Almost 67 years ago to the day, Iowa lost a hero.
On June 2, 1943, Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick took off in a Navy fighter plane from the deck of the carrier U.S.S. Lexington on a routine training flight in the Caribbean Sea.
Shortly after takeoff, Kinnick’s plane developed a severe oil leak.
Kinnick could not land on the aircraft carrier without endangering other planes on the ship. As a result, he elected to attempt landing his plane in the sea to prevent risking his fellow soldiers.
When the search vessels reached his plane's crash site, there was no trace of Nile.
Kinnick died five weeks before his 25th birthday, a leader and a hero till the very end. His last thoughts were of his fellow soldiers, not himself.
He will always be a measuring stick for Iowans.
"I thank God I was warring on the gridirons of the Midwest and not on the battlefields of Europe," said Kinnick during his Heisman acceptance speech. "I can speak confidently and positively that the players of this country would much more, much rather, struggle and fight to win the Heisman award than the Croix de Guerre."
Iowa's only Heisman winner was drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940 NFL Draft, but passed on a career in pro football for law school at Iowa. Kinnick was the grandson of a former Iowa governor who seemed destined for a career in politics.
He enlisted in the Naval Air Corps Reserve because he felt a sense of duty. Kinnick was called into active service three days before Pearl Harbor.
As Kinnick himself would remind readers, there are many students, student-athletes, alumni, and fans that deserve recognition for their service to this country.
On this Memorial Day, pause for a moment to remember Nile Kinnick and the rest of the fallen solders who gave their lives over the years in an effort to protect the citizens of this nation.