It’s October 5, 1941.
In just three days, the defending Southwest Conference Football Champions will be playing NYU in The House that Ruth Built. You want to be there, but there are no funds for trains or buses.
What’s a poor Aggie to do?
The answer is “find a way.”
If you are Kyle Drake, Class of 1943, your way is found by walking outside and hanging your thumb in the wind.
Three days, 1,650 miles and one date with a Pittsburgh gal later, Kyle was in Yankee Stadium cheering the Aggies to a 49-7 victory over the Violets (yes, they are really called the Violets.)
It was his twentieth birthday.
One night in the Hotel New Yorker and it was time to head home. Kyle grabbed a sign from the lobby, probably used to show attending Aggies where to catch the bus to the game the previous day.
He walked outside to the corner of 8th Avenue and W 35th and held up his sign.
On the journey back to College Station, Kyle used his sign and sort of a travel diary, writing things like:
“Beat NY 49 – 7”
“Had Aggie get together after the ballgame”
“Visited Several Points in New York”
“Saw old Dookie Pugh” (Quarterback of the Aggies 1939 National Championship team, then playing for the Giants)
“Saw Times Square – pretty nifty way to get the news! And NYU – Aggie football score flashed on!”
“Northern Gals Ain’t So Good Looking”
“Stood on corner in Washington DC with this sign. I’d say 5,000 people saw it – not bad advertising, I’ll say!”
“Looked Washington over but didn’t see old F.D.R.”
“Saw Alabama University campus – it’s a beaut!”
“Someone up there said that North won the war – just goes to show you how stupid Damn Yankees are!” (Yes, that’s an Aggie Joke.)
“Traveled thru Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Dist. of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York”
“Hitched all alone!”
“6 days for a round trip!”
Kyle had accomplished his mission with skill and efficiency. And his hitchhiking sign made a heck of a souvenir.
Kyle Drake was an animal husbandry major. I would like to tell you about how he went back to Laredo and took over his daddy’s ranch. How he begat three more generations of Drakes and the old place is still in their hands. How I had the chance to meet him before he passed and heard all about his journey from his own lips.
I want to tell you that, but I can’t. Because what really happened is this:
On March 6, 1945, 2d Lt. Kyle N. Drake, Jr., USMC, was killed in action on Hill 362A, the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting on Iwo Jima.
During my research on Kyle Drake’s wartime corps cadet boots, hitchhiking sign and other ephemera, I was contacted by Steve McCloud, who was writing a history of Drake’s rifle company. McCloud informed me that Lt. Drake’s Gunny, as well as his Commanding and Executive Officers were still living. And after a war and 70 years of living, they still remembered our green Aggie lieutenant.
Drake had only been with the company a month before Iwo Jima, after all. Not much time to make that kind of lasting impression. But he did.
I asked Mr. McCloud if he might pass on a respectful request to Drake’s CO and XO on my behalf – I wanted to know the manner of Kyle’s death. I’d pieced together a fair account of his life up until his last moment on this earth, and I craved some sense of closure about how he exited the scene.
In no time at all, I had my answer. Steve had kindly dashed off his response from memory, having heard several firsthand accounts of Kyle’s death from those who watched it. I read the first few lines at ease. Then my stiff upper lip went to hell in a handbasket.
“6 March. They’re beyond Hill 382, punching into the corridors and crags that characterized NE Iwo Jima. It’s a bad day all around for Fox Company, and [they] lose several NCO’s and others. Drake has a few guys scouting across an open area between cliffs and boulders, and a couple of guys are lying out there hit and have to be retrieved under fire. They manage, but the group is pinned down by a sniper…The Lieutenant stands to try to direct them out of there and is shot through the jugular. [He] died amongst his small group of Marines there with him.”
Just like so many men of his generation, Kyle Drake knew that fatal split second on March 6 was a very real probability. He didn’t let that deter him. Though he lacked combat experience and wisdom, he hit the ground running…true to form for a Texan, an Aggie and a United States Marine.
Rushed through Officer Candidate School then sent on his journey to Iwo, he had around 6 weeks to prepare. I challenge you to learn a new job inside & out in 6 weeks. Know your co-workers’ strengths and weaknesses…then perform that job while being shot at by people who want you dead. He may not have had experience, but he damn sure had leadership.
A member of Drake’s platoon – a seasoned veteran of all of F-2-23’s previous operations said of our boy: “…but I’ll tell ya, I got a lot of respect for that guy too because he got right into it. He was on top of it all the time. He wasn’t knowledgeable. He didn’t have the training. But he was a good man though. He was right in there. He didn’t lay back…”
That’s a hefty helping of respect to earn from a war-hardened man.
Though his life was brief & military career even more so, Lt. Drake made a lasting impression on the men with whom he served. The youngest Marine in Fox Company for most of WWII – the company radioman – held Kyle in such high esteem that he named his own boy Kyle Drake in honor of his fallen comrade.
Six days earlier he had been cited for valor. The citation read, in part:
“With complete disregard for his own safety, and despite heavy mortar and machine gun fire, he reorganized his unit, which had become disorganized as a result of the heavy enemy fire, and moved it forward to fulfill his mission in an amazingly short period of time…On this occasion and through this most difficult operation, his tactics, skill and cool efficiency were principal factors in the success of his unit. His conduct at all times was a source of inspiration to his men.”
Lt. Drake, and the thousands upon thousands who have made the same sacrifice, that their journeys end so that our national journey may continue, should at all times be an inspiration to us.
May our conduct in the enjoyment of the freedom they died to protect be worthy of their sacrifice.