By Katie Morisson staff writer
Bostwick, is commonly referred to as small agricultural city, most well known for its annual Cotton Gin Festival. What many people don’t realize is that it was also home to former UGA football player and World War II veteran, Walter “Chief” Ruark. Walter Henry Ruark was born on November 16, 1918, in the city of Bostwick, Georgia. He grew up alongside his two brothers, J.B. and Parnell, who all loved to play ball. Walter played football and baseball at Monroe A&M high school in Monroe, GA, where he excelled as an athlete. As a result of his hard work and natural talent, he received a scholarship to play both football and baseball at the University of Georgia.
His journey was only beginning. Ruark was a member of the 1942 UGA football team, where he played alongside All-Americans Frank Sinkwich and George Poschner. Despite his reserved and mild disposition, his teammates gave him the nickname “Chief” due to his leadership skills and the fact that he was 1/8th Cherokee. That season, the Bulldogs went on to win nine games, including an astounding win against the University of Florida 75-0, a victory over Ole Miss 48-13, a 21-10 success over Alabama, and a shutout of 34-0 against Georgia Tech. Their only loss that year was against the Auburn Tigers at Memorial Stadium in Columbus, GA. As a result of the victorious season the Bulldogs traveled to Pasadena, California, where they played before 90,000 fans in the 1943 Rose Bowl. The Georgia Bulldogs would go on to win their first National Championship after defeating UCLA 9-0. Walter Ruark served as alternate captain for the 1942 Bulldogs, and he went on to receive offers to play for four National Football League Teams before signing with the Cleveland Rams.
However, Ruark’s football plans were brought to a hault when his leadership skills were needed on another battlefield – one that was overseas. At the age of 24, Walter Ruark served as Staff Sergeant of the 47th Infantry Regiment of the Ninth Division in World War II. On a dreary November day in 1944, Ruark would face the ultimate test. He led a five-man patrol in search of enemy snipers in Belgium, which was considered to be a “suicidal” mission. During this time, U.S. casualties had reached their peak in the war. But Ruark was not phased, especially when it came down to protecting his men and his country. Ruark finally lost his battle at the age of 26 to a German sniper. On November 24, 1944, at Hürtgen Forest in Belgium, Germany, Walter Ruark was killed instantaneously by a single bullet to his chest. By December 11, the Associated Press headlines read: “Former Georgia Star Killed. Staff Sgt. Walter Ruark, an All-Southeastern football star at the University of Georgia has been killed in action in Germany, the War Department informed his wife today. Ruark was alternate captain of the 1942 Georgia team and played on the varsity for three years.
Coach Butts called him ‘the best all-around guard that played here since I have been coach.’ He is survived by his widow, Mrs. Hazel Brackett Ruark; a daughter, Patricia Lynn; and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. G. R. Ruark, of Bostwick.” Ruark was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals for his bravery. His name can be found on the Student-Athlete War Memorial at the Rankin Smith Academic Center at the University of Georgia, as well as on a WWII memorial in Washington D.C. As freelance writer Hank Segars said in his Georgia Backroads magazine article, “Walter ‘Chief’ Ruark’s name does not appear on any athletic field, street sign, or memorial in his native Bostwick or elsewhere in Morgan County. In fact, the remarkable story of this outstanding athlete and gallant soldier seems nearly forgotten. Maybe those of us who live there today can do something about this.” Ruark’s daughter, Patricia Ruark Fleming of Clarkesville, has decided to do just that. She recently attended a Bostwick City Council meeting at the Susie Agnes Hotel where she offered to donate a glass enclosure to the city to protect and display her father’s memorabilia. Her father’s possessions are largely all that she knows of him. “He was killed when I was 14 months old,” said Fleming, “so I don’t know what he was like. I only know what people have told me.” She informed the council that she has a vast amount of his possessions that could potentially be displayed, including medals, copies of documents from professional football teams, his football uniform, and a personal letter from Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Fleming is certain that she wants his memorabilia to reside in his hometown. “Later on, when my time is up my children have been told to take whatever memorabilia that they don’t want and donate it to Bostwick. Right now I’m just not ready to give all of it up yet. I talked to the University of Georgia about displaying his football uniform along with other memorabilia, but they said they didn’t know if they would ever use it, so I said ‘No. No, no, no.’ I’ll give it to Bostwick where it can be displayed.” Along with the case of memorabilia Fleming also proposed the idea of a future monument to recognize his war efforts. The monument could potentially be incorporated with the Bostwick veteran’s memorial that is already underway. City council members and Patricia Ruark Fleming decided that the exhibit will be located downstairs at the Susie Agnes Hotel, and that investing in a case with wheels would be beneficial in allowing the case to move from City Hall, especially during Cotton Gin Festival days. Most importantly, Fleming simply wants her father’s story to be remembered in his hometown, and his memorabilia to be accessible to the eyes of the public.