It was the fall of 1947…the Allies had won the war in the spring of 1945, and life in the United States was settling back to normal…such was true of cities and small towns throughout our great country, and Malakoff was no exception. To be sure, the war had taken its toll. Young men from Malakoff had gone to war and helped defeat the Axis powers, but at great cost…Johnny Honey, one of the most beloved and best-known young men and athletes in Malakoff had died in a plane crash in 1942…the Tubbleville brothers had survived Japanese captivity in the Pacific, only to be killed in the waning months of the war.
Some had come home alive – Chester Cude, LeRoy Rogers, Cotton Monroe, Haynes Knox, and Buddy Thompson, to name a few…and they had come home highly decorated, but wounded – Chester left for dead on a battlefield in Europe, as my father related the story…these young men had known the horror of places like Tarawa and Okinawa in the Pacific – Normandy and The Bulge in Europe. However, now the war was over, and it was time to get back to normal…
Much was happening in Malakoff in 1947…the coal mines, the life blood of Malakoff’s economy, were done for…In March, Victor Lewis, former member of the Malakoff High School faculty, accepted a teaching position as head of the social science department at the Henderson County Junior College in Athens. In July, A. L. Kirby, leading Malakoff merchant and city leader had undergone a major operation and was recovering very slowly in a hospital in Dallas. September saw Margaret Jo Goodgame, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Goodgame, marry Bill Bradshaw, son of Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Bradshaw. And in November, The Rev. C. C. Gee, evangelist of Rockdale, Texas, assisted by his wife, conducted a revival at the Assembly of God Church in Malakoff.
There was good news and bad in our hometown that year…but that fall, there was magic – magic brought forth by the likes of lean and lanky young men named Barnett, Crawford, White, Lindamood, Maguire, Hounsel, Day, Miller Johnson, Mullins, Rogers…and King. Coached by MHS High School principal, Frank J. Nichols, the 1947 MHS Tiger football team won ten games against no defeats to capture the District Championship that fall. Led by a backfield comprising seniors Billy W. “Buster” Johnson, Benny “Skull” Rogers, and Rex “Duck” King, along with junior Claudie Mullins, the Tigers crushed their opponents by a scoring margin of 344 to 25…
These young men played a game foreign to us who observe the game of football today…they played with little padding and wore leather helmets with no face guards or face masks…there was one coach…they played on real grass fields and in the mud.. Truly, they played for the love of the game…and they won and they won and they won…they beat Crandall 63-0, Eustace 60-6, and Mabank 57-6. In the Mabank game, Rogers scored five touchdowns and Bill Johnson, Claudie Mullins, and Rex King scored the rest… they were unbeatable, and they lifted the spirits of everyone in Malakoff.
Their luck ran out against Ladonia on 5 December, 1947 in the bi-district game, which the Tigers lost by a score of 13-12. But this team and the young men who were part of it had done something special, something that has continued to be celebrated and talked about for years in Malakoff, even down to the present day.
After high school, some like Joe Barnett, left Malakoff. Manny Day went on to play at HCJC and East Texas State before he came back home. Benny, Claudie, and Rex went on to live and work in Malakoff and become part of the fabric of our hometown. As “Skull” told my mother several years ago, “I don’t want to go any other place, Pat. Hell, I don’t even want to go to Trinidad. Everything I need is right here in Malakoff.”
Rex married and had a family and continued to be part of Malakoff for the rest of his life. I remember him well, always with a smile – a big, true, genuine, smile; always happy; always glad to see my mother, just like Benny and Claudie were, for they were all lifelong friends.
In remembering Rex this morning on his Facebook page wherein I learned of Rex’s death, Benny Rogers said, “I will miss seeing him sitting in front of the field house in his lawn chair on Friday nights at Tiger football games. He was truly a good guy.”
I cannot think of a more fitting or higher tribute to Rex than that. He was, indeed, a really good guy, one whom I remember fondly. I called my mother late this morning to tell her of his passing…
Tonight, Claudie and Rex are gone, and only “Skull” remains…
I offer my sincere sympathy to Mrs. King, to Debbie, Sandy and to their families.
What is important in a small town is the people who become part of the fabric of its existence. They are the people who give it life, who define its being, who contribute to its collective character. These are the folks we think of when we think of our hometown of Malakoff. Rex was one of those people, and we are fortunate to have known him and to have benefitted from his love of our hometown, its people, and its schools.
Rest well, Rex. You made Malakoff a better place, and tonight, we are poorer for your passing. We will always remember #34 and that football season so many years ago. At the old football field and at the new one on cool, crisp fall evenings when there is high school football once again in Malakoff…Rex will be there.
And that is how it should be.