The lives of many people were changed during the first Central Hockey League season for the Missouri Mavericks. Several of the team’s season ticket holders have told me they never thought they would like hockey and predicted doom for the Independence Events Center prior to the Mavs’ inaugural campaign.
Among the skeptics was the club’s beat writer, Bill Althaus. Not only did Althaus become a hockey fan, following the Mavericks first season he received the CHL Media Services Award.
When Althaus was in the press box, his now 81-year-old mother, Joyce, “Bubbles” Althaus was also in attendance.
Recently, I had the privilege of having lunch with Bubbles and she told me how her late husband, Kenny, and the men he served with in the United States Marine Corps Fighting Item Company have inspired the Missouri Mavericks since season one.
Bubbles said, “Whoever thought a woman my age would become a hockey fan?” Become a fan she did; and during the Mavs first campaign she became close friends with forward Toby LaFrance.
Late in that season, with the Mavericks in dire need of victories, LaFrance told Bubbles the team needed inspiration. After much thought, Bubbles remembered a time she relayed information of the Fighting Item Company to encourage a young man facing a difficult situation.
Bubbles Althaus then wrote a story of her late husband, Kenny, and the rest of Fighting Item Company, and how they overcame tremendous odds to secure trails over a mountain into South Korea.
This Korean War battle began when the 327 men in Fighting Item Company were ordered to pack a week’s worth of food, water and ammunition and head into the mountain trails. The one-week mission turned into 96 days as their exit trails were cut off and they were forced to battle thousands of North Korean and Chinese troops day and night in the middle of winter. The Marines were not allowed to take their boots off the entire time they were pinned to the mountain.
Kenny and the members of Fighting Item suffered several casualties but did not let the trails fall to the enemy.
One of the bleakest times occurred when they saw the cargo plane which had been dropping food and supplies get shot down. However, another cargo plane kept the unit supplied.
The Marines were finally rescued. The survivors were packed into two helicopters who took them from the side of the mountain. It was the first helicopter evacuation used in warfare. The 27 men who were still able to walk carried the wounded to the choppers and pulled those who couldn’t walk on top of them for the journey home.
Finally able to remove their boots; their socks disintegrated when the boots came off.
Bubbles said the Mavericks’ Head Coach, Scott Hillman, read the story to the Mavericks’ players. The players became emotional and very determined while listening to the story. She also gave the Marine dress blues jacket, which belonged to Kenny, to her son Bill who presented it to Hillman. The jacket is now displayed in the Mavericks’ dressing room.