By Ron Keurajian
“A man’s legacy, unlike the man, need not be buried. It can be kept alive by the memories of family and friends,” writes Bob D’Angelo in his new book, Never Fear, the Life & Times of Forest K. Ferguson Jr. (Lulu.com, 2015). It is a biography of a little-known but truly great football player (and war hero) whose life was cut short by the hand of World War II. An award-winning journalist, D’Angelo is the longtime sports copy editor for the Tampa Tribune.
Football is a game deeply woven into the fabric of America. It reminds many of their college days and the crisp weather of autumn. Many a warm memory is stirred by collegiate sports. Many legendary names are associated with college football, among them are Red Grange, Knute Rockne, Tom Harmon and Byron White. Forest Ferguson, on the other hand, is a name that few have heard of, at least outside of Stuart, Fla.
The story of Ferguson is one that needs to be told. It is tale of football, The Great Depression, patriotism and down-home family values (something sorely lacking in today’s world). The book is as much about World War II as it is about football and a man who paid the ultimate price in the defense of his country.
Forest King Ferguson Jr. was born June 21, 1919, in Jacksonville, Fla. Shortly thereafter his family moved to Stuart. As the author points out, Stuart was a small, close-knit, community where everybody knew everybody. Like most boys at that time, “Fergie,” as he was nicknamed, gravitated toward sports. He got his first taste of organized football at Stuart High School, where he dominated the junior gridiron. Many fans and local sports writers took notice. It was a time of economic hardship; America was in the depths of the Depression. D’Angelo’s writing style draws the reader in. His vivid descriptions bring to life the hard times of the 1930s.
Ferguson placed his mark on football history while playing for the University of Florida from 1939-41. During his tenure, he set countless university records, many of which stood until the 1960s. During his senior season, Fergie made the first-team of the Southeastern Conference. Fergie was only the second player from the University of Florida to make All-American. He was a hot prospect for many pro teams.
Ferguson graduated in 1942, and he was well on his way to the NFL. But . . .
“Under normal circumstances,” D’Angelo writes, “players like Ferguson . . . would be considered prime candidates for the NFL draft. But 1942 was not a normal year.” War raged and duty called. Ferguson answered that call and enlisted on June 3, 1942. He ended up with the 116th Infantry Regiment and played a key role in D-Day. Ferguson was in the first wave of troops that stormed Normandy’s Omaha Beach.
In a chapter titled “The Bowels of Hell,” D’Angelo gives a detailed and graphic description of that day on Omaha Beach. The book brings to life the horrors of war in a gut-wrenching, and sometimes gory, fashion. Ferguson took the lead in charging the beach. He didn’t make it. No sooner did the advance begin was Ferguson hit. He took shrapnel to the head. Though he didn’t die, he remained in a coma for months. That day left Ferguson with a severe brain injury from which he never fully recovered. With motor skills severely impaired, Ferguson went back home to Stuart. The final chapters detail Ferguson’s struggle with everyday life. Some of the pages will bring you to tears; they did for me. In the years after the war, his health declined. In December 1953, cerebral infection landed Ferguson in the hospital. He slipped into a coma shortly thereafter. He never recovered. On May 15, 1954, Forest K. Ferguson Jr. died of complications from influenza. He was only 34 years old. His struggle came to an end.
I was so pleased that this little known story of heroism and patriotism has been told so that others will know the story of this great man. This book is a must-read. D’Angelo should be congratulated for telling this story of a true American hero.
Never Fear is available on Amazon.com for $15.95. If you would like a signed copy, you can contact the author directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Add this book to your sports library. It will prove a significant addition.
Ron Keurajian is a long-time contributor to SCD and the author of the SABR award-winning book “Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs – A Reference Guide” (McFarland Publishing 2012).