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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,162

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This is the grave of John Roosma.

Born in 1900, Roosma was an excellent basketball player in Passaic and played some semi-pro ball after high school. He was in fact a high school legend, maybe the first real high school hoops star in American history. His Passaic teams, coached by Ernest Blood, won a remarkable 179 straight games. He was the dominant performer on the teams from 1919-21.

But then he went to the Military Academy at West Point, starting later than most cadets. I don’t exactly know how he got five seasons there since four is the norm, but he did and graduated in 1926. In any case, this was the era where sports really mattered at the military academies and the different generals and colonels took a lot of pride in having the best of the best. I recently re-read James Jones’ From Here to Eternity, which goes into a lot of detail on this and it’s the frame by which our anti-hero refuses to play along with the military, since he won’t box anymore after killing someone in the ring. I mention this because of how Roomsa got into West Point–Douglas MacArthur wanted him for the basketball team so the general could have bragging rights. There’s no question that in terms of the quality of hoops, MacArthur got what he wanted. Roosma was totally dominant. He was the first 1,000 point career scorer in college basketball history. In his time there, Roosma’s teams went 73-13.

Now, at this point in time, there was no NBA or anything. As far as basketball went, this was the end of the line. So Roosma dedicated his career to the Army. He was stationed in Hawaii when Pearl Harbor happened, by this time a colonel, and he led troops through the war. He commanded the 334th Combat Infantry Regiment in the European theater and into Germany. After the war, he was the commander at Governors Island, which is a pretty easy posting. He finally retired from the military in 1956. He took a job running a military school in New Jersey between 1958 and 1961. That year, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. That had just started in 1959, so he was part of the third class. The first two classes tended to focus on people still reasonably remembered at the time-George Mikan most notably. In the third class, it went back to the game’s roots and inducted a lot of early stars. Roosma was one of them. He was still alive and in good shape for this.

Roosma died in 1983. He was 83 years old.

John Roosma is buried in United States Military Academy Post Cemetery, West Point, New York.

If you would like this series to visit other people inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1961, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Bennie Borgmann is in Totowa, New Jersey and Ed Wachter is in Troy, New York. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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