Fifty years ago, a group of mostly 17- and 18-year-olds from the Philadelphia and New Jersey area walked out onto Franklin Field for a rare appearance.
On October 15, 1967, 86 young men were sworn into the Marine Corps at the halftime of the 49ers-Eagles game. The momentous event marked the first and only swearing-in ceremony at an Eagles game to this day. This squad of young men would forever be known as the Philadelphia Eagles Platoon.
By enlisting in the Marines and signing up to be a part of the Platoon, the purpose of the ceremony wasn't to just hand the recruits free tickets to the game. Instead, it was to celebrate the young men as special guests in front of the fans at Franklin Field. At halftime, the Platoon marched to the 50-yard line to take the oath on that sunny afternoon.
As history would have it, there is very little physical remaining evidence of the formation and current whereabouts for all of the members of this historic group. Photographs and inscriptions of the group were difficult to track down. At the time, these young boys received no special badges or memorabilia to carry off to war with them. But as a group, they were presented with a banner that read "2062 U.S. Marine Corps Eagles Platoon" to show the support from Philadelphia as well as commemorate their service to the country.
The teenagers-turned-privates were proud to be members of the Eagles Platoon as they headed off to war. While true, there was no official designation, this was a moment to let these young men stand before the hometown crowd.
After the ceremony, the troops were bussed to the airport to say goodbye to their loved ones before they were shipped off to Parris Island, South Carolina to begin recruit training before most were deployed to Vietnam. The names of the members lost during the war are written on the Fishtown Memorial located in Philadelphia. For many of the members remaining, the day at Franklin Field was one they'll never forget.
"It was a beautiful Sunday," Phillip Freeman recalls. "You couldn't have asked for a better day for it to take place."
A ticket stub from the game 50 years ago.
Joseph Parsons remembers the boxed lunch of salami sandwiches. He even recalled where the Platoon was sitting – the corner of the upper section of Franklin Field in the end zone.
Although all were from the Philadelphia and New Jersey areas, the members of the Platoon came from different backgrounds and faced difficult situations. Sergeant Richard Bright was seeking a way to escape the gang wars occurring in his South Philadelphia neighborhood.
"When I joined the Marine Corps, they asked if I wanted to be included into what was being known as the Philadelphia Eagles Platoon," Bright recalls. "We marched on the field. Some people booed, some people clapped, but it was a whole big experience. Being on the 50-yard line was an experience in itself at halftime.
"I was very, very proud of being out there and marched as much as I could."
Interestingly, not everyone knew about the group's banding. A young David Miller was in the minority that afternoon and had the news broken to him by another recruit the very day of the ceremony.
"I didn't know anything about the (swearing-in ceremony)," Miller says. "I thought we were getting on the bus going to the airport and going to Parris Island. The game was a pleasant surprise."
A memorial in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia.
Some in the Platoon had more responsibilities than others. Corporal George Otis Jones was the House Mouse who had the responsibility of making sure the cleaning supplies were put out and the drill instructor's office was clean. Jones quickly became the group's most beloved member because of his role.
"It made us kind of close too. Our Platoon loved me because I guess they felt kind of sorry for me," Jones laughs. "It came to the point where guys would take up for me. Nobody could mess with me."
Another recruit, Thomas Anderson was able to recently reconnect with four of the other Platoon members at a breakfast spot up in Northeast Philly.
"The crowd, they were supportive in the fact that they clapped for us. There wasn't any against the war-type stuff going on," says Anderson of that day in 1967.
A handful of members will be honored Sunday during the Salute to Service game when the Eagles play the Broncos to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the initial ceremony.
"I've been trying desperately to find others if they're still living. I would love to run into some former recruits," Jones says.
The game program mentions the induction.