Pro Combat

By Johnny Ginter on May 28, 2012 at 1:09p
Past Shadows, Charles Csuri

The Battle of the Bulge was fought for over a month in the winter of 1944-45, and was the last gasp of Hitler's dying regime. In a desperate effort to beat back the steadily advancing Allied assault in the western front, the Nazis threw almost everything they had left into a massive attack near the Ardennes forests in Belgium.

Close to a million men were involved in this campaign, and of those roughly 200,000 would be counted as casualties. Eventually the German forces were beaten back, thanks to an incredibly stubborn resistance put up by Allied troops (most famously by the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne), but the toll in both military and civilian life was massive: in addition to an unknown amount of Germans, roughly 19,000 members of the Allied forces and at least another 3,000 civilians met their end.

Of course, as devastating and brutal as the Battle of the Bulge was, it was mere child's play to what was going on in the eastern front. After Hitler's turn against Russia, breaking their non-aggression pact, the Soviets and the Nazis fought one grueling battle after another; at Stalingrad alone there were nearly a million deaths, and all told, roughly 30 million of World War II's 70 million dead came by way of the eastern front.

Former Ohio State football captain and 1942 national champion Charles Csuri was present at the Battle of the Bulge, where he received a Bronze Star for heroism during the fight. His story doesn't end there, however: he'd go on to become the father of digital animation and art, using computer technology as early as 1964. Now almost 90 and a professor emeritus at Ohio State, he still sometimes comes into the lab at ACCAD on campus and creates works of art.

So when Nike unveiled their Ohio State Pro Combat gear in the fall of 2010, complete with a bronze star on the back of the helmet, they thought they had found the perfect man to introduce it.

They thought wrong.

Csuri didn't explicitly attack the idea of Nike calling their marketing scheme "Pro Combat," but instead he essentially ignored it altogether. Instead of talking about the new fabric or stitching or how "breathable" it was, he gently reminded people that combat isn't exactly a word to be bandied around so easily. A Nike representative was then forced to come on stage and give all of the details himself.

It wasn't a big incident, but what's striking is the difference in attitude between a man who lived the terror of battle and the company that sought to exploit nostalgia to sell some jerseys. In Nike's promotional material they attempted to pump up the idea that they were honoring the championship class of '42, using battle sounds and pictures designed to evoke patriotic feelings about a horrific war that cost tens of millions of lives. They wanted us to relive the emotions that we feel when we see movies like the Dirty Dozen or Saving Private Ryan.

I don't think Csuri wanted any of that, and frankly, neither do I. Days like Memorial Day and Veteran's Day should remind us of the incredible sacrifices that men and women made and continue to make on a daily basis in service to their country. It should remind us that war is an awful exercise of death and suffering, and that the further we're distanced from it, the more likely we are to forget that.

Hated war enough to do anything to end it

After 9/11, there was a thought that as a society we would stop using war terms and phrases to describe commonplace and mundane things in our society. Football games would no longer be "wars." A big loss would no longer be called a "slaughter." Quarterbacks were no longer "field generals."

Obviously that didn't last; as September 11th increasingly became a memory, those terms found their way back into our collective lexicon, even as the United States continued to fight two wars in which thousands continued to die. That doesn't make us unfeeling monsters or mean that someone isn't sympathetic to the costs of combat, but it does mean that as a country we're so incredibly removed from the pain and suffering of war that millions endure regularly, that we have the luxury of describing the relatively mundane in words that don't fit.

Ohioan and legendary Civil War general William T. Sherman had this to say about war:

"I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting — its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands, and fathers ... it is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated... that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation."

I hope that this Memorial Day you will remember the very real and ongoing burden that soldiers continue to bear which allows the rest of us to talk about war in such glib terms, a burden that most of us will never have to carry. And I also hope that you'll remember that sports aren't warfare; that as time expires and the last whistle is blown, all the bluster and violence and intensity of sport can fade away, and we can go back to being the people that we really are.

Because ultimately, that's the lesson here. As much as Nike and Under Armor and ESPN would love for you to believe, athletes are not soldiers and neither are fans. Soldiers aren't even soldiers. We're all people, and the most lucky of people who see combat aren't those who get canonized through a uniform or have a ship named after them, they're those who can come home and create something new and exciting, just as Charles Csuri did.


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buckeyedude's picture

My father was a Navy Seabee on Guam in the Pacific Theatre during WWII. I SOOOOOO admire the entire WWII generation and what they did for this country. Especially in light of how the following generation, my generation, the freakin' Baby Boomers, have seemed to f*@k everything up.
God Bless all of our fallen soldiers, Buckeyes and otherwise.



DJ Byrnes's picture

Heard that, my dude. Heard that.

Californian by birth, Marionaire by the Grace of President Warren G. Harding.

Bucks43201's picture

great piece .... God bless the troops! We sleep peacefully at night, in large part, because so many brave soldiers are protecting us here, and abroad ....
 as for the Nike "Pro Combat" unis, I am more of a tradionalist & like the OSU/Michigan game to be the regular uniforms, but if they have  to wear the alternative unis for a game, I wish they'd design some sleek black ones. I think a night game with black uniforms would look pretty bad-ass

"You win with people." - Woody Hayes

45buckshot's picture

nice piece. i'm stealing your Sherman quote for my FB page ;)
i'm a pacifist, so memorial day is a little weird for me. Both my grandfathers, my father and most of his brothers, all served in the military. so i respect the sacrifices they made, while denouncing war in general as b@llsh!t ordered by politicians who never fight the battles. 
happy Memorial day, bring everyone home
ps i just realized i might be doing the same thing as Nike in my signature. the quote, if you google it, you'll see is actually from Caesar. so i am using a war metaphor. so maybe i'll change it. but for me, i'd prefer to see all "war" restricted to the football field

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”
—G.K. Chesterton

Johnny Ginter's picture

i'm no pacifist, but i am a history teacher and knowing some of the things i know, with the kind of detail that i know them in... it's rough.

also i want to clarify this about Csuri, i don't want to paint him as a man who is unduly burdened by his service, i just wanted to make the point that i think the man is vastly more proud of his life's work rather than a five year period in the 1940s (and he should be)

The Vest-er's picture

Loved this article. Csuri sounds like my kind of hero. I currently serve and have been to my share of retirement ceremonies. I hate seeing some of them because they are 40 year olds who look like they're 60, they are estranged from their children, and what they gave the best years of their life for is at its end. They lacked the balance that a Csuri had. It's refreshing to hear his story.

Fundamentals are a crutch for the talentless.

pcon258's picture

this is an irish song, and while it doesn't exude american patriotism, I try to listen to it every memorial day because it does give a glimpse into the sh*ttiness of war. 

lwitters's picture

I think this article is spot on.  The only problem is that it's written on a site called Eleven Warriors.  A tad ironic???

Bobcat04's picture

My Grandpa was in the 6th Armored Division (Super Sixth) in the siege of Bastogne.  Spent his time in a Sherman tank.  He's also a Michigander who remembers watching Tom Harmon play when his service was done.  I'm sure you'll all forgive him for that on this day.  It's fascinating to hear him speak of the Great War from his perspective, and I got chill bumps walking through the WWII Museum in NOLA just thinking of what courage it must have taken to witness those things.  I couldn't be prouder of him, and I'm lucky to still have him with us.  Even if I did have to take major heckling all through the 90's when we'd go up to Michigan for Thanksgiving right after having my pride crushed by scUM again and again.  He earned it. 

painterlad's picture

My father was in the 7th Armored (you're welcome, 101st) and he was also an artist. I have a fantastic story to tell that involves both the Buckeyes and the Bulge but I don't have time to tell it here. Anyway, my daughter is also an artist and attends CCAD (cha-ching!) and I am a millitary history buff so thank you for the article. And for the record, Sherman was right in his approach to end the war, because war is all hell indeed. I'm just glad Lee was too much of a "gentleman" to allow Jackson to use the same methods on the North early in the war because I think he would have brought victory to the south by early 1863.

To err is human. Really sucking requires having yellow stripes on your helmet.

AeroBuckeye2001's picture

Gentlemanly the ones who ran Andersonville Prison?
Sorry, had to do it.

The Ohio State University Class of 2001

BS Aero & Astronautical Engineering

painterlad's picture

Lee embodied the Southern concept of "gentleman." If he had listened to Jackson (who, like Sherman, knew the best way to end the war was to break the spirits of the opposition), Lee would have carried the South to victory. Instead, he prolonged a war (along with inept Northern generals) that could have been done in 18-24 months.

To err is human. Really sucking requires having yellow stripes on your helmet.

William's picture

This. The Confederacy made several missteps that prevented them from winning. The Union was filled with inept generals whereas the Confederacy was loaded with excellent ones. Even Grant wasn't an incredible general, his casualty rates validate this. Sherman was of course a brilliant general but the Confederacy had the best general in Longstreet in my opinion. 

NC_Buckeye's picture

Going to have to disagree with your statement about "Lee carrying the South to victory". The north had people and supplies. The south didn't. This conflict was always going to be a war of attrition. Which is why the Confederacy was desparate for recognition and intervention by Great Britain and France.
Were southern generals superior? On the average, yes. (Lee screwed up royally at Antietam though.) But as long as northern generals kept increasing the south's body count and diminishing their already limited supplies, eventually it was going to turn in the north's favor. By the time Lincoln was confident enough with Grant and Sherman's western campaigns to let Grant take over the union command, the north's victory was a fait accompli. 

William's picture

I don't think anyone would disagree that the Confederacy was fighting a war of attrition, as that was its only chance. Your point above though further proves the North's tactic of just throwing bodies at the problem until it went away. That's a horrible practice, one that the Russians have employed throughout history, and while it works for the most part, it isn't efficient, which is why Grant was a decent general, but was by no means excellent. Also the Confederacy's generals were more than on average better than the Union's, the South had several outstanding generals, whereas the North had a select few. Like you pointed out, it was sheer numbers and manufacturing capability that won the Civil War, not military know-how. 

NC_Buckeye's picture

@William, I was going to engage you in this but doing so kind of defeats the purpose of this thread -- honoring those who died in service to their country.
Let's just say we have a different perspective on the Civil War and leave it at that.

William's picture

>Generalizes all Southerners based upon how a POW camp was run during the Civil War.
>Elmira Prison, in New York had a mortality rate of 25% to Andersonville's 29%.
>Still believes Northerners are somehow more gentlemanly than Southerners. 

AeroBuckeye2001's picture

Well put Johnny. I don't get too worked up about the comparison of football to war. War can mean many things, but we should all certainly understand the distinction between battling your on-field opponent in a "game" and the idea of kill or be killed in combat.
Ohio State football is rife with parallels to war, but life is full of these types of metaphors. Le Régiment de Sambre et Meuse was written as a military march, and we use it for Script Ohio. At least OSU does a decent job of paying homage to the military.
Unfortunately, our society puts more of an emphasis on athletics. Compare athletes' salaries to those risking their lives for them and their ability to earn millions. 

The Ohio State University Class of 2001

BS Aero & Astronautical Engineering

ShadyBuckeye's picture

AGREED. In a perfect world all the people in the military would be making 6 figures easy and tiger woods would be earning 25 grand annually playing golf, Albert Pujols- 33k swinging a different kind of club (doesnt even deserve that with a .227 avg in May:) and JaBroni james 40 grand playing hoops (minus 10,000 for failure to come through in the clutch.) I mean seriously, a dude playing baseball getting paid 33 thousand dollars sounds reasonable to me. Getting paid 30 million is insane if u really think about it. ya ya ya I know they generate millions of dollars in revenue blah blah blah what service does the Marine, Army, Air Force or Navy member provide us? Far greater.

buckeyedude's picture

Amen brotha. This is the very reason I stopped patronizing MLB, espeically.



DJ Byrnes's picture

Getting paid 30 million dollars as a professional athlete is not insane considering the billions of dollars swimming around said athlete.

Californian by birth, Marionaire by the Grace of President Warren G. Harding.

NC_Buckeye's picture

Currently reading a book on the Civil War (A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War). Just spent the morning reading about Antietam and Fredericksburg. The loss of like in those two battles just boggle the mind. Consider the fact that the number of northern casualties in the Civil War are second only to total US casualties in WWII. To say that the Civil War defined this country would be an understatement.
Sherman's words above remind me of a Memorial Day ceremony I went to in my hometown back in 1983. I went to Buckeye Boys State the summer before so I was asked to attend the ceremony (in retrospect I think I was there to fill out the dais). Anyways, I rode the parade route with a gentleman from the neighboring town who I think was a decorated WWII vet. He was pretty quiet for the first ten minutes. Just stared out the window. That was fine with me as it was pretty early and I think I had been out partying the night before.
I think I finally broke the silence by asking him if he had fought in the war. He said he had in Italy until he was injured. He said he'd been thinking about all his friends he lost in trying to take Sicily. He then turned to me and said to always remember that war is an ugly, terrible thing. That there was nothing glorious about it.
I haven't forgotten.

Johnny Ginter's picture

another story: my uncle vic is in his mid 90s now, and in 1942 (i think) he was just a normal farm kid in rural kentucky. then he goes and gets himself drafted into WWII, where the military, in its infinite wisdom, decides to make a person who has possibly never even seen a plane (nevermind flying in one) a navigator for cargo planes making supply drops to chinese rebel fighters.

vic spent two years flying over the himalayan mountains with a group of planes that had a roughly 40% mortality rate for their crew. he told me once that he wasn't too freaked out, because he just told himself every morning "welp, gonna die today!" and went about his business.

sidenote: my uncle victor was awarded the distinguished flying cross for his service helping to fly those planes, and the reason why he got it wasn't because he shot down a dude or killed anybody; it was because he flew at least 40 of those insane missions

buckeyeEddie27's picture

Unreal.   We really don't have to look too far to find men with almost mythical bravery.  You're uncle is no exception.

I know there's a game Saturday, and my ass will be there.

gravey's picture

War is hell.  Freedom isn't free though.  Honor the fallen today.

jfunk's picture

My wife and I were in Normandy for the Memorial Day weekend. We were lucky enough to be there at the American Cemetery at Omaha beach for a special ceremony. Absolutely amazing, espcially Pointe Du Hoc. You go there and then you wonder how anyone could have survived attacking someplace like that. So much history in such a little area. And the fact my wife is in the military and has been down range just gives Memorial Day that much more meaning to me.

Scotch: It may be too early to drink it, yes; but people it is never to early to think about it.

hodge's picture

My favourite Sherman quote; written in response to the Atlanta city council, pleading him to rescind his order to evacuate Atlanta (so he could burn it):

You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace. But you cannot have peace and a division of our country. If the United States submits to a division now, it will not stop, but will go on until we reap the fate of Mexico, which is eternal war [...] I want peace, and believe it can only be reached through union and war, and I will ever conduct war with a view to perfect and early success. But, my dear sirs, when peace does come, you may call on me for anything. Then will I share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your homes and families against danger from every quarter.

Johnny Ginter's picture

yep, that whole letter is one of my favorite bits of writing ever

"We don't want your negroes or your horses or your houses or your lands or anything you have, but we do want, and will have, a just obedience to the laws of the United States. That we will have, and if it involves the destruction of your improvements we cannot help it."



NC_Buckeye's picture

This is kind of a late comment for this article. But if you haven't already, you need to check out Ted Glover's Memorial Day piece over at OTE.
Ted is an Ohio State alum (I believe he attended for a time and transferred somewhere else -- which counts all the same in my book). He also is a retired veteran of both the Air Force and Army. 22 years split between the two services. He currently writes for both OTE and Luke over at Land-Grant Holy Land.
He is an avid reader of 11W and drops a comment here now and then. And last he was a member of one of the first units to deploy after the attacks on Sept 11, 2001.

Menexenus's picture

Loved the Sherman quote.

Real fans stay for Carmen.