- What do a Marine, a football legend, an officer's sword, an antique store and the National Museum of the Marine Corps have in common? Typically nothing would link all these together except when the Marine is a football playing officer whose Mameluke-type sword showed up for sale in a Fredericksburg, VA antique store. Even that wouldn't usually get a lot of attention from the weapons curators at the Museum except that this sword had a very unique name engraved onto the blade.
The Mameluke-type sword being offered for sale was engraved with the name "Frank B. Goettge," a Marine officer who earned notoriety on the battlefield as well as on the football field. Goettge was raised in Ohio and attended Ohio State University where his prowess on the football field, even as a freshman, was making headlines when the United States entered World War I.
He put his education on hold to serve his country, enlisting in the Marine Corps in May 1917. Geottge was promoted to corporal on October 9, 1917, and then to sergeant on December 19. By March 1918 he was rated as first sergeant, and the senior enlisted man of the USS Vermont's Marine detachment.
Goettge was commissioned as a second lieutenant in July 1918. He was assigned to the 5th Marines in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and then pulled occupation duty in Germany. There he excelled as a fullback on the 2d Division, American Expeditionary Forces football team.
Goettge served in Haiti, San Francisco and Pearl Harbor before being noticed for his football skills again at Marine Corps Base Quantico where he was enrolled in the Company Officers' Course, Marine Corps Schools. It was during this period that he won gridiron fame as part of the Marine Corps Football Team at Quantico. Fans across the region knew him as "The Great Goettge." As a fullback, Goettge dominated the field and was hailed as one of the greatest players of the day. From 1921 to 1924 Goettge helped carry the All Marines team to forty victories and two ties. Sports writer Walter Camp said of him "Today, for today at least, I saw my greatest all-time football player; for today at least greater than Jim Thorpe on a good day. The big fellow's name is Frank Goettge." He was even recruited by the New York Giants, but he turned them down to remain in the Marine Corps.
He did serve with giants of his time, especially when he was detailed as Aide to President Hoover and later to MGen. Ben H. Fuller, Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Various tours of duty followed until June of 1942 when LtCol. Goettge arrived in the Pacific theater as Intelligence Officer of the 1st Marine Division and was promoted to colonel before landing on Guadalcanal. It was during this tour that Goettge was killed in action leading the ill-fated "Lost Patrol" on Guadalcanal.
When a Japanese soldier captured on Guadalcanal reported there were other soldiers who were sick and willing to surrender, Goettge, now the division's top intelligence officer, asked to lead a patrol to find them. He packed a 25-man outfit with more intelligence officers, the division's head surgeon and a top interpreter, along with the prisoner.
The patrol landed in pitch dark the night of Aug. 12 in the wrong place where they were warned not to go because of a heavy concentration of Japanese forces. Shortly after the landing the Japanese opened up with machine gun and rifle fire, decimating the patrol. The first shots killed Goettge, according to the accounts. Before dawn, the patrol had been wiped out aside from three survivors who managed to swim back to friendly lines. They reported seeing Japanese swords "flashing in the sun" as they fell upon the wounded and dead. One of the survivors removed Goettge's watch and insignia so the Japanese would not be able to identify him as an officer. The colonelís remains were never recovered.
In addition to the many awards Goettge earned during his 25 year career, including the Legion of Merit with Combat "V", Goettge was also enshrined as a member of the Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame, Class of 2001.
Based on the provenance of this important Marine, the museum was able to purchase the sword and scabbard. The sword and scabbard will be restored in preparation for display in the Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame gallery, which will be included in the Museumís final phase scheduled to open in 2017.