September 01, 2022

A Game in a Time of War

Buzz Bissinger ’72 writes a captivating true story about 65 Marines with an affinity for football during World War II.
by Nancy Hitchcock

"Football is much more than a game,” states Buzz Bissinger ’72. The author of Friday Night Lights—the 1990 book that inspired the eponymous movie and TV series—returns to the sport in his latest book, The Mosquito Bowl. The captivating true story delves into the lives of 65 young Marines—including many that played college football and some that had even been drafted to the NFL—who ended up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on Christmas Eve in 1944, where they engaged in a game of football like no other. Beyond their playing field of dirt and coral, Bissinger draws us into the lives of the men, their aspirations, their families, and the days leading up to the Battle of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest of World War II.

Bissinger says he felt compelled to tell this story and memorialize the young Marines, many of whom died at Okinawa. “I wanted to show readers how beautiful these men were, how dedicated they were, how willing to sacrifice they were,” Bissinger says. “They weren’t perfect. No one’s perfect. They were the true essence of ordinary men rising to extraordinary circumstances.”

One of the main characters, John McLaughry ’36, was the football captain at Brown and had played with the New York Giants before joining the Marines. Bissinger was able to bring McLaughry’s character to life, thanks to his correspondence with two of McLaughry’s children, Richard and Marguerite, who graciously allowed Bissinger access to a treasure trove of items, including Andover report cards, writings about Andover-Exeter games, and handwritten letters from the war.

“I was enormously lucky. The family had kept everything,” says Bissinger.

Reflecting on his own Andover experience, Bissinger, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, says he is grateful to the school for instilling in him the love of writing and journalism. He received encouragement and praise from his first English instructor, Hart Leavitt, and history instructor Tom Lyons, and he spent countless hours writing for The Phillipian as a sports editor.

“I had this tremendous opportunity to write for a weekly newspaper, and it gave me the experience to know this was what I wanted to do full time. For that,” he says. “I’m indebted to Andover.”

Categories: Alumni, Magazine, Magazine Online

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