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Pritchard's legacy spanned gridiron, service to country

| Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
This photo of the headstone on the grave of Milford H. Pritchard at Monongahela Cemetery was taken by Kathi L. Swan of Rostraver Township, who is involved in a Tombstone Registry project at area cemeteries.
This photo of the headstone on the grave of Milford H. Pritchard at Monongahela Cemetery was taken by Kathi L. Swan of Rostraver Township, who is involved in a Tombstone Registry project at area cemeteries.

Although his tenure in this Mid-Mon Valley as a high school athlete was brief, Milford “Bud” Pritchard is still remembered as one of the best to ever carry, pass or kick a football.

“He was an outstanding football player, that's for sure,” said Jack Green of Charleroi, Pritchard's teammate at Charleroi High School in 1947, Pritchard's only season with the Cougars.

Green knows well of what he speaks. He was one of the top all-around athletes in Charleroi history before graduating in 1949. And he earned distinction as a football official on the college and scholastic levels during a career that spanned nearly 40 years.

“Bud was tall, maybe 6-1 or 6-2, and well built, over 200 pounds, and had above-average abilities for a high school athlete,” Green recalled. “He was a good halfback with excellent speed and sharp moves. And what a punter! He could punt as well as many of the professional kickers today. When he came to Charleroi, it was almost like he had come from a prep school instead of transferring from another high school. He didn't need a lot of coaching because he was a bright young man and caught on to our system quickly. He was mature beyond his years and we were glad to have him even for that one season.”

Pritchard launched his scholastic career in 1946 as the starting fullback at Monongahela High School, when he was only a sophomore.

Significantly, one of his most memorable games came on Monday, Nov. 4, 1946, when he scored all of Monongahela's points in a 13-0 Big Six Conference victory over Charleroi. The game had been postponed the previous Friday because of inclement weather and was played at Monongahela.

A crowd of 4,000, which established a new season attendance record at Monongahela with approximately 24,000 fans for five home games, watched Pritchard score two touchdowns on short plunges and run for the lone extra point for coach Harry McCurdy's Wildcats.

Post-game newspaper coverage also called attention to his accurate passing and booming punts that “kept Charleroi deep in its own territory most of the game.”

Pritchard culminated his first varsity season by being named to the second team on the annual Big Six Conference All-Star squad. The other backs were Jim Cavalcante of Washington, Nick Staffieri of Monessen and Ronald Johns of Brownsville. The first team backfield comprised Joe Gladys of Monessen, Bob Craig of Donora, Pete Widmer of Brownsville and Lewis Pollacci of Charleroi.

Pritchard transferred to Charleroi High in 1947, R. James “Rab” Currie's first season as head coach of the Cougars, and wasted little time in making his presence felt on a team that included the likes of Green, running backs Joe Cardinale and Billy Shaffer and linemen Dink Glunt, Carl Van Shura, Joe Barcelona and Chuck Barcelona.

Charleroi, which finished Currie's inaugural campaign with a 5-5-0 record, posted a 6-0 win over Monongahela on Oct. 31 at the CHS Stadium. Pritchard scored the Cougars' only touchdown against his former teammates as he, Cardinale and Shaffer led a third quarter comeback before a crowd of 7,000 chilled fans.

Pritchard, Cardinale and Shaffer combined for 138 of Charleroi's net 198 rushing yards, out-gaining Monongahela's 109 team total.

The Charleroi Mail also pointed out that Pritchard's “booming punts ... kept the visitors under control ...”

Other post-game stories lauded Pritchard for his work on defense as “an intense linebacker with an uncanny ability to read the opponents' plays and make bone-crunching tackles.”

Pritchard earned all-conference honorable mention recognition in the 1947 season with teammates Chuck Barcelona (tackle) and Jack Jones (guard). Cardinale and Glunt (guard) were named to the first team, while Green (end) and Van Shura (tackle) drew second-team laurels. Currie was honored as coach of the year.

It wasn't long after the 1947 season ended that Pritchard's departure from Charleroi High came almost as quickly as his arrival that past summer.

He left school to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Sports Editor John Bunardzya of The Charleroi Mail reported on Feb. 2, 1948, that Pritchard, the son of Mrs. Margaret Pritchard of Charleroi, had signed on for a three-year hitch with the Marines and was undergoing basic training at Parris Island in South Carolina.

Pritchard, who was born in Monongahela on July 24, 1930, never completed that three-year commitment to his country.

He was killed in action during a heated battle in the Korean War near Pusan on Aug. 13, 1950. He was only 20 years old.

The Charleroi Mail reported on Aug. 26 that Pritchard's death, which came when he was shot by “a Russian-made bullet,” was a particularly ironic turn of fate because he was serving out the last few months of his enlistment. He would have terminated that assignment seven months later in February 1951.

“Bud corresponded with the R.C. Rickard family of Charleroi regularly,” The Mail said in its account of Pritchard's death. “In his last communication, received on Aug. 13, there was this sinister and prophetic note: ‘Am in the thick of the fighting north of Pusan.'”

The newspaper also said that Pritchard's prowess as an athlete carried over into his military service. He played football with the highly regarded El Toro Marines of southern California until his outfit was sent into the Korean fighting.

His unit shipped out on July 14 and he was in Korea less than a month before he gave his life with valor in fighting for his country.

In a telegram dated Aug. 25 to Pritchard's mother and his grandmother, Mrs. Harry E. Isaac of West Main Street, Monongahela, General C.B. Cates, Commandant of the Marine Corps, confirmed Pritchard's death as follows:

“I deeply regret to inform you that your son, Private First Class Milford Pritchard, United States Marine Corps, was killed in action 13 August in the Korean area in performance of his duty and service to country.”

The Mail reported that Charleroi's official Honor Roll and Memorial Plot flags, “as well as the one which flies each day at the Chamber of Commerce building, were placed at half-mast today as soon as the information (about Pritchard's death) became known ... in respect to Charleroi's first military death in the new conflict.”

In a tribute to Pritchard on Aug. 28, 1950, Bunardzya said the young man “is being mourned by those who not only knew him but also those who only heard or read about him.”

Pritchard's death, Bunardzya said,“brought what has all the earmarks of a third World War closer to home.”

The eulogy continued as follows:

“Built like a Greek adonis, Pritchard was a triple-threat halfback who could run, pass and kick with the best of them in his time. In early 1948, he debated loud and long whether to stick around and complete his high schooling or join the service of his country.

He made up his mind to become a marine and it appeared as though it was the turning point in his life. He had companionship with his Marine buddies and learned the art being a gentleman as well as a rough and tough individual.”

Bunardzya also wrote about Pritchard in his popular Sportraits column on Sept. 13, 1950, and said “at least three major football schools displayed more than a casual interest in Pritchard before he gave his life fighting for his country.”

“None other than the great Bernie Bierman, builder of mighty Minnesota teams, was among those who knew about and was anxious to land Pritchard when his Marine hitch was up,” Bunardzya said. “Bierman, a member of the Marine Reserve after serving in World Wars I and II, watched Pritchard in action at Camp Pendleton near Oceanside, Calif., while on summer maneuvers and was greatly impressed by the young husky's playing abilitiy. Bierman invited Pritchard to visit the Minnesota campus after he was discharged from the Marines.”

The University of Southern California and the University of Pittsburgh were among the other major colleges that had Pritchard's name on file for future reference, Bunardzya wrote.

“Pritchard was a strapping youngster who was 20 years old and weighed 215 at the time of his death,” Bunardzya noted. “Broad-shouldered and better than six feet tall, his weight was equally distributed over a wonderful physique – the trademark of any top-notch football player.”

He also recalled that at Camp Pendleton, Pritchard earned his letter “M” for Marines in football after starring for the First Division team. He received a traditional commemorative jacket awarded him as a member of the Camp Pendleton team, which trounced Fleet City, 33-6, for the West Coast service championship in 1949.

A photo of Pritchard wearing the prized jacket accompanied Bunardzya's column. It was the last picture taken of Pritchard when he was alive.

Pritchard's body was not returned to the Mon Valley until early 1952.

The Charleroi Mail reported in a Page One story on April 9 that Department of Defense announced that the remains “are being returned aboard the Alamo Victory, which is scheduled to arrive at the San Francisco Port of Embarkment today.”

Mrs. Harry Isaac, Pritchard's grandmother, told the newspaper the body would be brought to her home under escort for service in charge of the L.M. Frye Funeral Home of Monongahela. Interment took place at Monongahela Cemetery in a plot purchased by the young man's mother, Mrs. Isaac said.

Milford Harry Pritchard is recognized in an Honorary In Memoriam tribute as “... a hero of our Great Nation” on the solemn website

Bunardzya recalled at the time of Pritchard's death that Pritchard “learned the value of a complete education” while serving with the Marines.

“While playing football for a service team, he decided to make full use of his athletic prowess and carry on in a higher institution of learning when his enlistment period was up,” Bunardzya wrote.

“But that's all gone now. With only a few more months to serve before his three-year hitch ended. Pritchard was ready when the call for help from the Marines came from Korea. The rest is history.

“It takes guts to be a United States Marine and Bud Pritchard had it.”

And obviously many other memorable qualities that continue to span time.

Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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