Next to the word “star,” “hero” is probably the most overused term in sports. Its common application by the media in describing a story or by fans in their daily idolization of players almost cheapens its meaning.
Sam Aubrey enjoyed his share of big moments in athletics. He was a starting forward on Oklahoma A&M’s 1946 national championship squad, and later coached alongside legendary Henry Iba at his collegiate alma mater in Stillwater.
Aubrey was also a hero. A true hero. Not due to anything he accomplished as a player or a coach, but because he interrupted his sports career to put his life on the line for his country.
During the U.S. Army’s invasion of German-occupied Italy in 1944, Aubrey was critically wounded. An enemy bullet shattered his right hip and left him hospitalized for months.
Doctors told the Sapulpa native he would probably be confined to a wheelchair by age 35, but Aubrey did not let that gloomy prognosis dissuade him.
Less than 12 months later, he returned to Oklahoma A&M, where he had spent three years studying and playing basketball (1940-42) before enlisting in the military in the spring of 1943. Aubrey’s first stop was Iba’s office, where he surprisingly asked his former coach for a chance to come back and play.
“It obviously wasn’t a shock that Sam wanted to come back and play, but just the fact he felt he was ready to endure that kind of daily grind. I mean, he wasn’t that far removed from having his entire hip shattered,” said 83-year-old Bob Kurland, who was Aubrey’s roommate during his first season at A&M in 1942. “Sam was one of the toughest men I ever knew. And he was a man of great integrity. He exemplified those qualities every day.”
RETURN TO OSU
Aubrey made a triumphant return to Iba’s squad that fall and winter, as he earned a starting spot in the backcourt, and eventually helped lead the Aggies to their second straight national title. In the process, he earned first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference honors. Later, he coached at Oklahoma State for his former coach and then briefly served as head coach.
The elder Aubrey, always humble according to Kurland, remained close to his heritage and his Oklahoma roots until last week, when he passed away on May 5 at age 85. “Jay C. Upchurch