The Mosquito Bowl | Buzz Bissinger

Summary of: The Mosquito Bowl: A Game of Life and Death in World War II
By: Buzz Bissinger


The Mosquito Bowl: A Game of Life and Death in World War II by Buzz Bissinger is a captivating tale of resilience, dreams, and the harsh realities faced by immigrants and World War II soldiers. The book follows the life of Blaz Butkovich and his sons, focusing on Tony Butkovich’s inspiring journey from a small town in Illinois to playing college football and eventually joining the U.S. Marine Corps. The narrative takes readers through the athletes’ experiences in the military, focusing on the Mosquito Bowl – a football match held on Guadalcanal between two military regiments loaded with former college football players. Bissinger weaves together unforgettable stories of struggle, sportsmanship, and heroism during wartime, providing valuable insights into the impact of World War II on American families.

From Croatian Coal Mine to American Football Glory

Blaz Butkovich’s journey from Croatia to Illinois coal country and his son’s rise to fame in American football during World War II.

Blaz Butkovich left behind his small Croatian hometown in 1904 and landed in coal country in Illinois. Despite the brutal conditions in the coal mines and America’s anti-immigrant sentiment, Butkovich and his wife found support from families of different nationalities in their neighborhood. Their seven sons all played sports, and Tony Butkovich became a three-sport legend in high school.

Although Tony initially struggled in college, the landscape of football changed with the V-12 Navy College Training Program, and he eventually found his footing at Purdue University. He led the team in scoring and yards and broke the Big 10 conference scoring record in his final college game before joining the Marines during World War II.

Butkovich was selected as the No. 11 overall pick in the 1944 NFL Draft, but he failed the academic portion of his officer exams. However, the Marines used him as a recruiting tool, and before shipping off to the Pacific, Butkovich and 10 other college football stars turned Marines posed in uniform for a public relations photo titled, “Grid Greats on Uncle Sam’s Team.”

Blaz Butkovich and his son Tony’s journey from a tiny Croatian hometown to American football glory is a classic story of immigrant perseverance.

The Story of Patriots

This captivating book explores the struggles and achievements of four college football stars who became Marines in World War II. The trio of Midwesterners – Tony Butkovich, Dave Schreiner, and Bob Bauman – trained together at Quantico. John McLaughry, the privileged son of a Brown University coach, joined the Marines after frustration with Army bureaucracy fast-tracked him to a pitiful training facility that was segregated. Montford Point in Jacksonville, North Carolina was where black Marines were sent to train, and their duties revolved around serving white soldiers. Racism, brutality and murder were commonplace. However, McLaughry saw potential and recognized the intelligence, talent and ambition of the black men. A story of patriotism, the book highlights how Tony Butkovich channeled his athletic skills to laying down mines and removing obstacles on Pacific islands, John McLaughry gave black Marines a voice, and Dave Schreiner selflessly gave his life to save others in the Iwo Jima battle. The book celebrates these four patriots whose stories of self-sacrifice, resilience, and dedication to duty against overwhelming odds continue to inspire generations.

The Cost of Learning: Lessons from the US Military During World War II

The United States Military faced several hurdles during World War II, including disorganized bureaucracy, institutional racism, and strategic challenges. One such challenge was the “island hopping” technique, which was crucial to reaching Japan. However, the Marines’ untested and unsound methods resulted in disastrous consequences on the tiny islet of Betio in the Tarawa atoll. This operation saw thousands of American Marines suffer over 3,100 casualties and nearly 1,000 deaths in less than 72 hours.

The Marines learned from their mistakes and improved their amphibious assault technique, using the lessons from Tarawa to develop a strategy with fewer casualties. This allowed them to cross into enemy territory, with Lieutenant John McLaughry leading the way. On the island of Bougainville, he and a group of seven men trudged through harsh jungle terrain and encountered unexpected run-ins with other Marines. Their gear fell apart, and they were even mistaken for dead.

Despite the challenges, McLaughry went on to be reassigned to the 4th Regiment and prepare for more Pacific invasions. During this time, he and his fellow Marines, Schreiner and Bauman, began planning the Mosquito Bowl, inspired by the football team they could field. This gripping story exemplifies the costs and lessons learned during World War II.

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