area. ''One of the most intense guys I ever coached,'' said Knosher about Moller, a basketball player. ''He was so intense, it was tension producing.''

''Glenn was a very fierce competitor,'' said Heimann. ''He was a hard-nosed basketball player, a real battler.''

''He was the quintessential lefthander,'' said Muelder. ''On the basketball court, he never went to the right.''

Moller only attended Knox for two years. Like Dean, he enlisted in the Army. And like Dean, he wound up in Vietnam.

''I'll never forget the last time I saw him,'' said Knosher. ''He stopped by the office to see me when he was leaving Galesburg. He said he stopped by to say goodbye. When I told him I'd see him when he got back he replied, 'No coach. I'm not coming back.' Glenn was certain that he would die in Vietnam. It's a conversation that I'll never forget.''

Moller, a private first class in the Army, died in combat at Dau Tieng on April 12, 1968.

''I played with Glenn at Knox,'' said Tom Anderson. ''We weren't the best of friends but he was a good guy. A bright guy. When I heard that Glenn had died, it rattled me.''

­­ The Cleaveland Bridgman Award goes to an outstanding performer in an individual sport. Bridgman, who graduated from Knox in 1968, was a wrestler and threw the shotput for the track team.

''He was a big guy, a robust guy,'' said Knosher. ''A strong personality. Just an impressive guy.''

He was known simply as ''Cleave''. He was an ROTC guy and a jock on what was then and still is a liberal campus. ''But back then, a lot of guys were in the ROTC,'' said Heimann. ''That was when the war was drawing a lot of guys. So while Knox had an anti-war faction, there were a lot of people in the ROTC.''

''Cleave was everyone's friend,'' added Heimann. ''He was so outgoing. Cleave was this big guy that could put an element of fear into you but he always had this big smile.''

''A real friendly guy, an All-American,'' added Anderson. ''Cleave was in the ROTC but he wasn't a gung-ho, military kind of guy. In 1966, we all thought the war would be over, it wouldn't drag out. We never dreamed it would last as long as it did.''

Bridgman was a First Lieutenant in the ''Air Cavs'' -- the 1st Calvary Division. He died in combat on April 1, 1970 and is buried in Massachusetts.

''I was working in the admissions department at Knox,'' said Anderson ''and I got a call from his family to tell us at the college that Cleave died. That was a horrible day.''

Dan Spaulding was the 1999 winner of the Cleaveland Bridgman Award.

When the Knox basketball teams traveled to Philadelphia and Washington D.C. last year, one of the tourist sites they visited was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial -- a large wall which has the names of over 56,000 Americans who died in the war.

''After we left the Lincoln Memorial, we went to the Wall,'' said Heimann. ''It was an emotional experience for us all, just like it is for everyone that goes there. We looked up the names of these guys in the book and located Tom Dean, Glen Moller and Cleaveland Bridgman on the wall.''

''We try to pass that on. If a player wins an award named after Cleave Bridgman, Harley and I will try to tell the award winner about him. That's very important to us.''

Tim Heimann saw one other name on The Wall -- DeWitt Brown.

DeWitt Brown was a classmate of Heimann's in 1966. After graduating in 1969, Brown served in Vietnam. In 1971. Brown was killed when his helicopter was shot down while trying to rescue a downed pilot.

There are no awards named after DeWitt Brown.

We've all heard sports broadcasters during a tough athletic event say the overused line, ''I'd go to war with that guy anytime.''

DeWitt Brown could be on my team -- any time, anywhere.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online May 27, 2000

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