04-12-07, 04:39 PM
War, NFL veteran Ralph Heywood dies
April 12, 2007, 10:40 PM
BANDERA, Texas, April 12 (UPI) — Ralph Heywood, who served in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War in addition to having a four-year pro football career, has died at the age of 85.
Southern California officials said Heywood died Tuesday in Bandera, Texas, northwest of San Antonio. They did not release a cause of death.
Heywood, who was an end as a football player, is believed to be the only professional football player to have served in the U.S. military in three wars. He joined the U.S. Marines during World War II. After his football career was over, he rejoined the Marines and served in Korea. He retired after the Vietnam War with the rank of colonel.
Heywood was an All-American selection in 1943 while playing for Southern California. After his first tour in the service he played for the Chicago Rockets of the All-American Football Conference for a season before joining the NFL's Detroit Lions.
He also played professionally with the Boston Yankees and New York Bulldogs.
04-19-07, 03:59 PM
April 16, 2007, 12:24PM
There until the end for Ralph Heywood, former football and military hero
By BILL BEGLEY Kerrville Daily Times
© 2007 The Associated Press
KERRVILLE, Texas The move from a 10-acre spread just south of Bandera to living in a horse trailer wasn't one Suzie Heywood wanted to make.
But it was one she had to make.
"It was just stuff," she said. "Just possessions. They didn't mean anything. I figured I could live without them. The only thing I couldn't live without was him."
And so, Heywood sold her home, sold most of her clothes and many of her possessions gave away a lot of what wasn't sold and began paring down, first to an RV, then a travel trailer and finally to a horse trailer that helped make taking care of her dying husband, Ralph, a little bit easier.
"We stayed in about 14 feet of living space for about 18 months," she said. "It was what I had to do to take care of him. I didn't want to do it, but I knew what was coming. So, I sold everything I could and put the money in the bank, because I knew we'd need that money to help take care of him.
"I'm not a martyr. I don't want pity, and I don't want charity. I just wanted to do everything I had to do to take care of him, because I loved him and because he deserved it. And, I know he would have done the same for me. No matter what it took, no matter what the sacrifice, we were going to do what we had to do."
Right up to April 10, when Ralph Heywood college football All American, professional football player and career Marine died at the age of 85, laying in Suzie Heywood's arms as she softly sang to him.
"The Marine Corps Hymn," she said. "Sang it to him until I was hoarse, and then sang some of his favorite hymns. He was laying there, quiet, with his eyes closed. And then ... he was gone."
In this day of throwaway relationships, when as many marriages end in divorce as the number that last, the idea of "til death do us part" may seem a little antiquated, a little dated, a little old-fashioned.
But Suzie Heywood took her vows seriously. Making the sacrifices necessary to be there until the end was never a debate.
"I had already decided that what I needed didn't matter," she said. "Those vows for better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and health don't mean just a belly ache or a hangnail. They don't come with a guarantee of a mansion on the hill and horses running in the meadow. What it means is you love each other, and take care of each other no matter what, no matter the sacrifice. That's all you're guaranteed."
And that was more than enough for Ralph and Suzie Heywood.
Right out of Hollywood
Ralph Heywood didn't want to be John Wayne he WAS John Wayne.
Born in California and raised during the Great Depression, Heywood worked hard all his life. Even with a football scholarship to the University of Southern California, he took a job as a busboy at a sorority house.
"Not just for spending money," Suzie said. "He figured girls wouldn't eat that much, and he could save money getting their leftovers."
Heywood's prowess on the football field soon took care of that. A two-way end, he was a captain on the 1943 USC team that finished 8-2, including a 29-0 win over Washington in the Rose Bowl.
He did not play in that game. He played just five games before being drafted and sent to the South Pacific to serve on the USS Iowa. That did not prevent him from being selected as an All-America as an end and punter.
When he returned from duty, Heywood completed his degree in cinematography at USC and played professional football for the Chicago Rockets, Detroit Lions and Boston Yanks in the NFL and the All-America Football Conference.
He returned to active duty with the Marines to serve in Korea in 1952, and also went on to command the 26th Marine Regiment in Vietnam, making him the only player in NFL history to serve in three wars.
"My husband was a warrior," Suzie said. "He didn't talk about what he did that generation just doesn't do that. But he did a lot."
An intelligence officer who once served as the Naval Attache to the Dominican Republic and oversaw operations in the Caribbean and ships in the blockade of Cuba, Heywood rose to the rank of colonel in his 32-year career.
An accomplished horseman who taught equitation at the Marine Military Academy, a black belt in karate and trained jet pilot, he earned enough medals to fill the chest of his uniform more than 30, overall.
He acted in some movies, played tennis with Charlton Heston, was a teammate of Bobby Layne and Bob Waterfield and a friend of the quarterback's wife, Jane Russell, and a golfing buddy of Bob Hope.
"The life he lived, it was like something right out of Hollywood," Suzie said. "People have a hard time believing it, but it's true."
When he left active duty, Heywood became the Commandant of the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen.*
It was there he met his match.
Suzie Heywood, even today, has the spirit and fire to equal the larger-than-life Marine.
Active in the Texas Equestrian community, until two years ago Suzie was an instructor in the Becoming Outdoor Women program, and in 2004 led a wagon train from Bandera to Dodge City in Kansas, a 48-day ride along the Great Western Trail that, at times, included as many as 200 wagons in the group.
"Ralph was sick by then, but he drove one of the wagons," Suzie said. "It took nine months to put together, to get permits and regulations and plans put together. He supported me and helped me as much as he could. ... He became the perfect Marine Corps wife for me."
Ralph was a widower and Suzie divorced, then a teacher and coach, in 1980 when a mutual friend set them up on a blind date.
"My friend kept talking about 'The Colonel' and how we would be just such a good fit together," Suzie said. "I wasn't so sure."
Just 13 days after the first date, they were married.
"And, for seven of that 13 days, he was gone to a funeral for his best friend and the man who just happened to deliver my son," Suzie said. "We liked to say it was a love affair and it became a marriage."
When Ralph retired from the academy in 1984, they moved to Bandera, and later bought the 10-acre spread and set about the task of getting it in shape.
"We worked to clear the land and put up fences," Suzie said. "Ralph was retired, and we spent about 24 hours a day together. I think, maybe, we were apart maybe three days."
It was six years ago that Ralph's health began to become an issue. The keen mind that snared ideas, facts and plans as an intelligence office for the Marines began to lose track of simple things.
"We cried when they told us it was Alzheimer's," Suzie said. "We were sitting at the table together, and I told him, 'Well, you're in good company: Moses Charlton Heston and President Reagan. He'd make jokes about it. He told me, 'Well, at least I can hide my own Easter eggs.'"
Ralph remained as active as possible, often speaking at public engagements. He spoke at military celebrations, and when the NFL honored veterans during the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Canton in 2004, he spoke at the ceremony and was honored with a display inside the hall.
"He was there when John Elway and Barry Sanders were inducted," Suzie said. "The NFL ignored the old-time guys and then, all of a sudden, it was, 'Hey, we've got this guy who was a player and fought in three wars let's run him out there. But Ralph didn't complain. He figured there were other people in worse shape than him. He went to Canton and had a great time talking to the players and to the soldiers they honored."
Later came the effects of Parkinson's syndrome, and the realization of what lay ahead and tough decisions.
"My husband didn't have a lot of insurance," Suzie said. "The ranch was my insurance policy. It was paid for, and it was where I was supposed to live the rest of my life. But I knew I could not take care of the place and take care of Ralph, too. And I knew that we would need money. I had people ask me,How can you do that?' And I told them, 'What else can I do?'"
That meant the move from the 10-acre ranch.
"Don't think that I didn't resent it. Don't think I wasn't frustrated. But, what I realized was that God was not punishing us," she said. "He was giving us the feast the time to really talk and the time to really love each other. I know that I'm not the same person I was before. I think I'm better.
"It gave us a chance to say things you normally don't think about saying until it's too late. Not long ago, Ralph told me, 'If I could, I'd do it all over again, only I'd find you sooner. That's something I'll always have."
VA did all it could
Suzie Heywood cannot say enough good things about the VA Hospital in Kerrville.
"They respected my husband," she said. "I know you hear nothing but bad things now, but they cared for him and respected him the man, not the rank. But, they are short-handed and can only do so much."
The facility provided as much treatment as it could. And, when Ralph began suffering from respiratory failure in November, he was admitted for full-time care. But, because of regulations, Suzie was not allowed to hire a nurse to provide around-the-clock care, and the facility did not have enough staff to provide that attention.
So, for 12 days and 12 nights, she stayed with her husband.
"It was not the VA's fault," Suzie said. "This is why it is important to fund these facilities, to keep them open for the veterans who have already given so much. The staff at the VA here in Kerrville works hard, but they are too short-handed. And, when it was time to consider hospice care, they took care of moving Ralph there."
The move to the Edgewater Care Center "took the pressure off," Suzie said. Finally, she traded the horse trailer for another RV and set up at an RV park in Kerrville so she could be near her husband.
"I would have lived in a tepee, if that's what it took," she said. "In the end, it was sort of a relief because I knew Ralph wasn't in pain anymore, and he wasn't worried about me anymore. I call it his second birthday."
The main question Suzie Heywood faces is where to go from here.
There is plenty to keep her busy. She is active in a group pushing for better benefits for former NFL players, especially those older players who did not benefit from the boom in salaries or the new agreement between the league and the players union. She stays in contact with a group headed by former NFL player and coach Mike Ditka that champions the cause, and in September will travel to Baltimore to speak on the inadequacies.
"There's what's fair and what's right," she said. "There are a lot of older former players who didn't get millions when they played, and they are living without adequate medical benefits. Some are homeless."
She will push to improve benefits for veterans and funding for VA hospitals.
"The facility here in Kerrville is so important," she said. "It is so serene and peaceful, a truly beautiful place for veterans. And, it's important that we remember not just the veterans coming back from Iraq, but the veterans who sacrificed in Vietnam, Desert Storm and all the wars."
And she will try to find a way to get her life moving forward again.
"I'm not destitute, and I don't want people to think I'm asking for money or help," she said. "I can take care of myself. I have a master's degree in education and 17 years of experience. I won't starve. But, I do need to find a way to move forward with my life."
But, first, she will make sure her constant companion of 26 years is properly remembered. USC called Friday to say the school's alumni association is organizing a fund-raising golf outing in Ralph's memory and is considering naming an award and scholarship in his honor.
Representatives of the NFL, too, are considering ways to honor the man, and dozens have contacted her in the past few days to offer their condolences and memories.
"Everything he accomplished in life, it doesn't go away now," she said. "I'm going to make sure that doesn't happen."
No matter the sacrifice.
Ralph Heywood didnt want to be John Wayne he WAS John Wayne:
ATTENTION ON DECK
REST IN PEACE, MARINE!!!!!
Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you: Jesus Christ and the American G. I. One died for your soul, the other for your freedom. PASS THIS ON! MANY SEEM TO FORGET BOTH OF THEM!! SEMPER FI