Tag Archives: Notre Dame

Searching for Charles Gerhardt

5 Nov

A while back, I was appointed Historian for the City of Lebanon. In that role, I have attempted to learn as much as I can about the town. There are stories that I have heard all of my life, and I am steeped in the lore of the area. However, there are gaps in my knowledge.

Learning about the city requires research. I have gone through documents at the city museum and have spent some time in our county archives. I also get on the computer at home to see what can be found on the Internet.

It was an Internet search that led me to an online copy of Tennessee County History Series: Wilson County by Frank Burns, the man who knew more about the history of this area than anyone else I have known. Through a gradual reading, I made my way to the 1940s and World War II, where I found a passage that drew my interest. It reads:

Charles Gerhardt was the only Wilson County soldier to hold
the rank of major general in World War II. June 6 was more than
D-Day to Charles Hunter Gerhardt. It was his 49th birthday.

He went ashore with his troops, inched up the cliffs and the
high bluff with them, and spent the night of D-Day in a rock quarry
just 300 yards from the beach. It was the luck of the 29th to draw
the sector where the German army had concentrated its heaviest
defenses. One company lost all of its officers but one before its
assault boats ever landed on the beach. Within minutes after an-
other company touched the beach, it was out of action, every man
killed or wounded, huddled weaponless against the base of the
cliff. But it was not to be a day of defeat. Slowly the men edged off
Omaha Beach. By the end of the day the 29th was a mile inland.
Omaha Beach was followed by Isigny. There General Gerhardt
moved among his troops as they advanced on the outskirts of the
town, disregarding land mines, rifle bullets, and machine gun fire.

It caught my eye because I have never heard of Charles Gerhardt and never heard of a Major General from Lebanon leading his troops at the D-Day Invasion. This is an interesting part of our history that has apparently been forgotten, and I was determined to find out more. This led to the search for Charles Gerhardt.Gerhardt

A Google search brought up several links, but Wikipedia was the first stop. I know Wikipedia has issues, but I am not writing a scholarly paper. It is only a blog post. Anyway, I learned that Charles Gerhardt played baseball, polo and football at West Point. In 1916, he quarterbacked the football team to a victory of Notre Dame, which was coached by Knute Rockne and led by George Gipp. Some may remember that Gipp was immortalized on film by Ronald Reagan.

The Wikipedia page continues with Gerhardt’s other accomplishments. He served in World War I and was an equestrian judge at the 1932 Olympics. While Frank Burns praises him, this page says that he was a controversial figure who oversaw high casualty rates and opened a brothel for his men after the invasion.

Wikipedia says a lot about Gerhardt, but it does not say where he was born. For that information, I had to click more links. The next stop was the website for Arlington National Cemetery. It contains some of the same information and provides additions to his military record. However, it does not say where he was born.

This is when I began thinking that Frank Burns was wrong. There is no way this man could be from Lebanon. I know of no one who has heard of him, and his birthplace is omitted from every website. That is when I noticed a link to his father, who was also named Charles Gerhardt. The older Gerhardt was also a military man and reached the rank of Brigadier General.

While searching his life, I discovered that “he was detailed to Cumberland University at Lebanon, Tennessee, 1894-1897.” While here, he became Secretary of the Military Wheelmen. Have you ever heard of that? Neither have I. It was an organization that designed bicycles for military use. He also designed a uniform to make them less visible. Yep, he was on the cutting edge of camouflage.

All of that was great to find out. Charles Gerhardt was in Lebanon when his son was born in 1895. However, why was a career military man “detailed to Cumberland University?” It has never been a military school.

To find that, I had to return to the writings of Frank Burns. It turns out that the elder Gerhardt taught military science and tactics at the university.

Through all of that, I learned something new about the history of Lebanon, Tennessee. Major General Charles Gerhardt, who led his men onto the beaches of France, was born here. He also went on the defeat the Gipper and found a whorehouse. Overall, he led an interesting life, and it all started here.

A Witness to Miracles

25 Aug

Football season is upon us, and, like all fans, I am anxious to see what my teams are going to do. I have been lucky enough to attend a ton of games. Many of them have faded from memory, but a lot of them stand out for their drama and excitement. Of those, I can think of three that were gridiron miracles where my team pulled victory from the jaws of defeat.

The first took place 1991. The University of Tennessee traveled to South Bend, Indiana to play Notre Dame, and I traveled with them. I have already written about The Miracle at South Bend and will not repeat myself. Just know that the Volunteers were down 31-7 with a few seconds left in the first half. They came roaring back to win 35-34 and ruin a pretty good day by Jerome Bettis, who was just inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame.

The second miracle transpired in 1998. The Volunteers had made it through the first eight games without a loss and were ranked at the top of the polls. However, the Razorbacks from the University of Arkansas came to Knoxville with the same record.

Tennessee was outclassed for most of the game and were in trouble. Arkansas had the lead and the ball with a little over a minute to go. They were running out the clock, and over 100,000 people were stunned. Then, the miracle happened.

Clint Stoerner, the Arkansas quarterback, stumbled and dropped the ball.Fumble

The Tennessee defense recovered, and the offense drove the field to win 28-24. The Volunteers went on to win the rest of the games and the national championship.

January 8, 2000 was a cold day in Nashville, but the city was hot with excitement. The Tennessee Titans had a great first season and were hosting an AFC Wild Card game. Yep, the NFL playoffs were in Tennessee. The Buffalo Bills were here, too.

The game saw both offenses struggle, but Buffalo was up 16-15 after a field goal in the waning seconds. The next play would become one of the most famous in NFL history.

The Bills pooched the kickoff into the hands of Lorenzo Neal, who pitched it to Frank Wycheck. Then, he three the ball across the field to Kevin Dyson, who streaked 75 yards for the touchdown.Music City

The crowd was going wild as they realized he was going to score. Except, I was just standing there.

My seat straddled the line where Wycheck threw the ball, and I thought it was an illegal forward pass. The play would be called back, and the Titans playoffs would come to an end. However, the official was not in position to see the forward pass, and the play could not be overturned. The Music City Miracle was in the books.

It was a great play that propelled the Tennessee Titans to the Super Bowl, and everyone in Nashville is convinced that it was a legal play. I am still not sure. I am just glad that the official was still running to his position when Frank Wycheck threw the ball.

Those are my three football miracles. Through the years, hundreds of thousands of people have claimed to be at those games, but I can honestly say that I was a witness to the miracles.

What about you? Have you been in the stands to see miracles happen on fields of play?

History is Local – Tennessee Style

30 Apr

Another academic year is coming to a close, and, over the past few days, I have been reflecting upon it. Things have gone decently, but this is the first year that I have wondered if anyone is listening. As usual, there have been some engaged students and some who would probably rather be somewhere else. However, I have gotten more frustrated this time than ever before.

At our university, all students are required to take two semesters of History, and I realize that most of them are taking it because they have to take it. They are not planning on being historians, museum curators, lawyers or any other of the great professions you can get with a History degree. Still, it would be nice if they did not stare out of the windows or sneakily play with their phones. Heck, it would be even nice if some of them brought paper and pencil to class.

Honestly, it gets frustrating. I may not get them to love the subject, but I want them to get something out of it. To accomplish this, I sprinkle some local history in with the American history. They may not be interested in the millworks of New England, but they may be interested in the millworks of our town. Simply, not all history takes place far away. Some of it takes place right around the corner in places they pass everyday.

That is why I throw as much Tennessee history into the mix as I can. This might perk them up, and it might help them realize that this state has played an important role in our nation’s past.Tennessee Flag

We cover the three Tennessee presidents – Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk and Andrew Johnson – because presidents are important. Did you know that Polk is the president that brought California into the United States? Yep, a guy from Columbia, Tennessee did that.

However, I like to go deeper than that and talk about people who they may have never heard of.

Peter Burnett, a Tennessee native, was the first governor of California.

Grantland Rice, perhaps the greatest sportswriter to sit behind a typewriter, was from Murfreesboro. He wrote about the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame and a line that goes like this:

For when the One Great Scorer comes

To mark against your name,

He writes – not that you won or lost –

But how you played the game.

Cordell Hull, a graduate of Cumberland University (where I work), was known as the “Father of the United Nations” and won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on that organization.

David Crockett, defender of the Alamo and hero to millions of kids in the 1950s, was a Tennessean.

Sam Houston, who led the rebel forces in the fight for Texas independence, had his first law office here in Lebanon.

W.E.B. DuBois graduated from Fisk University and taught school in Wilson County before going on to create the NAACP.

George Rappelyea thought of a publicity stunt to draw attention to his town of Dayton. They arrested John Scopes for teaching the theory of evolution and hosted the Scopes Monkey Trial, one of the many “Trials of the Century.” It sparked a debate that continues to this day.

John Butler, the legislator who sponsored the anti-evolution bill, represented the neighboring counties of Sumner, Trousdale and Macon.

Oak Ridge is a small town that came to prominence as one of the sites of the Manhattan Project, which brought us into the atomic age.

In 1920, legislative leaders met at the Hermitage Hotel to discuss voting for or against the 19th Amendment. It is a long story, but they eventually approved it. That made Tennessee the decisive state in women getting the right to vote.

John Chisum was born in Tennessee but gained notoriety as the “King of the Pecos”, one of the most successful cattlemen in the West.

I could name others, but these are a few that I can think of. I really think mentioning local people helps students learn a little more about American history. At least, I hope it does.

Those Are Not Cheese Sticks

17 Apr

Several years ago, some friends and I traveled to Chicago to watch our favorite team, the University of Tennessee, play football. They were playing Notre Dame, and it seems that weird things always happen with those two teams get together. This weekend was no different.

Two of my friends, Mayor and Rick, flew up earlier in the day, and I flew up later with Larry. The plan was for us to meet at the hotel. Larry and I landed; made our way to the hotel; and found out that Mayor and Rick had gone out on the town. We decided to go out and grab some food.

The hotel sat a block from Michigan Avenue, so we walked over to see what we could find. We walked pass a steak place, but that wasn’t really what we wanted. Some other places looked interesting but didn’t appeal to us. Finally, Larry looked across the street and saw an Italian restaurant. It looked a little fancy for the way we were dressed, but Italian sounded like a good choice.

The place was definitely fancy, and it was packed. It was hard to walk through the place, but we squeezed our way to the bar. I can’t remember how long we waited, but I remember that we had a long conversation with an older couple from Nebraska. I also remember that the lady was covered in diamonds.

By the time we got to the table, Larry and I were both starving. The waiter, who had an accent that I can’t type in, came over for our drink order. Before he could get away, Larry said that we wanted an appetizer, and the following exchange took place.

“Hey, bring us some of these cheese sticks.”

“Sir, those are not cheese sticks. They are mozzarella slices.”

“I don’t care what they are. Just bring us some.”

It wasn’t long before we got the mozzarella slices.Mozzarella

Then, we ordered our meals. I can’t remember what I got, but I distinctly remember that Larry got lasagna. I also remember that he only ate about half of it. I thought that was weird because I had never seen Larry leave anything on a plate.

“What’s wrong? Is it not any good?”

“It’s ok. I just don’t want anymore.”

That was pretty much it, and we made our way back to the room. By this time, Mayor and Rick had returned. They told us what they had been doing, and we told them about the snobby waiter, but we didn’t talk for long because we needed to get up early to make it to the game. Mayor and Rick slept on beds while Larry and I slept on rollouts. This means that we were packed in there.

At some point, I heard Larry get up and step over my bed. None of us stirred, but we woke up pretty quickly. Larry went to the bathroom, and strange noises started coming out of there. He was moaning and groaning. He was grunting. We didn’t know what was happening, but we knew it must have been bad. It sounded like he was dying. This went on and on and on.

We started to get worried, and Mayor said that somebody needed to check on him. The problem was that none of us wanted to go in there. We didn’t know what we were going to see. All along, Larry kept making sounds that made me think of The Exorcist.Exorcist

At some point, one of us mentioned that we should take him to the hospital.

We were worried. Larry was dying. This was a serious situation. Then, it happened. Through the grunts and the groans Larry yelled, “THE SON OF A BITCH POISONED ME!”

That was the end of the seriousness. Although Larry was still struggling, the rest of us could not stop laughing. At some point, Larry made it out of the bathroom. He survived but his clothes didn’t. I’m not sure what happened to them, but the hotel probably had to call in a hazardous waste crew.

The next day, Larry went to the game, but he was pale as a ghost. Tennessee won on Saturday, but the waiter won on Friday night.

Miracle at South Bend

2 Jan

While reading this blog, some of you may have realized that I am a fan of the University of Tennessee. However, I am not just a fan. I am a fanatic. As a certified fanatic, I have been lucky enough to attend numerous football games throughout the country. I don’t know how many games I have attended. The best way to describe it is to say that if there has been a game played over the past 38 years, then chances are good that I was there.

Bunches of games have been forgotten, but a few, both wins and losses, stand out. One of those is the 1991 game against Notre Dame. It has gone down in Tennessee history as the Miracle at South Bend. Tennessee fans throughout the nation remember that game and have a story that goes along with it. However, my story is a little more supernatural.

My brother and I took an RV with some people that we did business with. The trip northward was filled with food, drink, laughter and anticipation. Notre Dame, coached by Lou Holtz, came into the game with an 8-1 record, while Tennessee stood at 5-2. It was the 300th game to be played in storied Notre Dame Stadium and was Senior Day for players like Jerome Bettis.

We arrived in South Bend to find temperatures in the single digits and snow spitting from the sky. Most of our group, including my brother, wanted to hang around the RV and tailgate. I remember one of our crew wearing a short-sleeve shirt, thin khakis, loafers without socks and a windbreaker. He should have been cold, but I’m sure that he wasn’t.

I didn’t want to tailgate. I had never been to Notre Dame and wanted to walk around the historic campus. There was Touchdown Jesus.

After the last field goal attempt, he was crossing his arms.

After the last field goal attempt, he was crossing his arms.

There was the grotto.

It's a beautiful place.

It’s a beautiful place.

Of course, there was the stadium.

It was filled with people when I was there.

It was filled with people when I was there.

I walked into the stadium as soon as the gates opened and found my seat in the end zone. There was an old man sitting in the seat next to mind, but I was too busy taking in the scene to say anything to him. Finally, he spoke and said:

“What part of Tennessee are you from?”

“I live close to Nashville. Do you live close by?”

“You could say that. How do you feel about the game?”

“I don’t feel very good about it.”

He smiled slightly and said:

“Don’t worry. Your team is going to win 35-34.”

That’s the last thing we said to each other. As game time approached, more people filled the seats, and my brother showed up. Then, the game began. At least, it began for Notre Dame. They ran and ran and ran. Up and down the field they went. With the first half coming to a close, Notre Dame was up 31-7 and was lining up for a field goal. My brother said that if something dramatic didn’t happen, then he was going back to the RV.

Something dramatic happened. Craig Hentrich, who would later punt for the Tennessee Titans, had his field goal blocked and Tennessee returned it for a touchdown. Everybody went crazy, but the man next to me never moved. Throughout the game, he never stood. He never talked. He never did anything but watch.

At the half, Notre Dame led 31-14, and my brother did not go back to the RV. It’s a goog thing because the second half belonged to Tennessee. They gradually cut into the lead, and, for some reason, Holtz abandoned the run and started throwing. Tennessee crept closer and closer. Coming toward our end zone, Tennessee scored to go up 35-34. I remembered what the man had said and turn to tell him that he was a genius, but he never looked at me.

Notre Dame got the ball and went back to the run. They should have been doing it all day because they drove straight down the field. With a few seconds left, they lined up for a short field goal to win. However, Notre Dame had a problem. Hentrich had been injured on the earlier field goal, and the backup kicker had to come in.

The snap. The hold. The kick. One of our guys flew in, and the ball hit him in the hip. The ball kept going but was wide left. Tennessee fans went crazy. We were jumping, hugging, giving out high fives. Tennessee won 35-34, just like the man said we would. I turned to hug him, but he was gone. The man had vanished into thin air.

Then, my brother was pulling at me. As the Notre Dame band played, Tennessee fans were storming the field. We had to go with them. We hugged players, coaches and other players wearing orange. We mingled with the band and Notre Dame players. We grabbed grass to keep as a souvenir.

It was the greatest ever comeback against Notre Dame. It was one of the greatest wins in Tennessee history. It was a game that made me wonder. Who was that guy? How did he know what the score would be? How did he suddenly disappear? I have always heard that there are ghosts in the stadium at Notre Dame, and I am convinced that I met one of them.