His eyes misty and his smile wide, World War II veteran Gordon Van Scotter cradled the white, autographed basketball given to him by his alma mater Friday night.
Pushed in his wheelchair to the half-court line of the McCarthey Athletic Center, and alongside family members, Van Scotter, a 1952 Gonzaga alumnus, was honored with the game ball at halftime of the Bulldogs’ season opener, a token of appreciation for his service.
On Veterans Day weekend, the gesture drew patriotic roars from the red-white-and- blue-clad crowd.
Over 70 years removed from his part in the Second World War – the landing on Normandy Beach, time spent in fox holes and the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp – Van Scotter, donning a Gonzaga ballcap, was quick to convey how proud he was of his school.
“I’m proud of Gonzaga. Very proud. They treated me so wonderfully when I went to school here,” said Van Scotter, who was part of the U.S. Army’s Engineering Division in 1942. “I loved it. The fathers; one special algebra teacher that remembered my name when I saw him 15 years (after graduation).”
The GI Bill paid for his education, a civil engineering degree he said helped him earn positions within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Washington and with companies in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
Van Scotter, who lives in Clarkston, remembers returning home from the war and living in his hometown of Stites, a tiny central Idaho locale. He was broke, he said, and married with two children, and wanted to give his family a fruitful life.
Furthering his education was the first step, he thought, so he made the trek to Spokane to apply for admission to a school he’d revered for years.
“I just walked up those steps and asked the first person I saw if I could go to Gonzaga,” Van Scotter said. “And Uncle Sam paid for it.”
Now 94 years old, Van Scotter said he’s enjoyed watching Gonzaga’s national college basketball ascension over the last 20 years.
His family and Gonzaga kept his halftime gift a secret until he was ushered onto the hardwood.
“I had no idea in the world,” he said, his voice softening with emotion. “And I got to see a Gonzaga ballgame.”
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