Crystal Lake’s Charlie Behan perished in Battle of Sugar Loaf Hill

A funeral notice for Lt. Charles Edwin Behan Jr. that appeared in The (Crystal Lake) Herald, on Page 4 of the June 7, 1945 edition.

Charlie Behan was a rangy 6-foot-3 football pass catcher end who became one of Crystal Lake’s first superb high school athletes in the late 1930s. But he was most famous for his exploits on Sugar Loaf Hill, a miserable rock pile on the miserable rock pile named Okinawa.

Northern Illinois University (then the Northern Illinois State Teachers College) recruited him enthusiastically, and then he became a Detroit Lions rookie in 1942.

But his fame came in Okinawa in the Pacific War.

Behan’s story was researched by Terry Frei of the Denver Post in 2010.

As Frei found, Behan was commissioned a lieutenant with the 6th Marine Division, first on Guadalcanal and then Okinawa.

Noted Frei: “During fighting against Japanese forces on Okinawa on the morning of May 18, 1945, shrapnel struck Marine Lt. Charles E. Behan in the mouth. Behan’s ‘runner,’ Bill Hulek, wondered if the severely bleeding lieutenant would head back to the aid station.

" ‘Behan insisted on staying on the front lines. He kept changing cotton in his mouth,’ Hulek said. Behan had a last charge to make – up Sugar Loaf Hill.”

But Behan was famous before he arrived on Okinawa.

In late 1944, when he was with the new 6th Marine Division on the secured Guadalcanal, he played in a Christmas Eve “touch football game” between teams representing the 4th and 29th Regiments.

“Touch” was not the precise word to describe what might have been the hardest-hitting game in American sports history.

Frei said he came across the game in “Third Down and a War to Go” book research, and wrote in the Post about several other former pro and collegiate football star Marines who played in it.

According to Frei, “Behan was the 29th Marines’ player-coach and team captain in what the roster sheets passed out that day labeled ‘The Football Classic.’ Thousands of Marines, including high-ranking brass, ringed the mostly coral and rock field to watch the teams made up mostly of former college and NFL players. The “classic,” a rough game that mocked the word “touch,” ended in a scoreless tie.”

Most Marine players and spectators involved in “The Football Classic” were shipped to Okinawa in April 1945.

That’s where Behan’s unit ran into Sugar Loaf Hill on May 18.

As the 6th Marines moved forward, they were ordered to capture the Sugar Loaf Hill Complex: three hills that formed the western anchor of the Shuri Line defense. As history records it, Sugar Loaf Hill, the main hill, was a small, insignificant-looking mound, barely 50 feet high and about 300 yards long, situated on the southern end of Okinawa.

In the Battle of Sugar Loaf Hill, Behan was hit with shrapnel in the mouth. Insisting to stay on the front lines, Behan stuffed cotton to his mouth and changed it out regularly.

After tossing grenades at a Japanese machine gun nest, he was hit by machine gun fire and died.

He was one of 12,000 Americans who died on Okinawa. Japan lost 100,000 soldiers, and an equal number of civilians perished.

Behan was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.

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