Memorial Day weekends are annually marked by solemn remembrances of the sacrifices made by U.S. military personnel in wars past. Among the many whose sacrifices will be honored this weekend are several Texas Longhorns. At least 664 former University of Texas students and staff died in World War II alone, no less than 21 of whom had earned varsity letters in athletics during their time in Austin.
I’ll have a pair of posts next week that will profile the Longhorn football lettermen who died during World Wars I and II, a group that includes two All-Americans. But as a lead-in to the Memorial Day weekend, I present today the story of James “Red” Goodwin, a Longhorn football team captain and one of UT’s many WWII casualties.
A good deal has been written about the most notable of Longhorn student-athletes who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, but comparatively little newsprint or digital space has been dedicated to Goodwin and his story in the 75+ years since the end of World War II. He deserves his own post for a variety of reasons. He was a part of one of Texas high school football’s great early dynasties, he started 13 games over two seasons for the Texas Longhorns and played in one of the most important games in program history, he served with distinction in the Army Air Force, and even after his assumed death there was a bizarre final act to his life story that featured an appearance by a future U.S. president.
The following narrative is drawn from archived news accounts, historical reports and tomes available on Google Books, and other available public records.
James William Goodwin was born on September 19, 1916 in the small town of Granbury, Texas, located some 30 miles southwest of Fort Worth. His family moved to the Texas panhandle a few years later, and he lived in Amarillo for most of his childhood. His red hair got him the nickname “Red” as a youngster, and in contemporary news articles he was most often referred to as “Red Goodwin”, or occasionally “J.W. Goodwin”.
He experienced a pair of tragedies early on in his life. A week before his fifth birthday, his mother passed away following a miscarriage. He and his six siblings were then raised by their father. Five years later, his younger brother Lynn died of influenza at the age of seven.
Red Goodwin grew into a quality athlete while at Amarillo High School, which had one of the state’s elite football programs in the 1930s. Under head coach Blair Cherry (who would later serve as UT’s head football coach from from 1947 to 1950), Amarillo compiled a record of 84-5-1 in the seven seasons from 1930 to 1936. The Golden Sandstorm (colloquially known as the “Golden Sandies”) lost in the 1930 state final during Cherry’s first season at the helm, but later won three straight state championships from 1934 to 1936. Cherry resigned at Amarillo and became a Longhorn assistant coach in 1937, and Amarillo would win its last football state title in 1940 under Cherry’s successor, Howard Lynch.
During that period several Amarillo alums went on to become football standouts at the college level, and the Longhorns received more than their share of them. Ten former Golden Sandies earned football letters at Texas between 1933 and 1941. In the 1940 season alone, six of them earned letters and five started at least one game. (Note: defensive back Todd Ringo, a three-year letterman who was a senior in 1991, is the most recent Amarillo High product to letter at Texas.)
Red Goodwin was a reserve on the the first Amarillo state championship team in 1934, backing up all-state center John Sullivan, who went on to play at SMU. As a senior in 1935, he was the starting center on the second of the Golden Sandies’ three consecutive championship teams.
As a collegian, Goodwin was of average size for a center in that era, with his weight typically listed between 175 and 185 pounds, though as a linebacker he was described as “a vicious tackler and an alert performer on pass defense”. He showed this latter quality during his high school days as well, as he reportedly intercepted five passes in a single quarter (returning one for a touchdown) when Amarillo drummed Lubbock 34-0 in front of 11,000 fans at Amarillo’s Butler Field in November 1935.
After his high school graduation, Goodwin first attended Altus Junior College in Altus, Oklahoma (later renamed Western Oklahoma State College), then enrolled at the University of Texas in 1938. After a year on the freshman football team he was a regular on the Longhorn varsity squad and earned letters in 1939 and 1940, playing center while on offense and linebacker when on defense. College football’s rules on substitutions were a few years away from being fully relaxed, so starters still played both ways and on all of what are now called “special teams” units, and if a player was substituted out he could not re-enter the game for the rest of that half.
Going into the 1939 season, the Longhorns had no returning lettermen at the center position, and there was a three-way battle for that spot in the lineup between Goodwin and fellow sophomores David Thayer and Henry Harkins. Goodwin was seen as the front-runner for the position during the spring and early in fall practices, but it was Thayer who got the nod in UT’s season-opening win over Florida. Goodwin started the next two games, a 17-7 win over Wisconsin and a 24-12 loss to Oklahoma, but was supplanted by Harkins the following week to begin the game against Arkansas.
Goodwin substituted into that game later and was in the lineup when Texas scored the game-winning touchdown in a 14-13 victory over the “Porkers”, as local outlets referred to the Razorbacks at the time. Afterward, Goodwin regained his spot in the starting lineup for the remainder of the season and started seven of the Longhorns’ nine games in that 5-4 campaign, which was their first winning season under head coach Dana X. Bible after going 3-14-1 in his first two seasons.
That experience gave Goodwin a leg up on the competition for the center position going into the 1940 season, and he spent that summer working as a roustabout in an oil field near Bay City, Texas, a not uncommon line of summer employment for Longhorn athletes in the first half of the 20th century. Unsurprisingly, he reported to fall camp in “excellent” shape at approximately 185 pounds.
He started at center in the first five games in the 1940 season, before giving way to senior Glenn Jackson, who started at center for most of the rest of the season. Jackson was a former letterman who had returned to the team in 1940 after being out of school during the 1939 season. In that 1940 season, Texas got off to a 4-0 start, highlighted by wins over Oklahoma and Arkansas. The Longhorns were ranked 14th in the Associated Press poll following their 21-0 win at Arkansas, but that rivalry win was followed in the next two weeks with a 13-0 loss to Rice and a 21-13 loss to SMU.
Texas rebounded to notch wins over Baylor and TCU and improve its record to 6-2, but it was a decided underdog going into the annual Thanksgiving Day matchup with Texas A&M, whose team had just recorded decisive victories in consecutive weeks over the same Rice and SMU teams that had beaten Texas. A&M had won the previous season’s national championship and was on a 19-game winning streak, and was ranked second in the AP poll going into its matchup with Texas. Texas A&M was expected to receive an invitation to the Rose Bowl and face third-ranked Stanford with a win over Texas, but a baker’s dozen of valiant Longhorns dashed the Aggies’ dreams and wrote their names forever in Longhorn football history.
Texas scored a touchdown in the first minute of the game to take a very early 7-0 lead that somehow held up. Texas played outstanding defense the rest of the way, intercepting five A&M passes and stopping every drive that threatened to put points on the board. That early score held up for the game’s final 59 minutes, and Texas won a shocking 7-0 victory.
Nine of UT’s starters in their upset win over A&M played the entire game, and Red Goodwin was one of only two substitutes who saw playing time. He replaced Jackson in the 2nd quarter, then was later subbed back out in favor of Jackson in the 4th quarter after a minor injury. Those Longhorn gridders whose combined efforts vanquished the unbeaten Aggies on November 28, 1940 were thus dubbed “The Immortal Thirteen”.
Goodwin got the start at center a week later in the final game of the 1940 season, a road contest against Florida that the Longhorns won 26-0 after having to take a 42-hour train ride from Austin to Gainesville, Florida.
In that era, letters were awarded by UT’s Athletic Council shortly after the football season ended, and the team’s lettermen would then gather to elect one or more captains to lead the team in the next season. In December of 1940, Red Goodwin and fullback Pete Layden (who had scored the only touchdown in the win over A&M) were voted co-captains for the 1941 season. Goodwin was the first Amarillo alum to be elected a Longhorn football captain. He had stated a desire to get into coaching after graduation from college, and the high regard in which he was held by his teammates bode well for his success in that field. But by the time the 1941 football season arrived he had traded in his orange and white uniform for a military one.
The United States was still a year away from officially entering World War II, but the calendar had barely flipped to January 1941 when newspapers in Austin and elsewhere in the state began to speculate on which of the Longhorns’ eligible lettermen were likely to return for the next season and which ones would be called into military service.
With Glenn Jackson having graduated, Goodwin would have been the undisputed starter at center and a legitimate all-conference candidate, but he was one of several of players who were seen as unlikely to return to school that fall. He was already 24 years old in the spring of 1941, and as the months passed it seemed a virtual certainty that he would be drafted during the summer, so he took matters into his own hands and enlisted in the Army Air Corps in June of 1941.
The following month, he was inducted into the U.S. Army and reported to the Ryan School of Aeronautics in San Diego, California for training. He received his wings and commission as a lieutenant in February 1942, and by July of the same year he was reported to be serving as a pilot instructor at Foster Field in Victoria, Texas, and later was a gunnery instructor at Matagorda Island Gunnery School.
During his time as an instructor to other air corps trainees he got engaged to Virginia Martin, a fellow former UT student. They planned their wedding for May 1943, but those plans were accelerated when he received orders to report to Mitchel Field on Long Island in New York, and they were married in Austin on Easter Sunday, April 25, 1943.
Goodwin was assigned to the 395th Fighter Squadron, which was part of the 368th Fighter Group and was stationed in Massachusetts and New York after being activated in June of 1943. He was promoted to captain in October of that year, and in January 1944 his fighter group was assigned to Royal Air Force Greenham Common, a British air force base in southeastern England.
During a mission over southwestern Germany near the border with Belgium on April 22, 1944, Goodwin’s squadron was engaged by enemy aircraft, and his P-47 fighter plane was shot down. Captain Thomas Montag, who was also with the 395th Fighter Squadron, reported that he’d seen a P-47 crash on the ground during the air skirmish, and he believed it was likely Goodwin’s plane but couldn’t see its letters to make confirmation, and he did not see any American pilots deploy a parachute. Captain Montag himself was killed in action four months later when his plane crashed in France.
Goodwin’s wife was informed by the War Department on May 8 that he was missing in action, and this report was disseminated in newspapers across the state that week.
“Red Goodwin, UT Football Star, Missing Over Reich” read the headline on a page one story in the May 9, 1944 Austin Statesman.
“Red Goodwin Downed In Germany April 22” - Lubbock Morning Avalanche.
“Texas Football Star Reported Missing” - Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Goodwin was awarded an Air Medal for his actions while serving in the Army Air Force, and it was presented to his wife in a ceremony at Bergstrom Field in Austin on July 22, 1944.
Goodwin’s former Amarillo and Texas teammate Mike Sweeney, who was also a pilot in the Army Air Force, was killed in a plane crash in France later that summer, and an article in the August 19, 1944 Austin Statesman named Sweeney as the latest of nine former Texas Longhorn athletes who had died in the war up to that point. Red Goodwin was not counted among the nine, but the article did note his “missing in action” status before adding, “there is some reason to believe that he escaped from his crashing [P-47] Thunderbolt and may be safe with the underground in France.” The article carried no byline, and it is unclear on what basis the writer included that hopeful comment.
In the months after her husband’s disappearance over Germany, Virginia Goodwin’s health markedly declined. By November it was determined that she had leukemia, and that her condition was likely terminal.
At that point, the ending of the story of James and Virginia Goodwin and their brief marriage appeared to be all but written, with him presumed dead in Europe and she very soon to be dead in the city where they had attended college, gotten married, and made their first home together. But before the end of that story there was a strange twist to come in its third act.
The November 6, 1944 issue of Life magazine featured a story titled “Tito’s Men”, which was written and photographed by Life photographer John Phillips. In it, Phillips detailed some time he had spent earlier that year with a group of Yugoslav Partisans who were fighting a guerrilla campaign against German forces in Slovenia. A key figure in the group Phillips had been embedded with was a Captain James Goodwin, an American liaison officer said to be “in charge of the British mission in liberated Slovenia.”
Phillips described Goodwin helping organize a daring attack to blow up a bridge in Litija, Slovenia, and the article had a pair of photographs of Goodwin, one taken while he received treatment for a leg wound sustained after a grenade explosion, and the other showing him being carried on a stretcher as the Partisans attempted to covertly transport him from one safehouse to another en route to a place where he could be evacuated by Allied forces.
Back in Texas, Virginia Goodwin read that story, saw its accompanying photos, and came away convinced that the Captain James Goodwin who John Phillips had accompanied in his harrowing travels with the Yugoslav Partisans was actually her husband, and that he had not only survived having his plane shot down in southwestern Germany, but in the months that followed had somehow traveled some 500 miles away into the Balkans.
Soon after the publication of that Life issue, either Mrs. Goodwin or someone in her circle of friends and family contacted her congressman, who just that month had been easily re-elected for a third time to represent Texas’s 10th Congressional District. That congressman was none other than Lyndon Baines Johnson, who was 36 years old at the time and almost exactly 19 years away from being sworn in as the 36th President of the United States following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
After being brought up to speed on how Capt. James William Goodwin had been missing in action since April, and how a recent Life article had led his grievously ill wife to believe he was alive somewhere in Yugoslavia, Johnson made some phone calls. He was at first told by the Adjutant General in Washington, D.C. that the Captain James W. Goodwin he was inquiring about was dead. However, further calls were made to U.S. military headquarters in Europe, and Life reportedly looked into whether the James Goodwin featured in John Phillips’s article was from Texas.
On November 25, 1944, a telegram was sent to Congressman Johnson that stated in part, “...pleased to inform you official reports received today state Capt. James W. Goodwin has returned to military control and has been evacuated to the United States.”
This surprising and joyous plot development was greeted by a round of fantastic headlines.
“Ex-UT Gridder Returning Home After Gruelling Job”, read the story on page one of the Sunday American-Statesman on November 26.
“Capt. Goodwin Found in Germany”, said the Tyler Morning Telegraph’s printing of an AP story sharing the good news.
“Goodwin Safe, Wife Happy, Not Knowing Her Ailment”, reported the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which published an International News Service (INS) story on Goodwin’s supposed rescue that included the added detail of Virginia Goodwin’s dire health condition and her diagnosis with “virtually incurable lymphatic leukemia”. The INS article also more than suggested that Mrs. Goodwin’s family was aware of the seriousness of her condition while she herself was not.
Over seven months after his plane had been last seen hurtling toward the ground in Germany, and four months after the Army had presented his wife with what most people likely assumed was a posthumous Air Medal, Red Goodwin was reported to be “racing homeward — somewhere — to his wife’s bedside”, and Virginia Goodwin was “certain that the story would have a happy ending.”
But, in a development that may seem familiar to readers of Ian McEwan’s World War II-era novel Atonement, that happy ending was not to be. Whether due to the general fog of war or a miscommunication between the various government bureaus and military command posts, it turned out that the report given to Mrs. Goodwin through Congressman Lyndon Johnson was an erroneous one.
The Captain James Goodwin whose exploits in Yugoslavia were documented in Life (and would later be portrayed in Real Life Comics #27, published in 1946) was actually a University of Maryland grad named James Maurice Goodwin. He was not with the Army Air Force but was an intelligence officer with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) who had been in Yugoslavia since January 1944 as part of the Anglo-American mission in that region.
According to an INS story by Inez Robb published in several newspapers on September 25, 1945, Goodwin had first arrived in Yugoslavia as part of a four-man team whose other members included a fellow American and two British officers, one of whom was Winston Churchill’s son Randolph. This Captain Goodwin eventually attained the rank of colonel and was 80 years old when he died in 1999.
It is possible that he was the James Goodwin who in the telegram sent to Congressman Johnson was reported to have been “returned to military control” and “evacuated to the United States” in late November of 1944, though there were several other U.S. servicemen in World War II who had the same first and last name. James Maurice Goodwin had, in fact, been evacuated from Yugoslavia in October 1944, about a month before the publication of John Phillips’s Life article. After his evacuation he had surgery to remove shrapnel from one of his legs, and he returned to Yugoslavia soon afterward and did not leave again until March of 1945.
Virginia Goodwin did not get her hoped-for reunion with her beloved husband, and she died on January 15, 1945. She was only 23 years old. The honorary pallbearers at her funeral included Longhorn head football coach Dana X. Bible and Pete Layden, who had been voted co-captain with Red Goodwin of the 1941 Texas Longhorns and was by then serving as a B-25 instructor.
On April 23, 1945, a year and a day after he and his P-47 disappeared during his final flight with the Army Air Force, Capt. James William Goodwin was declared legally dead. He was 27 at the time of his presumed death.
One last glimmer of hope appeared a few weeks later when the June 1, 1945 Amarillo Globe published a two paragraph report that one of Red Goodwin’s older sisters “had received information today from the war department that Captain Goodwin had been liberated from a prisoner of warm [sic] camp on May 10 of this year, and that he was well and safe.” But that report also turned out to be one received in error.
There was a James W. Goodwin who had been a prisoner of war in Europe and who newspapers reported in June 1945 as having been “liberated”, but this was likely James Walter Goodwin, a private first class in the Army Air Force from California who had served as a gunner on a B-24 before being taken prisoner, and who later received a promotion to staff sergeant. This James W. Goodwin also met a tragic end, for after returning to the U.S. he was honorably discharged in early November of 1945, but was severely injured in a car accident mere weeks later and died on November 30 at the age of 21.
Red Goodwin died as an Army captain after war service prevented him from serving as a Texas Longhorn football captain. In the May 8, 1974 Amarillo Globe-Times, the paper’s longtime sports writer Putt Powell reported that Texas’ Athletic Director and head football coach Darrell Royal, who had served in the Army Air Corps himself during World War II, had proclaimed that Goodwin’s name would be listed among the program’s historic team captains “in all future publications.”
Two years later in the 1976 season, linebacker Rick Fenlaw became the first Amarillo High alum to actually serve as a Longhorn team captain. In Texas Longhorn football media guides going into at least the early 1990s Red Goodwin was listed as a team captain for 1941, but that was changed some time later. The program’s most recent list of all-time captains does not include Goodwin’s name and lists Pete Layden alone as 1941 team captain.
Hopefully that will be rectified in a “future publication” and Captain James W. “Red” Goodwin will once again be recognized as a Texas Longhorn football captain, even if they have to put an asterisk next to his name. It’s the least the UT Athletics Department can do to both thank him for his military service and restore him to his rightful place in program history. Of course, we all owe Red Goodwin and his fellow Army Air Force servicemen far more than that.