There has long been a connection between the Heisman Trophy and the U.S. military. Several Heisman winners have served in the armed forces, and five attended United States military academies.
Back in 1939, America was still two years away from entering World War II. Nevertheless, as the situation in Europe turned bleak, the United States government started getting its forces up to speed. Part of that effort included major public relations campaigns to encourage young men to choose the military as a career option.
The Navy Department saw young Nile Kinnick, the 1939 Heisman winner from Iowa, as the prototype for the kind of young man it wanted to recruit. During Kinnick’s stay in New York that December to collect his Heisman Trophy, the Navy hosted Kinnick on a flight around the city. On the flight, one Captain Ramsey interviewed Kinnick for a promotional radio spot to be aired in support of Naval recruiting efforts.
The irony is that after one year of law school, Kinnick really did become a Naval Aviation Cadet. Sadly, he died during one of the training missions that he had promoted years earlier when his plane crashed off the coast of Venezuela in 1943.
A dig into the archives of the Heisman Trophy revealed the original script for that radio spot, which we’ve transcribed:
(originals are embedded below)
PROPOSED RADIO DIALOGUE BETWEEN CAPTAIN RAMSEY, USN, AND MR. KINNICK, HEISMAN TROPHY WINNER, AS APPROVED BY THE BUREAU OF NAVIGATION, NAVY DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON, D.C.
Captain Ramsey – Mr. Kinnick, I congratulate you upon your splendid achievements in college football, your excellent scholastic record, and this signal honor of being selected as the recipient of the Heisman Memorial Trophy. The remarkable muscular coordination and capacity for leadership that you have so effectively displayed on the football field are equally essential in the flying of Naval airplanes. Have you ever thought that you would like to learn to fly?
Nile Kinnick – Yes, Captain Ramsey. I am interested in aviation, but have never had an opportunity to do much flying. I am certainly enjoying this flight over New York City in a Navy transport airplane. Is it possible for me to receive aviation training in the Navy?
Ramsey – Yes, the Navy is selecting a large number of college men every month for training in Naval aviation.
Kinnick – What are the requirements for this training?
Ramsey – You must be between 20 and 27 years of age and have completed two or more years of college work. You also must be able to pass the flight physical examination.
Kinnick – I am not worried about passing the physical examination.
Ramsey – No. One with your athletic record should not be concerned about a physical examination,
Kinnick – What does the course of training consist of, Captain Ramsey?
Ramsey – You will first be enlisted in the Naval Reserve in a special classification and sent to one of the thirteen Naval Reserve aviation bases for a period of thirty days.
Kinnick – Will I get a chance to do my flying during this first thirty days?
Ramsey – Yes, indeed. You will be given ten hours of instruction and if you progress satisfactorily, as I am confident you will, you will be permitted to fly solo.
Kinnick – Does this constitute the entire course?
Ramsey – Oh, no! This is just the beginning. After you complete this preliminary course, the Secretary of the Navy will designate you as a an Aviation Cadet, and you will be sent to the U.S. Naval Air Station, located at Pensacola, Florida.
Kinnick – I have heard of Pensacola. That’s a pretty large station, is it not?
Ramsey – Yes, it is the largest Naval aviation training station in the world. You will find it is a most interesting and fascinating place.
Kinnick – I imagine they have a great many airplanes there.
Ramsey – Yes, when the station is operating the air of is full of airplanes of every type: both land and sea planes, and as you go through the course prescribed for Naval Aviators, you will have the opportunity to fly all of those types.
Kinnick – This is all very interesting, Captain Ramsey, but having been in school most of my life, I am a bit concerned about any financial obligations that might be involved.
Ramsey – You would have no financial obligation whatsoever. As a matter of fact, the Navy will pay you for taking the training. Throughout the entire course you will be paid a salary, uniforms will be issued to you, and living quarters and meals furnished.
Kinnick – When I have completed the course at Pensacola, do I sill remain an aviation cadet?
Ramsey – No, you will be immediately be designated a Naval aviator and commissioned as an Ensign in the Naval Reserve.
Kinnick – I have read of the aircraft operations on the carriers at sea. Would I have a chance to observe this at Pensacola?
Ramsey – Not at Pensacola, but as soon as you receive your commission you will be ordered to one of the aircraft squadrons of the fleet where you will not only observe such operations but will take part in them yourself flying your own airplane.
Kinnick – How long will I remain with the fleet squadrons?
Ramsey – You will serve with the fleet as a commissioned officer for a period of about three years and may, if you volunteer, serve an additional four years.
Kinnick – This is all mighty interesting to me, Captain Ramsey, but you haven’t told me how to make application for the course.
Ramsey – You write to the Commandant of your Naval District, who in your case because you come from Iowa, is located at Great Lakes, Illinois. He will furnish you with detailed information and all the necessary papers. If you prefer, you could write directly to the Navy Department, Washington, D. C.
Kinnick – Thank you Captain Ramsey. I’ll get that letter off as soon as I get home.
Ramsey – You’re more than welcome, Mr. Kinnick. I’ve appreciated this opportunity to talk to you while flying over New York City. I know that you will enjoy this course of training and I am confident that you will complete it with flying colors.