The words “Dedicated To The Men And Women Of The Armed Services” are proudly displayed on Soldier Field, and while the Chicago Bears have had several players serve their country in the United States Military, there has only been one Bears player that was killed in action, Ruey Young Bussey.
Before the 1942 season, and moments after he finished playing in the annual Chicago College All-Star Game, Young Bussey informed his head coach, George Halas, that he was going to enlist to fight in World War II. The next day he joined the Naval Reserve, and soon thereafter he was sent to Officer Candidate School.
Bussey achieved the rank of Lieutenant (Junior Grade), and was eventually assigned to the USS Warren, which was an attack transport in the Pacific Theater. From a geographical standpoint, this was the largest Theater of the War. He served on 10 different missions, including 1944’s Battle of Guam for which he received a commendation from the commander of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, Admiral Raymond A. Spruance. Bussey served as an assistant beachmaster during that assault, but he was promoted to head beachmaster for their upcoming Invasion of Lingayen Gulf in the Philippines.
That would be Bussey’s eleventh and final mission.
Bussey was killed in action on January 7, 1945 at 27-years old when a mortar hit the landing craft he and his men were on. He was busy rocking the craft free from a coral reef and directing his men to swim to shore when the vessel was struck.
Most of the crew were rescued, but Bussey’s body was never recovered.
The Bears made Bussey a 20th round draft pick in 1940 after a stellar career at LSU, where he led the Tigers in both rushing and passing in 1937 and led them in passing in 1938. That 1940 draft netted the Bears several key players including Clyde “Bulldog” Turner and Bussey’s LSU teammate Ken Kavanaugh.
Bussey spent his first year assigned to the Newark Bears, which was a minor league team in the American Association that Halas owned. Part of the assignment could have had to do with his brash declaration to Halas that he intended to beat out Sid Luckman at quarterback, which came shortly after Halas shut down an interview that Bussey was giving to a Chicago reporter. ”Rooks don’t give interviews unless they’re cleared by me,” Halas said.
Bussey made the best of his time in Newark by leading the AA in passing as a rookie.
With Luckman still QB1 for Chicago, Bussey earned a spot on the Bears in 1941, and while he did get to play some at quarterback, he mostly played defense that season.
While he only played one year with the Bears, he made the most of his 1941 season by being named an All Star and helping the Bears win a Championship, but his achievements on the gridiron pale in comparison to his heroic deeds while in service of our country.
For more on Young Bussey you can check out Ralph B. Cushman’s book about him, Young Bussey Young Stud: An All American Legend, and this bio from Tiger Den Archives is full of a bunch of info about his life.