Art Cross was the first driver to be named Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year in 1952.
One item on his biography stands out as more heroic than driving an Indy car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He was wounded during the Battle of the Bulge in that bitterly cold winter of World War II and received the Purple Heart.
On this Veterans Day, INDYCAR recognizes the contributions of individuals related to the Indianapolis 500 and Indianapolis Motor Speedway who have served their country in the armed forces throughout the years.
Cross is one of at least three soldiers later involved with Indianapolis Motor Speedway who was wounded during Germany’s last-ditch effort to stop the allied forces from closing out the European part of World War II.
The other in the “Bulge” section was Rolla Vollstedt, the car owner who brought Janet Guthrie to the Indy 500. Clarence Cagle, later to run the Speedway for many years as superintendent, also was wounded during the same period in another battle.
Cross was a New Jersey native whose goal was to earn enough money in racing to buy a rural home in Indiana, which he did. Stark and Wetzel, a meat distributer in Indianapolis, stepped forward in 1952 and began the Rookie of the Year program. Cross started 20th and charged home fifth in that race just ahead of fellow rookies Jimmy Bryan and Jimmy Reece. He completed all 200 laps as he did again in 1953 (second) and 1954 (11th), although in the latter race he needed four different relief drivers on a hot, humid day. He started one more ‘500’ in 1955, fell out after 168 laps and placed 17th.
Cross purchased some land in northern Indiana near LaPorte and lived there the rest of his life. He died April 15, 2005.
Vollstedt landed in Normandy on D-Day (June 6, 1944), but was not wounded there. Later he did a house-to-house cleanup carrying a 45-caliber machine gun. He eventually reached Germany and on the last day of December 1944, was struck twice by machine gun fire. He was presented with a Purple Heart and Oak Leaf cluster. After leaving the hospital, he returned to his Portland, Ore., home.
Cagle, who grew up in Terre Haute, Ind., received Draft Notice No. 63 for World War II. He was assigned to Washington, D.C., and chauffeured Generals Eisenhower, Marshall and Patton. When dispatched to Europe in 1944 he again drove for Patton.
Promoted to platoon sergeant, he was put in charge of a unit assigned to clear out German troops in Southern France bypassed by the Americans on the charge north to the final showdown. He was struck by shrapnel from German artillery in the right side and lung. His final nine months in service were spent in a military hospital.
The following November, Tony Hulman purchased the Speedway and Cagle was chosen to head up the task of restoring the dilapidated facility back to race readiness by the following May.
Rene Thomas won the fourth Indy 500 as a French contingent of drivers returned to the Speedway for the second straight year. Jules Goux had won in 1913.
Finishing 14th in 1914 was Georges Boillot, who like the other French drivers, joined the French military in World War I. Boillot became a fighter pilot. On May 19, 1916, he flew out to the front in search for a German flying foe when he encountered five German fighters. In the ensuing dogfight, he shot down one plane but then was shot down himself. He died the next day in a hospital.
As far as can be established, Boillot, whose brother Andre raced in three Indy 500s after World War I, was the only Indy driver killed in action.
However, there is the strange story of S.E. Brock, who finished last in the 1914 race. He completed only five laps. In the records it is reported that he was lost at sea in a submarine in 1918 during World War I. However, other reports say this wasn’t true, that instead he returned to the West Coast, became a mining engineer and owned some clay mines.
Of course, the most famous U.S. World War I pilot was Eddie Rickenbacker. Born in Columbus, Ohio, he started in the Indy 500 in 1912, 1914, 1915 and 1916. He qualified second in his final race. He then joined the Army flying corps. When he first raced at Indy his name was spelled Rickenbacher.
Promoted from sergeant to captain and assigned to the famed Hat-in-the-Ring squadron, Rickenbacker shot down 21 enemy planes and five balloons and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
In 1928, he purchased the Speedway. During World War II he was sent on a mission to deliver a note to Gen. Douglas MacArthur. His B17 went off course and down in the Pacific Ocean, and he spent 24 days in a life raft with the plane's crew before they were spotted and rescued (one crew member had died and was buried at sea).
After war's end, Rickenbacker on Nov. 14, 1945, sold the Speedway to Tony Hulman for a reported $750,000.
Cagle wasn't the only race driver to chauffeur a dignitary during the World War II period. A hot-shot midget driver before the war, Len Duncan served four years in the Army during the conflict. Still on duty after Germany surrendered, he was chosen to drive President Harry Truman to the Pottsdam Conference in mid-July 1945. Also attending the Conference were British Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee and Russia's Communist Party Secretary Josef Stalin.
It wasn't until 1954 when Duncan was 42 years old that he made his only start in the Indy 500. He qualified the Brady Spl. 26th and lasted only 101 laps -- and that was with relief help from George Fonder -- for a 31st-place finish.
Billy Arnold won the 1930 Indy 500, leading 98 laps. Consecutive accidents in 1931 and 1932 led to his retirement. He then entered college at University of Illinois and earned a degree in mechanical engineering followed by a Ph.D from Michigan Institute of Technology. In World War II he served under Gen. Dwight Eisenhower as chief of maintenance for the 8th Air Force. He departed the military as a one-star General.
Yet another Indy 500 driver also handled chauffeuring duties for war bigwigs. Frenchman Louis Chiron didn't compete at Indy until 1927. He finish seventh in his only start. Nine years earlier, he drove for Marshal Foch, commander in chief for the French western front, and Gen. Petain though only 18 years old. Chiron later competed into the 1950s in his mid-50s as the oldest driver in Formula One and eventually became director of the Monaco Grand Prix.
Rodger Ward won the Indy 500 twice during an incredible string of 1-2-3-1-4-2 finishes between 1959 and 1964. He also flew P38s in World War II, learned to fly a B17 and was a flight instructor.
Dan Gurney, one of America's foremost drivers both in Europe and at Indy (a second- and third-place finish) and car-builder, too, spent most of his two years in the Army with an anti-aircraft unit in Korea.
Actor James Garner, an Indy 500 Pace Car driver and one of the most popular celebrities at the Speedway ever, somehow survived the Chinese Communists swarming attack across the 38th Parallel. He already had been struck by shrapnel and qualified for a Purple Heart. His unit had lost 100 of its 130 men when his commander, wounded eight times but still leading, withdrew the remaining survivors. The next day they were strafed by friendly planes and Garner was hit in the butt as he dived into a fox hole. Somehow the next day he and an even more severely wounded South Korean soldier managed to hobble back to their lines without being fired on by watching enemy.
Another celebrity as well as car-owner, Paul Newman spent time in the South Pacific in the Naval Air Force. He was turned down for pilot training because he was color blind, but became a radioman/turret gunner on the USS Avenger out of Hawaii and then was aboard the USS Bunker Hill during the Battle of Okinawa. His squadron was sent out to battle but his plane was held back because the pilot had an ear infection. None of the others returned.
Newman won many awards, including an Oscar, for his acting and in auto racing both as a driver and owner. But he might have been proudest of his Navy Combat Action ribbon and Combat Air Crew wings.
John Jenkins has a special place in the various wars. Born Nov. 11, 1875, in Cardiff, Wales, he had emigrated to the U.S. and served in the military during the Spanish-American War of 1898. Jenkins raced in the Indy 500 in 1912 and 1913 finishing seventh and 25th, respectively. He died Nov. 26, 1945, in Brownsville, Texas.
At least three drivers -- Steve Chassey, Pete Halsmer and Hurley Haywood -- did duty in Vietnam. Chassey flew in helicopters, while Halsmaer was an electronical engineer. Chassey drove in the 1983, 1987 and 1988 Indy 500s, while Halsmer started in 1981 and 1982. Haywood drove only in the 1980 race.
Ray Crawford, a native of New Mexico, flew P38s in combat over North Africa, scoring six aerials victories. Later he became a test pilot for the P80 before leaving the Air Force and returning to auto racing. He qualified for the 1955, '56 and '59 Indy 500s, finishing 23rd twice.
Ben Jones didn't fight in either war. But the Mississippi native became a military pilot after his one appearance in the Indy 500 in 1926 (18th). Two days before Christmas in 1938, his Air Force plane crashed in Alabama and he was killed.
Johnny Thomson did see action as crew chief on a B25 in the Italian zone. He earned five battle stars and the Distinguished Air Force Medal for bravery. After the war he drove in eight Indy 500s between 1953 and 1960. He started on the pole in 1959 and finished third. He also had finishes of fourth and fifth. He was killed in a racing accident at Allentown, Pa., on Sept. 24, 1960.
Seattle-born "Cactus Jack" Turner spent 32 months in the South Pacific during World War II, but the last three times at Indy might have been more harrowing. In 1961 and 1962, he did end-over-ends down the main straightaway in the race and when it happened again in practice in 1963 -- his car was in flames when it came to a halt and he spent 12 weeks in the hospital -- he retired.
Certainly, there are many others associated with the Indy 500 -- mechanics, car-builders, safety patrol members, etc., who served in the military, possibly even in the more recent conflicts in Iraq and Iran. When the national anthem is sung, taps played and fly-over before start of the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on May 29, 2016, these are some of many who will be remembered.