Saturday, April 19, 2014

U.S. Cavalry Fighters Are Going To Play Polo !

First Polo Clubs
In England, the first polo match was organized by Captain Edward "Chicken" Hartopp, of the British Cavalry 10th Hussars, on Hounslow Heath in 1869. However,  one year earlier in 1868, a detachment of this regiment had played a practice game near Limerick. By the 1870's, the sport of polo was well established in England.

In 1876, James Gordon Bennett, a noted American publisher, introduced the sport of polo to New York City. He organized the first polo match in the United States at Dickel's Riding Academy at 39th Street and Fifth Avenue.

In the spring of 1876, a group of polo players established the first formal American polo club, the Westchester Polo Club, at the Jerome Park race track in New York.

In 1877, Thomas Hitchcock Sr., Oliver W. Bird, August Belmont, Benjamin Nicoll, and their associates participated in the first polo match on Long Island. The polo match was played on the infield of the racetrack of the Mineola Fair Grounds.

Within ten years, there were numerous polo clubs on Long Island. Over the next 50 years, the sport of polo achieved tremendous popularity in the United States.

It was in 1892 that the the 4th Cavalry Regiment organized the first regimental polo club in Washington state, Horsemanship became synonymous with leadership, and polo was an efficient way to train soldiers and officers in the art of war. At Fort Riley, Kansas, Army polo was being played in full force by 1896. Cow ponies were bought for $15 a head and teams were assembled, schooled and sent on the road to compete against other teams in Fort Benning, Georgia, Fort Bliss and Kelly Field in Texas, Fort Douglas, Utah, Fort Monroe, Virginia, and the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Popularity amongst the offiers was such that the Army Polo Association became a part of the United States Polo Association in 1902, and subsequently in 1914 there was polo being played at seventeen Army stations.

From 1900 to 1936, polo was an Olympic sport. In 1920 an Army Team was fielded and represented the United States in the Olympic Games at Antwerp, with the American squad emerging bronze medalists behind the United Kingdom’s British Army gold medal winners. United Kingdom teams were the international polo powers of the time and were medalists for five Olympiads held before the Second World War. In 1936 polo was officially dropped from the Olympic Games. It must be remembered that in fact, until the cavalry was disbanded in 1948, every single U.S. equestrian Olympic team was made up of members of the cavalry or U.S. Army equestrian team; civilians were not invited to take part until the Helsinki games in 1952, the same year women were first allowed to compete in Olympic equestrian events.

"U.S. cavalry fighters are going to play polo
in order to obtain poise in the saddle."

The experiences of US Army polo in the Philippines tell an illustrative tale.

William Cameron Forbes was an American investment banker and diplomat. During the administration of President Howard Taft, he served as Governor-General of the Philippines from 1908 to 1913. Among his passions was the game of Polo; so much so that he bought a tract of land along Manila Bay out of his personal funds and donated it to the incorporators of the Manila Polo Club which opened in November of 1909.

Forbes wrote regular articles in polo magazines abroad and soon, the Manila Polo Club’s reputation as a premier polo institution quickly spread around the world. Cameron Forbes’ book “As To Polo”. An outgrowth of that book was, “A Manual of Polo” written in 1910. It became a popular text and was utilized by the U.S. Army 14th Cavalry.

Rivalry between the Polo Club and the military always drew crowds. Among overseas officers, polo appears to have assumed the status of a distinct subculture, equal to that of boxing among enlisted men. By the 1920s the army in the Philipines boasted eight polo teams and participated in a six-month season in which matches often were played three times a week.

Forts McKinley and Stotsenberg and the “Carabao Wallow Hunt and Polo Club” at Nichols Field each had their own field and stable; officers brought their polo ponies with them and there was keen interest in breeding with European and Australian stock.
Tournaments were held in February and May of each year and played for the Far Eastern, Wood, and Langhorne Cups.
 Source: Guardians of Empire: The U.S. Army and the Pacific, 1902-1940, Brian McAllister Linn.

‘Black Jack’ Pershing, General of the Armies during World War I, invited the British Army to a series of matches in 1923 and '25. All horses used in play were required to be owned by officers on the active list or the property of the United States War Department.

“The United States Army polo team swept everything before it yesterday on International Field, Meadow Brook Club, Westbury, L.I., and captured the third and deciding game for the world’s military championship from Great Britain, 10-3. There is no superlative to describe the efforts of the United States representatives. Pitted against a team rated nearly twice as strong as individuals and which was mounted on far superior ponies, the Americans won simply by their own determined will to conquer and an ability to play together as a unit.”
New York Times, September 19, 1923

The back story to the 1923 US Cavalry victory over the British is informative
With the tournament against the British scheduled for September, tryouts for the U.S. Army team were held at Mitchel Field, New York in June of 1923. The Army Air Corps had a Polo center there at the air field, complete with stables, hospital, barracks, feed storage, enclosed playing field and practice grounds.

The four players selected to represent the Army consisted of  two prominent cavalry officers. Major Arthur H. “Jingles” Wilson, a 6th Cavalry Medal of Honor recipient from “knocking out the Moros” in 1909 was appointed “Captain of the Team”, and Major John K. Herr, a highly rated five-goal player who became the last Army Chief of Cavalry in 1938

The other two team members were Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Brown, Jr. and Major Louis A. Beard. The British were heavily favored to win, as their players were rated 14 goals than the U.S. team. The game was played ‘On the Level” and the US team was not granted any goals by handicap.

The U.S. Army Team was quick off the mark, preparation for the match with the English took precedence over all other duties. They spent the summer of 1923 playing in a variety of tournaments on the east coast, they were victorious at the U.S. Junior Championship before the British of the UK Army Team got off the boat. The British hit the beach on the 24th of August, bringing with them 25 first class horses and groom. Arriving when they did, gave the Red Coats a full three weeks for their mounts to acclimate and for them to prepare. Being that there were Olympic Gold Medalists on the team, the British the odds were weighted towards them to gain the upper hand and emerge victorious from the three matches that would be played at the “Yankee Stadium of polo,” the prestigious Meadow Brook Club in Westbury, Long Island.
It was an era when polo was a major spectator sport and the results of the polo matches were regularly reported on the sports pages of national papers and attendance at the games would often exceed those of both tennis and golf in overall numbers.

The Red Coats came with first rate horsemen, bringing experienced polo playing officers from lancer and hussar regiments of the British Army. They were the ream of the rop, being selected to participate in the forth coming international tournament. Lieutenant Colonel T.P. Melvill of the team had only one major concern about coming to the United States, Prohibition.

“…it is forbidden by law to drink, gamble or bet…I did all these things in the greatest luxury and comfort within forty-eight hours of my arrival.”

The visiting Brits were made welcome in the homes of the  prominent polo families to include the famous Tommy Hitchcock, a dashing figure who was the highest rated player of the day and who, it has been said, provided a foundational character for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby.

The Tournament was a best of three series and the riders rode onto thefirst match on 12 September 1923. There were 10,000 spectators gathered at Meadow Brook Club to watch the action. It took only thirty seconds for the Brits to score after the first throw in. The US players were not intimidated, but like John Paul Jones had just begun to fight, riding hard the US Army rode on to an an upset, a 10-7 victory. Team Captain Wilson leading while, according to the NY Times, 

“Herr and Beard…stroking splendidly, saving many points by their courage in checking the British attack.”

Secretary of War Weeks, and “officers and buck privates” in the stands celebrated the victory, as the Americans at a gallop style of play seemed to baffle the slower moving British. (Washington Post)
It was just four days later when the Red Coats managed a 12-10 win against the American officers with “Black Jack” Pershing and the U.S. Military Academy First Class watching from the sidelines on that fateful Saturday. The British win set the stage for the third and final match, at which who had the bragging rights for the the first International Military Polo Championship would be determined
 It was on the 18th of September that Major Herr wrote home saying,  
“Today we must do battle with our backs against the wall,” before mounting up on his string of polo horses, Liggett, Starlight, Meld and Spaghetti to ride against the British.

The US team continued to ride hard and played with a hurry up offensive style, pushing to score quickly, before their horses were spent. Herr and Brown each scored four goals, becoming the the offensive stars of the team., It turned out to be a great day for the US Cavalry, out scoring the Red Coats, 10-3, in a decisive victory over the best the British had to offer. The unexpected victory was complete and cups presented to the winning team by famous polo player Devereux Milburn and the Secretary of War.

The New York Times afterwards in analyzing the tournament identified the winning key components of the U.S. Army Team “as speed, intensity and team work,” traits that many officers later also identified as values of the sport. 

While newspaper sports writers were struggling to the proper superlatives for the US triumph over the British, the effect upon the U.S. Army was immediate, The Cavalry Journal wrote ... 

“We are continuing to justify the War Department policy of promoting polo.”

The sports popularity amongst officers increased substantially. With the USPA reporting that an additional 244 officers joined the handicap rolls with nearly forty per cent of all rated players being Army officers.

The game became so popular that in 1928 there was polo being played at forty-seven Army posts scattered across the continental United States and in the territories of the Philippines, Hawaii and the Canal Zone. 

Members of the 10th Cavalry polo team at Fort Huachuca in 1925. From left to right: 1st Lieut.J6hn H. Healy, Major Frank K. Chapin, Lieut. Halley C. Maddox, Capt. Taylor, Lieut. George C. Clausen, 1st Lieut. Kirk Broaddus. Photo courtesy Mrs. Kirk Broaddus.

It was during the 1930s that there were 1,500 polo players in the US military. This number greatly exceeded the number of civilians that participated at the sport. All these polo playing soldiers needed horses, and that's where the Army remount service came in. provided a valuable resource-not only to the military but to the sport in general as well. The remount service began around 1912 and supplied horses for the Army from four main military installations, in Virginia, Oklahoma, Nebraska and California. The Quartermaster Corps acted as purchasing agents for the Army and would meet any demand made for horses. The remount depots also became involved in a country-wide breeding program for the Army horses.
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When the National Intercollegiate Polo Association was formed, two of the six original were military schools-Pennsylvania Military Academy and West Point. West Point's last team, the Black Knights, played in 1946.

The 1939-1940 polo season was, perhaps, one of the greatest for polo at PMC. Under the guidance of Coach Carl Schaubel, ’30, considered at the time to be the best polo coach in the country, the team of Jim Spurrier ‘40, Emery Hickman ‘40 and “Bud” Maloney ‘41 excelled. Jim Spurrier was the sparkplug of the team. Bud Maloney formed the spearhead on attack, and Emory Hickman constantly retrieved the ball, feeding it to Spurrier and Maloney. Following the completion of a successful regular season, the PMC team once again played in the Intercollegiate Polo Tournament. They beat Harvard and West Point, but were defeated by Princeton in the Championship game. After graduation, these men, along with William Dudley ’42, a sophomore and another member of the polo team, were again teamed together in the 1st Cavalry Division. Three of these polo players distinguished themselves in action and earned Silver Star Medals for their leadership and heroism.

Oklahoma Military Academy
By 1930, OMA’s enrollment was nearing 300, ten times the size of the first class 11 years earlier. That same year, the school got a Reserve Officer Training Corps (R.O.T.C.) cavalry program, with the federal government sending 60 horses and 11 enlisted men to the Hill.

Oklahoma Military Academy Flying Cadets
The cavalry program gave birth to a polo team, which quickly became one of the best in the nation. In a famous 1934 event, sponsored by Will Rogers, the OMA Flying Cadets beat the Stanford University squad twice in a row, following a train trip that carried the Claremore riders and their steeds to the West Coast.

Value of the Sport
Polo is a dangerous game; that being one of the sport's attractions for young, energetic officers. An Army officer was killed while playing at the Meadow Brook Club in 1931. The Cavalry Journal reported a minor accident or fall rate of some 71 per cent for officers who were questioned in a survey of four tournaments. Concussions and head injuries were not uncommon, with exceptionally aggressive players such as Patton suffering numerous head injuries. You have to be tough to play polo.

Major George S. Patton Jr., head of the 1922 Army Team that won the Junior Championship, commented in an article that

“The virtue of polo as a military accomplishment rests on the following: it makes a man think fast while he is excited; it reduces his natural respect for his own safety - that is, makes him bold; it ... teach[es] restraint under exciting circumstances ... nearest to mounted combat; makes riding worthwhile; keeps a man hard ... [and] teach[es] better horse management.”

Also Lucian K. Truscott, who went on to become one of WW II’s most highly regarded Army commanders, always credited the sport with helping to develop a successful commander’s qualities. Polo’s hard riding intensity at times was indeed similar to combat. In fact, one of reasons Truscott, the chief architect of the Army Ranger concept in early 1942, was chosen for this role by Eisenhower was his well-known abilities with the sport.

Reports from the Army Polo Association described the sport as a “vital professional asset,” that improved players’ aggressiveness, decision making skills, teamwork and physical fitness.

Finally, a review of rosters from the period lists a significant number of notable Army division, corps and army commanders who went onto achieve prominence both before and during the Second World War. A review of APA officers with a recorded handicap during the interwar period includes such renowned Army leaders as Herr, Chaffee, Patton, Truscott, Wainwright, Simpson, Gerhardt, Devers, Allen, Harmon, Holbrook, and Swift.
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