Sunday, May 30, 2021

Memorial Day—Keith Birlem and Nick Basca

 By John Turney 
Keith Birlem

Keith Birlem was the commander of the Army Air Corps 508th Bombardment Squadron, 351st Bombardment Group (Heavy) stationed in Polebrook, Northamptonshire, England, during World War II after playing just one season in the league for the Cardinals and then Washington (where he was a teammate of Sammy Baugh) after a midseason trade.

He’d been a star quarterback for 1936-1938 San Jose State football teams. The Spartans were 27-7-1 in the three seasons with Birlem as the quarterback and was named to the Little All-America Team after his senior season.

Birlem was the son of an upper-middle-class insurance broker (World War II was not just a poor man’s war, all were asked, and did, serve) and the younger Birlem was a local athletic hero who San Mateo High starring in several sports before moving on to San Jose State.

After a May 4, 1943 bombing mission over Europe to take out repurposed automobile plants in German-occupied Antwerp, Belgium in 1943, Birlem returned safety though it was not easy, they had encountered stiff German resistance. 

Three days later, on a training mission, Birlim’s B-17 Flying Fortress nicknamed “Vicious Virgin” collided with another B-17 bomber killing all aboard both aircraft. 

This is a list of Birlem's commendations—
★ World War II Victory Medal
★ American Campaign Medal
★ Army Presidential Unit Citation
★ Army Good Conduct Medal


Mike Basca

Nick Basca played his last NFL game on December 7, 1941—the day of the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor. Three days later, on December 10, 1941, Basca enlisted in the United States Army.

The former Eagle was a tank commander and was sent overseas to England in December 1943 to join the Fourth Armored Division- part of General George Patton’s famed Third Army. This division trained extensively and acted as a decoy for the coming Invasion of Normandy because Allied Intelligence was aware Hitler was convinced that any charge into Nazi-occupied Europe would be led by Patton—someone who his Generals feared. 

Basca, landed at Normandy a month after D-Day and helped finalize the security of  Normandy. Next, the Third Army turned east and swept across France over 250 miles to the city of Nancy. It was towards the end of this sweep that Basca lost his life in the French town of Obreck.

Corporal  Michael Martin "Nick" Basca died in battle on November 11, 1944, when a German 88 mm round hit the tank he was commanding. 

Basca played football and graduated with a B.S. in education from Villanova. He signed with the Philadelphia Eagles under Bert Bell and played eleven games for the Eagles one where he rushed for a touchdown, intercepted three passes, and kicked a field goal and nine extra points.
Basca with the 1941 Eagles
Basca was an undersized back at all levels of competition, high school, collegiate and professional, topping out at 5-8, 160 pounds. According to one media report, "At Sacred Heart, he became a local celebrity when, as a 97-pound eighth-grader, he led his team to a win over Phoenixville High's freshmen."

He then starred at Phoenixville High School then prepped for a year at Pennington in New Jersey before moving on to Villanova where he was a star for the team. doing all of the things well-rounded back did in the day—passing, punting, and drop-kicking, a "triple threat". He was named All-State Team, and to several All-Eastern teams, and was the team captain his senior year.

Here is a list of Basca's commendations—
★ World War II Victory Medal
★ Purple Heart
★ American Campaign Medal
★ Army Presidential Unit Citation
★ Army Good Conduct Medal
★ European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign

1 comment:

  1. Wow! An incredible man. Not sure I could even dream of being this accomplished.