In the early 1940s, Don Faurot was enjoying a successful career as the head football coach at the University of Missouri-Columbia. During the call that came for recruits to serve in World War II, he easily could have avoided military service because of his age and a physical impairment. But, only a few months after his younger brother, Robert, went missing (and was later declared killed in action) while serving with the U.S. Army Air Forces in the South Pacific, he resolved to serve his country in uniform.
“While he was growing up in Mountain Grove (Missouri), he lost two fingers on his right hand in a farming accident,” said his son-in-law, Dick Hazell. “The Navy was hesitant to take him, but he was persistent and somewhere down the line they relented.”
Commissioned a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve in St. Louis on June 18, 1943, Faurot soon said his goodbyes to his wife and three young daughters before reporting to the University of Iowa (Iowa City) as head coach for the “Seahawks”—the football team for the U.S. Navy pre-flight school. Faurot quickly embraced a game schedule that was as challenging as many he endured in previous coaching years at the University of Missouri. It did not take long for him to usher his Seahawks team to victory by utilizing many of the effective plays he had developed and refined, such as the “Split-T” formation.
“The man who removed the patches from Missouri’s football pants and guided the school into the best society is coming back,” reported the Minneapolis Star in their October 15, 1943 edition. “Last year the Tigers beat the Seahawks 7-0 on Bob Steuber’s long touchdown dash. That places Faurot in a unique position of seeking revenge for a setback he engineered himself.”
The skills he demonstrated when leading Missouri to conference titles in 1941 and 1942 helped Faurot lead the U.S. Navy Seahawks to a defeat of the Missouri Tigers with a score of 28-7. Losing only to Notre Dame by a single point, Faurot assisted the Seahawks in earning the ranking of second in the nation in 1943. A few weeks following his loss to Notre Dame, Faurot praised the Irish as the greatest team to play football and maintained their coach was the best in the game.
After Faurot’s successful season came to an end in Iowa, he received a transfer to Monmouth College in Illinois. The Johnson City Press (Johnson City, Tennessee) wrote on January 19, 1944 that he “will have charge of physical training at the Monmouth (Navy) Pre-Flight School.”
At the time of his appointment at Monmouth College, it remained uncertain whether Faurot would return to coach the Iowa Seahawks in the fall. However, in late summer 1944, the Navy announced Faurot’s transfer to Jacksonville, Florida, to coach the football team for the naval air station located there. Sometime during this period, Faurot received the disheartening news that his younger brother, Major Robert Faurot, was no longer considered missing in action and was now presumed dead by the War Department.
By early summer 1944, the Navy officially announced that Faurot would not be returning to Iowa Pre-flight; instead, the position was given Lt. Commander Jack Meagher—a former Notre Dame player who had played a year of professional football for the Chicago Bears and, more recently, was head coach for Auburn. Several weeks later, a Naval release stated “Faurot (will) soon take charge of the Jacksonville (Florida) naval air station team,” reported the Tampa Tribune on August 31, 1944. The naval station team, known as the “Jacksonville Fliers,” played admirably, but did not enjoy the success that their coach had delivered the previous year, ending the season with four wins and three losses.
The following year, the war came to an end and Faurot was assigned to the commissioning detail as the athletic officer aboard the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat noted that Faurot would remain in the Navy for a short time to accrue enough points to qualify for discharge.
Dick Hazell, who later married Faurot’s oldest daughter, Jane, explained, “While on the Roosevelt, he would take the sailors out on deck of the ship to do their calisthenics.”
News of his release from the U.S. Navy was not long in coming when he returned to Columbia in late November 1945 to take back the reigns of coaching the Missouri Tigers. Shortly after his return from the service, tragedy struck when his newborn son died on December 27, 1945.
The former sailor was head football coach for MU until 1956, followed by several years as the university’s athletic director. He received induction into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 1953 and the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1961. Perhaps his greatest moment was having Faurot Field at the university named in his honor in 1972. In 1995, Faurot passed away at the esteemed age of 93 and lies at rest alongside his wife and son in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Hannibal. Dick Hazell explained that his father-in-law, though known for his football career, was proud of the opportunity to have served his country in a time of war.
“He and all three of his brothers served during the war,” said Hazell. “And his patriotism shows by the fact that although he did not have to serve because of the loss of his fingers, he wanted to do his part … especially after the loss of his younger brother.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.