Before BYU basketball stars Jimmer Fredette and Danny Ainge graced the Marriott Center and television sets of the nation, another former player also caught the eye of America, except at Madison Square Garden.
Dale Brough Rex, a 6-foot-7, 200-pound center, and the rest of his BYU basketball team played a national tournament in New York City against Long Island University. Known as "Randy" on the court (nicknamed from his home town of Randolph, Utah), he not only was a talented athlete but a talented soldier, and he sacrificed his life during World War II.
His legacy lives on today in BYU athletics as each year the Cougar Club presents the Dale Rex Memorial Award. It is given to the individual selected by the Cougar Club to have contributed most to amateur athletics in the state. Past winners include Dave Rose, Steve Young, Danny Ainge, LaVell Edwards, Greg Marsden and Missy Marlowe.
"Each year, the BYU Cougar Club gives out the Dale Rex Memorial Award because Dale personified the whole package of a student athlete and his character shined through his reverence and vigor," said Robert Freeman, director of the "Saints at War" project. "As history played out, he answered his nation's call and ultimately paid the price of his life and sealed his legacy. All lamented that he didn't come home."
Rex was the fourth child of Samuel and Elizabeth Smith Rex and was born and raised on his family's ranch in Randolph. He graduated from South Rich High School in 1939 and went to BYU from 1939-1943, where he was a member of the basketball team. In his last two years, he was both an All-Western Division center and All-Conference Center (honorable mention).
His roommate in 1942, George C. Clark, wrote in the biography "Dale Rex Memorial Award: the Man, the Athlete, the World War II Hero" that "(Dale) was a man worthy of emulation. His integrity was beyond reproach, he was upbeat, he loved life, ranching, basketball and people. … These characteristics were also with him in the battlefield. His greatest desire was to protect the freedom of the United States for all of its citizens."
After graduating in secondary education in 1943, Rex was asked to be an athletic director for the Navy at Yelland Field, Nev. As his older sister, Barbara Rex Wade, writes in the biography, he set an example to the boys he was over by drinking milk at every meal and even drove the boys to Ely, Nev., for an LDS church service. Moving to Tyler, Texas, in an Army camp, Rex did missionary work with Asael Lyman in town when not on duty. Rex talked about serving a mission later in his life, but he was called to serve his country instead.
Rex served in the 5th Infantry Division in England, France and Germany. His family today remembers his legacy while fighting during World War II.
"Growing up, my dad would often tell me the story of his cousin, Dale Brough Rex," Dale Rex Law, a first cousin twice removed, said. "My favorite part of the story was when Dale swam across a cold German river four times in order to help the wounded and weary cross during a retreat. Amazingly, he had only learned to swim one year earlier. His example has helped inspire me to give to those around me on several occasions."
Rex received the Distinguished Service Cross from Maj. Gen. S. Leroy Irwin in Metz, France, for his efforts in fighting the Germans on the Moselle Bridgehead in France.
Less than a month after being promoted to sergeant at the end of November, he was killed in action on Dec. 18, 1944.
Wade wrote that before he died, he said, "I'm glad I had the chance to do my shooting on the basketball court. I believe every athlete would rather win a varsity letter than all the medals the generals can pin on him."
Rex was buried in Lorraine, France, in an American cemetery. Later on, his body was returned to Randolph, and his uncle, LDS Church President George Albert Smith, spoke at his graveside memorial service.
Throughout his war time, letters reflect Rex's moral character. For example, in a birthday letter he wrote to his grandmother, related in the biography, he wrote, "Even here upon this battlefield in France, I give thanks for the privilege I have of living upon the face of this earth, as without this opportunity of gaining a mortal body, all eternity would not be complete. Without you, Grandmother, I wouldn't have had the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. The testimony which I have grown within me since childhood, so your efforts have not been in vain. I pray my testimony may grow as the days go by, and that I will never do anything that will bring dishonor to my name."
Rex displayed characteristics that are still remembered and honored in his extended family.
"Like all great heroes, he was more concerned about others than himself," Law said. "As the medic was treating his fatal wound, Dale chided him, insisting there were others in greater need of the attention. That is what made him so great. The amazing thing is that there are still soldiers and everyday heroes like Dale out there. His story has been well documented, but so many stories are lost before they are recorded."
Today, BYU honors Rex by naming the U.S. Army Reserve Center in Provo the Dale Rex Hall, in addition to the Dale Rex Memorial Award.
email: email@example.com. All biographical information about Dale Rex was compiled by Clark in his book, "Dale Rex Memorial Award: the Man, the Athlete, the World War II Hero." The book can be found in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections in the Harold B. Lee Library on the BYU campus.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company