A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Billy Reed: Remembering day that ‘shall live in infamy’ — and ramifications that can still be felt

Somewhere in the late 1970s, I was introduced to Blackie Sherrod, the sportswriting legend of all Texans except those who had been cut by his rapier-like sense of humor.

He always used a subtle stiletto instead of a bludgeon’s clever so that some of his targets didn’t realize they had been cut until they saw the blood on their shirts.

My introduction came from Dan Jenkins, a friend and former colleague at Sports Illustrated. He had cut his journalistic teeth working for Blackie in Dallas and sharing many “young Scotches” with him after the next day’s columns had been put to bed.

The fact that Jenkins still idolized Blackie speaks volumes because Dan had become recognized as one of the funniest and most insightful writers in the history of American journalism. I remember being nervous about meeting Blackie, but he quickly put me at ease and made me feel like I was one of his guys.

Billy Reed is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He has been named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award twice. Reed has written about a multitude of sports events for over four decades and is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby. His book “Last of a BReed” is available on Amazon.

During World War II, Blackie was a member of the U.S. Navy and fought the Japanese in the Pacific Theatre. I don’t know if he brought home any souvenirs other than an abiding hatred and contempt for all things Japanese. I learned this at the 1980 U.S Open golf tournament at Baltusrol in New Jersey. After three rounds, the mighty Jack Nicklaus was tied with Isao Aoki for the lead, each six strokes under par. After Aoki’s press conference, Blsckie proclaimed, “I don’t care if the SOB wins by 10 because I’m not writing about him.”

I tried to interject some reason.

“But Blackie,” I said, “he said his father was a farm worker during the War.”

Unfazed. Blackie said, sarcastically, “Yeah, that’s what all those MFers say.”

The fourth round was a doozie. Unable to shake Aoki all day, Nicklaus made an 18-foot putt on the last hole to seal his fourth Open championship.

I think about that story every time we reach the anniversary of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. That day that “shall live in infamy,” as President Roosevelt put it in his trademark eloquence, dragged the United States, however grudgingly, into the War and changed the course of history.

The attack happened on December 7, 1941, and this year December 7 comes Tuesday. Other than the military, I’m not sure who will hold comparative programs. I hope President Biden will make a national address. Trump may claim his father was a farm worker during the War.

I was born on July 12, 1943. That year Count Fleet won America’s Triple Crown of Thoroughbred racing. Vastly more important, the tide began to turn America’s way in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.

I had several relatives who served in the military, but what I remember most is the conflicting way my father and my Uncle Buddy Cockrell handled the telling of their experiences. My father belonged to a Supply company, which meant he was never within 50 miles of the front lines. It also gave him the opportunity to bring home a lot of souvenirs — a German helmet, rifle, uniform, P-38 Walther pistol, etc. He loved to bring out his stash at family gatherings and talk incessantly about his heroic deeds in collecting so many artifacts.

On the other hand, my Uncle Buddy didn’t like to talk about his wartime experiences. “Too painful,” he said. He resisted our shameless begging as doggedly as he resisted Nazi assaults. Guess which one — the braggart or the quiet man — was one of Kentucky’s most decorated soldiers when accounting was done after the German surrender on May 6, 1945.

There are plenty of points to be made here about humility, selflessness, integrity, and so on. I will say no more and let readers dome up with their own reactions.

Today, of course, both Germany and Japan are deeply involved in our culture and economy. I think I can say that my friend Blackie never owned an automobile made by Honda, Toyota, Nisson, or Yamaha. But Mercedes-Benz or Volkswagen might be a different thing altogether. And you know what? That’s just fine with me. The national politically correct police can just go to hell. None of them have ever seen a decapitated or mutilated body, and the Japanese were known to be far more barbaric than the Germans.

I still wonder sometimes if my friend Blackie ever broke down and wrote something, anything, about Aoki.

Related Posts

One Comment

  1. Good to see you’re still banging away, Billy. Like you, I’ll be at it until.somebody tells me to stop. Best wishes for the holidays.

    –Bill & Pat

Leave a Comment