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Iowa History Daily: July 18 - Fred Becker, Hawkeye & American Legend

Iowa History Daily: On July 18, 1918, Waterloo East graduate and the University of Iowa’s first ever All-American, Fred Becker, died after charging a German machine-gun nest during World War I’s Battle of Soissons.

Known as an incredibly hard working student and athlete while shining at Waterloo East High School, Becker’s play at center for the football team opened up an opportunity to venture south and attend the University of Iowa in 1915. During an era where freshmen couldn’t suit up on Saturdays to play in games, Becker spent his first year in Iowa City dominating older teammates on the practice squad.

Half-way through his first and only season for the Hawkeyes, Head Coach Howard Jones and Assistant Coach Bunt Kirk shifted Becker to tackle. The 5’11”, 165 lb. Becker played well in his new role. Additionally, the Waterloo-native blocked two punts against Iowa State during a 19-16 University of Iowa victory. Awarded by the press as an All-American, Becker’s accomplishment gains distinction as the first University of Iowa player to receive the honor.

Becker enlisted in the US Army in the weeks following American entry in World War I, sacrificing his promising football career to serve his country. Passing rapidly through accelerated training and earning commission as a 2nd Lieutenant he found assignment with the 18th Company, 2nd Brigade of the 5th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Brigade. Becker found himself sailing for France as his former Hawkeye teammates competed during September of 1917.

Wounded during the Battle of Belleau Wood during early June 1918, a reassignment took Becker to serve as commander of the lead platoon of the 55th Company. Back on the battlefield at the Battle of Soissons he led his men forward to attack several machine gun nests, and is credited with attacking and destroying one German nest by himself. Continuing to fight on, an artillery shell struck Becker and killed him.

Awarded with the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, and France’s Croix de Guerre, Becker’s memory largely faded until Mike Chapman rediscovered and publicized the story during 2008. The following year, the University of Iowa and Waterloo East High School each enshrined the heroic Becker in their respective halls of fame. In 2012, Waterloo further honored him with the opening of Fred Becker Elementary School #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar


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