On National Medal of Honor Day (March 25), Baylor Remembers WWII Heroes Kane and Lummus
- Lt. Jack Lummus's memorial lamppost stands tall near Rosenbalm Fountain in the heart of the Baylor campus. (Carl Flynn/Baylor Libraries)
- Col. John R. Kane and Lt. Jack Lummus are enshrined in Baylor's Ring of Honor, prominently located outside of Pat Neff Hall on Founders Mall.
- The Medals of Honor and citations of both Col. John R. Kane and Lt. Jack Lummus are prominently displayed on the Wall of Honor inside the Letterwinners Lounge at McLane Stadium.
WACO, Texas (March 24, 2017) – Baylor University can count among its thousands of alumni many who could be regarded as heroes – from missionaries, teachers, doctors and nurses to members of the U.S. Armed Forces who served faithfully and heroically in defense of freedom.
On March 25, America commemorates the 3,498 individuals who were bestowed the Medal of Honor – the nation’s highest award for valor in action against an enemy force – on National Medal of Honor Day.
Among those Medal of Honor recipients are Col. John R. Kane, B.A. ’28, and Lt. Jack Lummus, B.S.Ed. ’41, two former Baylor student-athletes who received the honor for their heroics in World War II. Baylor is distinctive among nonmilitary colleges and universities in the United States to have two former student-athletes receive the Medal of Honor.
Today, their valor resonates visibly throughout the Baylor campus. Both men’s medals and citations are prominently displayed on the Wall of Honor inside the Letterwinners Lounge at McLane Stadium. Kane and Lummus are enshrined in Baylor’s Ring of Honor, located outside Pat Neff Hall on Founders Mall.
“Because John Kane’s life was spared in the 1927 bus-train wreck in Round Rock, he was able to be a heroic leader on August 1, 1943,” said Todd Copeland, B.A. ’90, Ph.D., author of The Immortal Ten: The Definitive Account of the 1927 Tragedy and Its Legacy at Baylor University. “On that day, he served as commander of a B-24 bombardment group that struck Nazi oil refineries in Ploiesti, Romania. When the mission went awry, he was instrumental in saving nine of the 47 planes under his command."
Lummus, who died in battle on Iwo Jima, also is remembered for his supreme sacrifice on one of the more than 140 memorial lampposts that weave through the Baylor campus. Each lamppost bears a plaque commemorating a Baylor student who was killed in service. Lummus’s red granite post stands tall near Rosenbalm Fountain in the heart of campus.
“For all Americans who died while in the service of their county, we cannot forget that they lived, they mattered, they loved and they were loved,” wrote Frank J. Jasek, B.B.A. ’73, a book preservationist and library information specialist in the Baylor Libraries in the preface of his book Soldiers of the Wooden Cross: Military Memorials of Baylor University. The book provides information, stories and photos on each of the men and women memorialized by the lampposts. All but one attended Baylor.
“(Like Lt. Jack Lummus) they represent all who answered the higher call to serve this country. Knowing the risk, they stepped forward (but0 they did not return,” Jasek wrote.
About Col. John R. Kane
Son of a Baptist minister, Col. John R. Kane came to Baylor with the goal of becoming a doctor. He played football and basketball at Baylor and was one of 12 survivors of the tragic 1927 bus-train crash that claimed the lives of the University’s revered “Immortal Ten.” He graduated from Baylor in 1928.
In August 1943, as World War II was entering its fourth year, Allied forces knew they had to strike at the petroleum reserves that were fueling the Nazi military.
As a daring air raid was planned, the man charged to lead the highly dangerous operation was Kane, widely considered to be the best pilot and toughest commander in the Air Corps.
On Aug. 1, 1943, Kane led what at the time was the deadliest air battle in history – a low-level, long-range bombing raid on Hitler's oil-refining complex in Ploesti, Romania. The site supplied the Nazis with oil for their operations in eastern Europe, and its location deep in the Romanian mountains was heavily guarded and heavily fortified.
Clouds hampered the air raid, and although Kane’s element became separated from the others, he led a successful attack against a prepared Nazi defense in Operation Tidal Wave.
For his “conspicuous gallantry in action and intrepidity at the risk of life above the call of duty,” Kane was awarded the nation’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor, on Aug. 9, 1943. Four others were also awarded the medal – three posthumously – making the raid the most highly decorated single engagement in the nation’s history.
Kane died in 1996 and was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
About Lt. Jack Lummus
Before joining the military and fighting in World War II, Lt. Jack Lummus made his mark on the Baylor campus as a stellar athlete — but even that almost didn’t happen. In the midst of the Great Depression, Lummus dropped out of high school to help support his family when their cotton farm in Ennis (70 miles north of Waco) struggled. But he eventually returned to finish high school and earn an athletic scholarship to Baylor, where he distinguished himself as a versatile athlete. Lummus played football, baseball and basketball for the Bears, earning recognition as both an All-Southwest Conference defensive end and as a three-time All-SWC center fielder.
After his time at Baylor, he played both minor league baseball and then professional football, signing with the NFL’s New York Giants in 1941. He played in nine games as a rookie, but that year would prove to be his last. On Dec. 7, after a game against the Brooklyn Football Dodgers, Lummus and his teammates learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Just over a month later, Lummus enlisted in the Marine Corps, where he eventually rose to the level of First Lieutenant.
On March 8, 1945, Lummus led his rifle platoon in a daring charge on Japanese fortifications on the island of Iwo Jima. He ignored grenade blasts and a shoulder injury to lead his platoon into enemy fire, but was mortally injured by a land mine. Despite suffering gruesome injuries, he continued to exhort his men to keep going in a victorious day for the Marines. He succumbed to his injuries later that day, one of 6,821 Marines who died in the battle, and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. His citation, signed by President Truman proclaimed his “outstanding valor, skilled tactics and tenacious perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds … He gallantly gave his life in service of his country.”
Lummus and former Detroit Lion Maurice Britt of Arkansas are the only NFL players to receive the Medal of Honor. In December 1945, the New York Giants erected a plaque honoring Lummus and in 2015 inducted him into the "Ring of Honor" at Metlife Stadium.
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.