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Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Extraordinary Life of a 1930 US World Cup Squad player.

This is an article about a player who didn't play one minute of the United States' World Cup campaign, but the life of James Cuthbert Gentle was extraordinary and fascinating enough for me to mention him in this blog.

There is some discrepancy over his date of birth. His biography found on the website of Pennsylvania University (see link below) states that he was born in Boston, Massachussetts, on July 21st, 1904, as does his wikipedia page. However, his grave stone is engraved with the birth date of July 17th 1904.

On May 22, 1986, James Gentle passed away and a obituary appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer (23 May 1986):


James C. Gentle, 81, an insurance broker and Olympic athlete who led troops through some of the most bloody battles of World War II, died yesterday at the Clara Burke Nursing Home, formerly of Elkins Park and Flourtown, he lived in Chestnut Hill.

A native of Brookline, Mass., Mr. Gentle came to Philadelphia to attend the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He quickly built a reputation there in two of Penn's roughest sports, soccer and field hockey.

He was twice named to the All-American soccer team. His brother, Dick Gentle, added another touch to the family name, serving as captain of Penn's football team.

James Gentle remained active in his sports. He played on the U.S. team that took third place in the World's Open Soccer Tournament in Uruguay in 1930. He was a member of the U.S. Field Hockey Team at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932.

He competed on both the U.S. Field Hockey and Soccer teams of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

He maintained his interest in Penn's athletic teams in later years, serving as president of the Varsity Club and working with the university's Advisory Board on Athletics.

When World War II broke out, he left his insurance business and joined the Army. Maj. Gentle was assigned to the 36th Infantry, the Texas Division. He led his unit into the fighting at Salerno and the mountains behind Monte Casino and across the Rapido River, some of the most hard-won territory taken in the war in Italy.

The Texas Division was pulled out of Italy and invaded southern France, joining Gen. Patton's forces as they blasted their way across the country and into the Rhineland and the heart of Germany.

On the way, the 36th Division liberated Digne, a town of 14,661 people in the Alps-de-Haute province of France . Maj. Gentle's men captured 500 German soldiers. The townspeople were delighted by the German surrender and their liberation and in 1984 brought then-Col. Gentle to Digne as the town's guest of honor to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the return of freedom.

Once the Texas Division found its way into Berlin, Maj. Gentle was named U.S. trade and industry officer for the American zone. In that post, he became the center of one of the first disputes with the Russians.

The distilleries of Berlin -five in all- were in the American zone of the divided city. But the alcohol-producung plants were in the Russian zone. To produce anything potable, cooperation was necessary.

An agreement was reached that the Russians would supply the alcohol and the Americans would see that it was properly blended and bottled. Under terms of the government, the American military would get 15 percent of the output and the remainder would go to the Russians for their distribution.

But the Russians kept it all. So Maj. Gentle taking a tough stand, shut down the plants. Finally, after nearly a month with nothing but pure alcohol to drink, the Russians caved in. They agreed to carry out the agreement, and liquor flowed through Check Point Charlie.

It was a story that Mr. Gentle could tell with a chuckle in later years. And when challenged by a doubter, he had the yellowed newspaper clippings to back up his story.

He returned to his insurance business and became a specialist in pension and employee benefit insurance. He also returned to his golf game, becoming a member of the International Team of the American Senior Golf Association.

He was a member of the Pine Valley and Sunneybrook Golf Clubs, a member of the Fourth Street Club, the Racquet Club, the Gulf Stream and Seminole Clubs of Florida where he maintained a winter residence.

His wife, Eleanor Widener Dixon Gentle, died in 1967.

He is survived by a sister, Consuela Barber.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p. m. Tuesday at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Whitemarsh."

As stated at the top, Gentle didn't play in any of the United States three World Cup games, and out of the 215 players that tried out for the US squad it appears that he was selected more for his Spanish language skills, acting as the teams interpreter. He played for Philadelphia Field Club at the time of the trip to Montevideo and as was the only amateur in the team.

His biography on the website of Pennsylvania University states that he won bronze in Field Hockey at the 1932 Summer Olympics. But he didn't so much win it as there were only three nations that entered the competition and the US team lost both matches heavily (9-2 to Japan and 24-1 to India).

He was also a member of the Field Hockey team at the 1936 Summer Olympics and according to the obituary above, he was also a part of the US soccer team in Berlin. But there is no record of him playing in the Americans 1-0 defeat to Italy (3 August 1936), nor in the squad listings.

Not mentioned in the biographies listed regarding his war record is the possibility that he took part in the Berlin Conference (or more commonly known as the Potsdam conference) from 17 July to 2 August 1945, where the Allied Powers gathered to administer punishment to Nazi Germany. A Major James C. Gentle, Economic Officer, Civil Affairs Division, United States Forces, European Theater, was listed as being present at either Berlin or Babelsberg during the Berlin conference. This would have preceded his being named U.S. trade and industry officer for the American zone.


Pennsylvania University biography

His obituary in the Philadelphia Enquirer.

Biography at the Hall of Fame

International Federation of Football History & Statistics; Olympic Football Tournament 1908, 1912, 1920, 1924, 1928, 1936, part 2.

A Major James C. Gentle is listed alphabetically of those present during the Berlin Conference

If anyone is interested in all things to do with US soccer history you may want to check out the two biographies of James Gentle's Field Hockey team-mates Wilson Thomas Hobson and William Boddington below.

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