March 4, 1945 - ND HB was KIA on Iwo Jima

By Olson

PFC George Birmingham USMC, star HB on the 1942 Notre Dame freshmen football team from Sioux City, Iowa was killed in action on Iwo Jima. According to the "Notre Dame Alumnus" magazine, Birmingham had 'participated in the original landing on that island, Feb.19, and took part in the fiercest of the fighting on the beaches.' Two weeks later, March 2nd, George wrote his parents from his foxhole on Iwo, stating that he was 'all right so far' but that 'things are breaking tough'. Birmingham was killed 3 days later.

George Birmingham had been an all state football and basketball star at Trinity HS in Sioux City, IA. George was initially recruited to Notre Dame by local sportswriter Ed Lalley (an ND alum) - who brought George and fellow Trinity HB Mike Noonan to the attention of ND Coach Frank Leahy. (Noonan also was a member of the '42 ND frosh football team).

In 1942, Notre Dame had yet to adopt the 'freshmen eligibility rule' that other schools had gone to(ND finally adopting the rule beginning in 1943). Freshmen were allowed to play varsity sports due to manpower issues created by the War. Instead, the '42 Irish fielded a separate Freshmen squad - Birmingham was a starting Halfback on that frosh team that included backfield mates Johnny Lujack QB and Emil Sitko HB.

From a "Notre Dame Scholastic Magazine" article dated 4/20/95:

"George unbelievably talented athlete with an impish, engaging Irish personality....Following his freshman year (when freshman teams played their own schedule) George could no long resist the tug of patriotism and a young man's curiosity about war, so he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He could have stayed on campus in an officers training program but was in a hurry to get to the war."

Birmingham would have continued in V-12 officer training had he stayed at ND and likely would have played on the 1943 Irish National Champion squad before shipping out as an officer (similar to classmate Lujack). Instead George died on Iwo Jima.

Upon hearing of Birmingham's death, a very sad Coach Leahy wrote sportswriter Lalley - 'if George Birmingham had returned from the war, his gridiron exploits would have created a legend rivaling that of George Gipp."

Birmingham was one of two Notre Dame football player to die on Iwo Jima. Jack Chevigny (former player and Irish assistant) had been killed early on in the fighting (the initial ND Scholastic report said Jack was KIA on the second day, but Chevigny's tombstone says 'Feb. 19th'-the 1st day).

This report tells of Birmingham's death down the page (after an earlier report of an older brother of George being wounded himself in combat).

Keywords: world war ii, george birmingham, iwo jima, ed lalley, frank leahy, mike noonan, johnny lujack, emil sitko, george gipp, jack chevigny

Posted On: 2015-04-02 00:25:02 by Olson


      Were you there? Have more to add? Leave a comment and let us know!

   Posted By: Milutkaa21 at 2017-06-11 04:38:55[#2]
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   Posted By: Willie at 2017-04-17 19:42:18[#1]
As a former resident of South Bend and Sioux City, I took a great interest in this story.

This link below also has some fine newspaper stories intersecting with this posting. It also includes a picture of George.

Eternal rest grant unto +George Grover Birmingham, oh Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace!
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