Frequently Asked Questions

This page has gotten so big that I have added this FAQ to summarize the basic information about Herman Wedemeyer’s life.

Where and when did Herman Wedemeyer play football?

Herman Wedemeyer was one of the country’s top athletes in the immediate post-war era. He played halfback for St. Mary’s College of California in the 1943, ’45,’46, and ’47 seasons. Football was a very different game in those days, and Wedey was a top all-around player, known for his ability to run the ball, pass, kick, and block with equal aplomb.

What were his nicknames?

Since his given name was a mouthful, Herman Wedemeyer had many nicknames. Throughout his life, many people called him "Wedey." He was also known as Squirmin’ Herman, the Hawaiian Hurricane, the Hawaiian Centipede, and Hula Hips.

Was he the first football All-American from Hawaii?

Wedey was the only consensus All-American from Hawaii for more than fifty years, until Chris Naeole of Colorado was so honored in 1996. Other players from Hawaii have also won All-American mention, though. Before Herman, All-American notice was gained by Atherton Gillman of Harvard in 1915 and Thomas Kaulukukui of Hawaii in 1935. After Wedey’s day, Hawaii All-Americans included Charlie Ane of USC in 1950, and from the University of Hawaii, Jeris Jerome White in 1973, Jesse Sapolu in 1980, Al Noga in 1986, and Jason Elam in 1991-92.

Who were some of the other great players of Wedey’s era?

The most famous football players of Wedey’s era were Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis of Army (Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside). Other great players were Johnny Lujack of Notre Dame, Charlie Trippi of Georgia, Bobby Layne and Hub Bechtol of Texas, Doak Walker of Southern Methodist, and Bob Fenimore of Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State).

Where is St. Mary’s College?

St. Mary’s is located in Moraga, California, a small town near Oakland. A Catholic school run by the Christian Brothers, St. Mary’s current enrollment is about 2200, but in Wedey’s day it was an all-male school of only a few hundred.

If Wedey was such a great player, why didn’t he play for a more famous school?

Back in those days, St. Mary’s was a nationally known football powerhouse. In the 1920s and 1930s, legendary coach Slip Madigan led the team to many victories, including a Cotton Bowl championship in 1939. The tradition continued into the 1940s before several factors led to the collapse of the St. Mary’s football program. These factors included the severe undermining of St. Mary’s fan base from the rise of the NFL, difficulty recruiting due to the college’s academic requirements, and an inability to adapt to the increased specialization in the game. The school abolished the football program after the 1950 season. It was revived in 1967 and St. Mary’s now plays a small college schedule.

What sports did Herman Wedemeyer play besides football?

Some felt Herman Wedemeyer was an even better baseball player than he was a football player. He was a star centerfielder on the St. Mary’s baseball team. He was an outstanding life-long golfer, often shooting his age well into his 70s. As a teenager, he was one of the first non-Asians in Hawaii to begin learning the martial arts, achieving a brown belt in judo by age 18. He reached black belt in karate in his 30s and taught martial arts. He was a very good boxer and excelled at water sports, including swimming, diving, and surfing.

What athletic honors did Wedey receive?

In 1945, Wedey was a consensus first-team All-American and finished fourth in the balloting for college football’s highest honor, the Heisman Trophy. He was the first man of color to contend for this award. In 1946 he was second-team All-American and finished fifth for the Heisman. Wedey played in post-season games all four years, representing the West in the East-West Shrine Game as a freshman and senior, and playing in the Sugar Bowl and the now-defunct Oil Bowl as a sophomore and junior. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979 and was in the first class of inductees into the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame.

Did he play in the NFL?

Wedey played professional football in 1948 and 1949 for the Los Angeles Dons and the Baltimore Colts in the All-American Football Conference, a short-lived rival to the NFL. Injuries kept him from achieving the glory that he enjoyed during his college career.

Did he play professional baseball?

Many accounts of the life of Herman Wedemeyer state that he played for the San Francisco Seals in the Pacific Coast League. However, he does not appear on any Seals roster, and it seems more likely that his baseball career ended after a season with a Seals farm team, the Salt Lake City Bees, in 1950.

Did he serve in the military during World War II?

Herman was enrolled in a navy pre-flight program but washed out because of a knee injury he incurred while skiing. He enlisted in the Merchant Marine and served in 1944 and 1945.

What years did Herman Wedemeyer appear on Hawaii Five-O?

Wedey played Duke Lukela from Hawaii Five-O’s fifth season (1972-73) to its final twelfth season (1979-1980). In his first three years on the show Duke was a uniformed sergeant from the Honolulu Police Department assigned to help Five-O. After the departure of Al Harrington (Ben) in the seventh season, Duke was promoted to plainclothes and became a full-fledged member of the Five-O team. Before landing the role of Duke Lukela, Wedey appeared on the show in bit parts a number of times, including in the show’s first episode, "Full Fathom Five," usually as a detective named Lt. Balta or as a uniformed officer named Ishi or Duke.

Did any of the episodes of the show feature Duke in a prominent role?

Most of the time, Duke, like the other supporting characters, played backup for Jack Lord’s Steve McGarrett. In "Death is a Company Policy," Duke is framed for corruption and nearly loses his badge. In "Descent of the Torches," Duke takes a main role in investigating the murder of an archaeologist digging for King Kamehameha’s grave. In "Lion in the Streets," Duke must tell McGarrett that he is the subject of a "kapu" and is now off-limits to native Hawaiians. There are many other episodes with good Duke moments.

Did he ever act in anything else?

He had a bit part in the 1970 James Michener epic "The Hawaiians." He appears as the fire chief during the movie’s climactic Chinatown blaze. Wearing a hat and a big bushy mustache, he can be recognized by his distinctive voice in his one line of dialogue with star Charlton Heston.

Did Herman play any musical instruments?

Herman was a good singer and also played the ukulele. In college, he and several of his buddies on the football team were known as the "Singing Four" for their barbershop quartet-style harmonies. Wedey also liked to entertain his friends by playing and singing Hawaiian novelty songs of the day like "Hawaiian War Chant."

Was Herman Wedemeyer a politician?

Yes. He served on the Honolulu City Council in 1969-70 as a Republican. Then he served two terms in the Hawaii State Legislature from 1970-74 as a Democrat. A bad heart attack forced him to quit politics and take up an easier job, which turned out to be acting.

Herman Wedemeyer doesn’t sound like a very Hawaiian name.

Wedey’s family heritage included Hawaiian, German, Irish, English, Chinese, and French Tahitian ancestry. His grandfather came to Hawaii as a young German seaman and married a Hawaiian girl, hence the Teutonic name.

What kind of work did he do outside of sports and acting?

He was in politics for six years, serving both the Honolulu City Council and the Hawaii State Legislature. The rest of his career he spent in sales and promotions for organizations such as the Ilikai Hotel, Hawaiian Airlines, Dairyman’s Association, and the Makaha Valley Golf Club. He retired from Toyota in 1996.

Is Charlie Wedemeyer Herman’s brother?

Herman was the oldest of the nine children of William and Ruth Wedemeyer and Charlie is the youngest. Charlie was an outstanding high-school football player and a member of Michigan State’s national championship team in the 1960s. He became a successful high school coach in Los Gatos, California before being stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1978. Charlie and his remarkable wife Lucy have been an inspiration for all who learn about them. They have been the subject of a documentary called One More Season and a TV movie called Quiet Victory. In 1993 they published a book called Charlie’s Victory about their struggle with Charlie’s disability.

Is Charlie Wedemeyer still alive?

Yes. Charlie is still alive and active in his inspirational speaking appearances with his wife Lucy.

When was Herman Wedemeyer born and when did he die? What caused his death?

Herman Wedemeyer was born May 20, 1924 in a rural area near Hilo, Hawaii. His family moved to the Kalihi neighborhood of Honolulu when Herman was four years old. He died January 25, 1999, of heart failure after an unsuccessful heart bypass operation several months earlier.

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