By J. Henderson
Cairo, Egypt. November, 1942.
Just prior to participating in Operation Torch, the first combined American and British invasion of WWII, Capt. Earle R. Smith, an Auburn native and graduate serving with an AAF unit attached to the British 8th Army, bribes an Egyptian tour guide to not only look the other way while he scales the side of the Great Sphinx of Giza under the relentless desert sun, but to procure for him a chisel and mallet so that Smith, before he tackles Rommel’s dreaded Afrika Corps, can carve into the cheek of the famous monument the two words best signifying pure American glory.
“Gazing upon the huge, inscrutable countenance, the captain, always a loyal Auburn man, decided that [the Sphinx] had been silent long enough and that henceforward it should proclaim, or at least exhibit, to the whole world a symbol of that dauntless ‘Spirit’ which has made the college of the Plains famous throughout the world of sports,” read a story in the July 7th, 1944 Auburn Plainsman recounting Smith’s deed.
The symbolic vandalism manifest in two words:
Though Smith’s graffiti is today illegible, what could drive a man to take such risks, to be so seemingly cavalier toward antiquity, and all on the eve of possible Nazi Armageddon? Why was he so compelled to do what he did and what are the implications for Auburn fans past and present? What does “War Eagle” mean?
Hopefully, we will soon find out.
This is the first installment in a series, a multi-post investigation into the origins, meaning and significance of the expression “War Eagle,” arguably the most mysterious and misunderstood battle cry in all of college football. Rarely, in fact, does a day pass that someone does not find TWER via a search engine query generated with terms obviously intended to land at an answer to what “War Eagle” means.
An answer will take some time, and I ask for your indulgence, but I chose this week to begin because the furthest feather of War Eagle myth stretches its tip to the very first Auburn football game, a 10-0 victory over the University of Georgia won in 1892.