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Ralph “Shug” Jordan and D-Day

By on June 5th, 2019 in Memories 12 Comments »

On an early June evening 75 years ago, many thousands of young men waited in trepidation for a decision to be made. On stormy seas, in the depths of rolling cargo ships, they waited. Most were unable to sleep despite the exhaustion that comes from preparing for military operations, what with the incessant nausea- inducing movement of the ship, the gagging smell of gasoline, sweat and vomit, and the interminable delay. They fitfully stirred in their cramped quarters, both in exasperation and dread for the word to be sent.

A 33-year old captain waited with them. If the order was given, he was to command a Higgins boat full of veteran combat engineers in the second wave of the landing. While he and many of his men had done this before, they had never faced such a determined and prepared defense nor the sea and weather conditions expected during the proposed landing. Besides, extensive combat experience often serves more to heighten than relieve anxiety. Having already conducted opposed amphibious landings like this merely provided a precise reminder of the true dangers ahead. They knew their enemy and were fully aware of what was in store for them at the waters’ edge.

Late in the evening the order came. D-Day would be tomorrow, June 6, 1944.

The Captain would later say a newspaper clipping sent to him, written by his former history professor, helped him through that wait and what followed. He said he was entranced listening to the old man’s descriptions of past civilizations, both as a student in the classroom and after graduation when he was hired as an assistant coach by the same school. They would often discuss world events in casual conversations on the wide porch of the professor’s home, just across from Samford Hall. A fond memory of a time before the war.

Now he was participating in one of those great events, and as a keen student of history this fact was not lost on him. However small in the grand scheme of things, his role was absolutely vital to the soldiers around him. He was a proven combat leader, and the younger men would look to him first and foremost for both direction and inspiration, especially in the most extreme situations they would face on the morrow.

The clipping sent was cut from his Alma Mater’s student newspaper, a contribution written by his mentor and friend that he had received some months before. By now it was creased and worn, having been read time and again before being folded and put away in a uniform pocket, to be returned to later when he again sought inspiration or solace.

He unfolded it once more to read the faded text in the dim lighting below decks.

“I believe that this is a practical world and that I can only count on what I earn. Therefore, I believe in work, hard work….

Ralph “Shug” Jordan kept a copy of George Petrie’s Auburn Creed on his person throughout D-Day. Fifteen minutes after landing on Utah Beach, he was wounded in his arm and shoulder by shrapnel from a German 88-millimeter shell that landed nearby. Despite the painful wound that rendered his left arm useless, he bravely led his men on their mission, blowing holes through the beach defenses to allow follow-on waves access to the heights overlooking the landing zone.

Later, he would say that both coaching and playing football helped him complete his mission that day and the three painful days that followed before the shrapnel was finally removed by an Army doctor. The sense of “giving your all” to the cause, the mission or the task at hand pervaded his actions on the beach and the battlefields beyond, for which he was awarded both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. Later, he was transferred to the Pacific Theater, conducting a fourth amphibious landing and fighting on Okinawa while soldiers in Europe celebrated VE Day. 

Like many men who served in that war, he would often refer to that experience years later, not in bravado or self glory but as life lessons for his children and the countless young men whom he coached, instilling in them the importance of devotion, loyalty, personal effort and teamwork. He communicated these messages in both word and deed in everything he did, and his student athletes revered him for it. So did the rest of the Auburn family, who put his name on the stadium while he was still leading his team, the first active coach in all of college football to be so honored.

I remember those lessons as well and heeded much of the same advice from my own father, who was also a wounded veteran of the war and an excellent coach, both in sports and life. I have also read that same creed many times, and it still resonates deeply all these years later.

THE AUBURN CREED

I believe that this is a practical world and that I can count only on what I earn. Therefore, I believe in work, hard work.

I believe in education, which gives me the knowledge to work wisely and trains my mind and my hands to work skillfully.

I believe in honesty and truthfulness, without which I cannot win the respect and confidence of my fellow men.

I believe in a sound mind, in a sound body and a spirit that is not afraid, and in clean sports that develop these qualities.

I believe in obedience to law because it protects the rights of all.

I believe in the human touch, which cultivates sympathy with my fellow men and mutual helpfulness and brings happiness for all.

I believe in my Country, because it is a land of freedom and because it is my own home, and that I can best serve that country by “doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my God.”

And because Auburn men and women believe in these things, I believe in Auburn and love it.

-George Petrie (1944)

(Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on Track ‘Em Tigers on June 5, 2014 and was titled: “To The Men of That Era.” We republish it now in honor of Coach Jordan and all the men who stormed the beaches on that fateful day 75 years ago. Our simple gratitude may not convey enough of what we truly owe them, but it is the very least that we can do to honor their achievement, their courage and their sacrifice from a very grateful nation,…“Thank you”)

 

Picture courtesy of long time reader, Zotus

12 Comments

  1. Tigerpharm says:

    Thanks for posting this very moving article Sully. We owe so much to all those men who fought for our country on that day and every day of World War II.

  2. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..It’s said that the Allied force that stormed France on D-Day numbered about 150,000 men. The first day of the invasion, estimates of Allied casualties vary between 5000 and 12,000. Roughly, that’s about a 5 percent chance of being killed. Fight in as many of these things as Shug did, and those exponential statistics take the chance of surviving them all WAY down.

    …..Basically, you have a 95 percent chance of surviving the first one. Only a 90 percent chance of surviving through 2 such events. By the time you get to a dozen such battles, the odds of surviving them all are just 54 percent.

    • sullivan013 sullivan013 says:

      In my history reading, I know that casualties rates for the battles in Northern France until the end of the Ardennes and Metz battles from July 1944 to January 1945 exceeded those for the battles that occurred in the same region during most of World War I for the density of forces taking part.

      Many Commonwealth and US units recorded higher rates than those same units did in the costly 1918 battles and campaign in the mobile warfare after the Second Battle of the Marne. This was especially true for leaders of all ranks, NCOs and company grade officers like Shug Jordan (Captain at the time).

      It wasn’t a cakewalk to Germany. There was a brief breakout period, but German resistance stiffened close to the frontier and the West Wall fortifications were extensive and formidable.

      When I was a young officer in Germany in the early 1990s I had a chance to visit some and see them from the German side facing where the US forces were approaching. The defenses were all reverse slope, with devastating interlocking fires from their machine gun pits and pillboxes. They are all still there, just overgrown and collapsed, but you can still see how well they were sited and how effective they would have been to any approaching force.

      They were brave men fighting hard against a determined and resolute enemy. We owe that entire generation a great deal.

  3. Pine Mt Tiger Pine Mt Tiger says:

    Excellent article Sullivan. I thank God for what those men did for to save the world. Shug Jordan was not only an Auburn legend he was an American hero. And his war time service is another reason why he is one of my all time heroes.

  4. zotus zotus says:

    Thanks for the piece Sully, and thanks for that old photo of Coach Jordan. I’ve not seen it before and am happy to add it to my archives.

    On D Day 1944 I was just a toddler and way too young to begin to comprehend that the world, as I knew it, was teetering in the balance.

    But, as I got older and learned a thing or two about history, I came to hold the men and women that came of age in the early 20th century in the highest regard possible.

    And, by the time I became an Auburn student, and would sneak a peek at Coach Jordan when we would cross each other’s path while walking across campus I was keenly aware I was in the presence of a very special person. In a way, I believe Coach Jordan came to exemplify to me all that was good about that great D-Day generation of Americans. My Mother’s generation. My Father’s generation. Coach Jordan’s generation of Americans.

    P.S. I’ve attached my favorite photo of Coach Jordan. I believe it catches his essence. Look at those eyes. Anyone of my generation has seen that look all their lives from their fathers, grandfathers and uncles. It’s not a look of scorn, nor of aggression, nor of anger — as some might say at a glance. No, I see pure iron-willed determination. I see Coach Jordan and I see my old man, and I see the rest of those young Americans who sucked it up and stormed the Beaches of Normandy in 1944 right to the bone.

    Never to yield. WDE! RIP Coach Jordan.

  5. AUwaterboy AUwaterboy says:

    Coach Jordan was a great man as many of that generation were. They had a sense of giving their all to the mission. It’s amazing that Shug survived fighting in both Europe and the Pacific. He did so and was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

    • AUwaterboy AUwaterboy says:

      Also, thanks for posting this story Sully. My grandfather was a WWII veteran. He did not fight at D-Day but he did see combat. I know there was something special about his and Coach Jordan's generation by the way they both lived out thier lives after the war.

  6. Im4Auburn says:

    Beautifully written article. We owe much to those men. Today’s generation could learn so much from them.

  7. AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

    God Bless the Greatest Generation!

    Over 150,000 allied soldiers stormed the beaches amidst some of the most hellish combat conditions ever experienced in war. Over 9,000 are still buried there at the Normandy American Cemetery and another 1,557 names of the missing in action are listed on a memorial. Many of them just teenagers, but they were men in every sense of the word.

    The vast majority of the men who died were in the very first waves of the attack. The first soldiers out of the landing craft were gunned down by German machine guns or sank, weighed down by their backpacks, and drowned in water over their heads. One American unit landing in the first wave on Omaha beach, lost 90% of its men.

    My father was a WWII veteran. While he saw combat, I’m thankful he was not at D-Day or I might not be here writing these words today.

    With 6,000 boats and 12,000 planes it was the biggest and most complicated amphibious operation in military history. Famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle said, “It wasn’t bombs, or tanks, or planes that overwhelmed the Germans; it was men — many of them boys, really — slogging up the beaches and crawling over the corpses [and body parts] of their friends that won the Allies a toehold at the western edge of Europe.”

    What those American GI’s had to endure to make the world safe is really beyond comprehension. Thanks Sully for writing this eloquent tribute to our heroes of D-Day.

    Most older Auburn folks know about Shug Jordan’s war time service but the story needs retelling (like in this article today) so another generation of Americans will know and remember the boys of Normandy.

    God Bless their memory and the country they fought and (many) died for!

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