Tony Butkovich led the nation in rushing at Purdue in 1943. He became a Boilermaker as part of the Navy and Marine Corps V-12 training program, leading Purdue to a 9-0 record. He was killed in action on Okinawa during World War II on April 18, 1945.
Purdue University photos
The V-12 Navy and Marine Corps College Training Program not only helped the military by producing college-educated officers for World War II. It also helped colleges and universities dealing with declining enrollment because of the war.
V-12, which started in 1943, came at a time when the nation was dealing with World War II and the effects of the Great Depression, so many people did not think they would have the opportunity to go to college, said Lt. Bryan Garcia, assistant professor of naval science at Purdue University.
“The college system itself was suffering a decline because so many people were heading off to war,” Garcia said. “V-12 stepped in and allowed a lot of young men who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to attend college to get an education and serve as officers in the Navy and Marine Corps.”
Between July 1, 1943, and June 30, 1946, more than 125,000 men enrolled in the program in 131 colleges and universities. Purdue was among six Indiana colleges and universities that benefited from the program. The others were DePauw, Indiana, Indiana State, Notre Dame and Wabash.
Like Tony Butkovich, Alex Agase started his college career at the University of Illinois before relocating to Purdue to train to become a Marine Corps officer in 1943. Agase fought at Iwo Jima and Okinawa and later was head football coach at Purdue from 1973-76.
Purdue University photos
The Purdue football team also benefited from the program. While many schools dropped football during World War II, Purdue played on. In 1942, Purdue won only one game, beating Northwestern 7-6. Purdue was shut out five times and was outscored 179-27 in nine games.
But in 1943, seven naval trainees and 26 Marine trainees joined the football team, according to Tom Schott, associate athletics director for communications.
Purdue jumped out to a 7-0 record and a No. 2 national ranking before seven players – Alex Agase, Tony Butkovich, Jim Darr, John Genis, Tom Hughes, Bill Newell and Bill O’Keefe – were called to active duty with two games remaining on the schedule.
With a depleted squad, Purdue rallied for victories at Minnesota (14-7) and Indiana (7-0) to finish 9-0 and share the Big Ten Conference championship with Michigan.
Agase, an All-American at Illinois in 1942 and at Purdue in 1943 during V-12 training, served two years in the Marines before returning to Illinois to regain All-American status in 1946. He was Purdue’s head football coach from 1973 to 1976.
Butkovich led the Big Ten in scoring with 14 touchdowns in only seven games in 1943. Butkovich, a Marine, was killed on the island of Okinawa on April 18, 1945.