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Thanksgiving and football
Billionaire Ross Perot’s big play in Warwick’s 1967 championship season
Lititz-native Sheldon Murr remembers Thanksgiving 1967 as the highlight of his time working in U.S. Navy intelligence during the Vietnam War.
He sailed on the USS Intrepid in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of South Vietnam. It was one of 19 aircraft carriers that served in the region between 1964 and 1974.
Murr, who enlisted to avoid being drafted upon graduating from Warwick High School in 1964, worked closely with top Naval brass and viewed countless classified communications that filtered through the anti-sub-aircraft carrier.
“Here is the cable that started the Vietnam War,” said Murr as he displayed a copy of the communication describing the attack on the destroyer USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin Aug. 2, 1964.
That was three years before the memorable Thanksgiving when USS Intrepid shipmates received a personal delivery of sorts thanks to anonymous help from a person few knew about, besides Murr.
That person was Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire who 25 years later would mount a formidable third-party presidential bid that garnered almost 19 percent of the vote and perhaps changed U.S. history.
“Ross Perot was not as well known then, but on Thanksgiving Day in 1967, Ross Perot arranged to have a supply ship meet up with us in the Tonkin Gulf,” Murr said.
“On the supply ship, compliments of him, was a Thanksgiving dinner of lobster tail and french fries for the entire Intrepid crew.”
That shipment also included mail sent to the crew that had been accumulating for weeks, including five giant bars of Wilbur Chocolate and copies of the Lititz Record Express.
Mail was prioritized, “when you’re in a combat zone newspapers, magazines, packages and stuff only are sent when they could find space,” he said.
Murr’s father, who was personnel manager at Wilbur Chocolate at the time, had sent the candy bar package Sept. 11, 1967.
He knows of exact date because his dad kept the Wilbur receipt in a file (which Murr only recently examined) that contained copies of his military records and letters they had exchanged.
“My dad sent the package hoping the chocolate would arrive by Thanksgiving, but it would never have gotten there without Ross Perot,” he said.
The 80 cent chocolate bars weighed five pounds each, said Murr, who years later worked as an accountant with RCA and other area businesses, including Wilbur.
“I put the huge Wilbur bar on a table and used a hammer to break in pieces,” he said. “It was a big hit in the ship’s ready room; everybody knew about Wilbur Chocolate.”
But that wasn’t the only hit that day.
Murr discovered that the “Perot delivery” included seven issues of the Lititz Record Express that coincided with the Warwick High School football team’s championship run.
“I lined (the papers) up by date on my bed and I got to relive and follow the hype building to a championship season,” he said.
Despite being thousands of miles away, Murr, only 20, felt a hometown familiarity and warmth reading about and viewing photos of Warwick players, coaches, fans, parents and the town itself.
In November of ‘67, while Murr was at war, Mick Sload’s Warriors hammered Manheim Central for the county championship. In that game, John Male capped a brilliant high school football career with 157 rushing yards, including a 64 yard touchdown run. Other stars of that 9-1 season include Rick Eckert, Scott Ketterman, Mike Roth, Dick Oehme, Dave Miller, Denny Nagle, Joe Seitz, Bob Derr, Dennis Beck, Jeff Eshelman and Dave Deibler. The town was abuzz with excitement that Thanksgiving season. Local football was the hot topic at Bingy’s restaurant, Pee Wee (Eugene Reynolds) made a special sign for the big game, and a victory banquet was being planned at the high school cafeteria.
“I knew either the kids that were playing or their brother,” Murr said. “Many had brothers that played when I was there in 1962, ‘63 and ‘64. The names were all familiar and I remembered them.” Murr, who admits to being a “class clown who barely graduated high school,” went on to serve a distinguished naval career thanks to the guidance of USS Intrepid officers.
“I have to thank the Navy and officers who mentored me,” he said. “It turned around a C- student.”
With the assistance of the GI Bill, Murr graduated in 1975 first in his class from Philadelphia Textile College (now Philadelphia University).
Efforts to reach out to Ross Perot for this story were unsuccessful.
Murr noted that while few to this day know of Perot’s anonymous generosity, he’ll forever be thankful.
“I followed the 1967 Warwick football team through the season to the championship in one afternoon,” Murr said.
“It remains one of my fondest memories – if war can have fond memories – to this day. It also may have been the best Warwick football team ever.”