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Three Red Wings Who Served With Valor . . . And One Who Didn’t



Hec Kilrea, Detroit Red Wings
Hec Kilrea won two Stanley Cups with with the Detroit Red Wings, and the Distinguished Service Cross with the US Army during World War II.

When the Detroit Red Wings face the Washington Capitals on Thursday at Little Caesars Arena, the fallen of war will be remembered in pre-game ceremonies. Thursday is Veteran’s Day in the USA and Remembrance Day in Canada.

It’s also a valid time to recall some Red Wings players who served with valor in combat during the two World Wars, one of whom made the ultimate sacrifice in the field of battle.

Unfortunately, there was also a Red Wings player who was caught out deliberately avoiding military service while skating for the team.

Kilrea’s Acts Of Valor

Hec Kilrea was a solid second-line forward with Detroit’s back-to-back Stanley Cup winners in 1935-36 and 1936-37. He scored the Cup-winning goal in 1937. Kilrea also set up Mud Bruneteau for the goal that ended hockey’s longest playoff game in 1936.

On December 12, 1945, Kilrea was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army serving in combat in Germany. As his unit came under fire from advancing German troops backed by a tank, Kilrea forced the enemy troops to take cover with supressing fire from his M-1 rifle. He then took a bazooka into the road eight yards from the German tank and while under heavy enemy fire, fired eight rounds at the tank, forcing it to retreat and find cover.

The next day, Kilrea took out another German tank by firing a battery of three rounds into it.

“Kilrea’s calm and deliberate action not only saved the company from serious threat, but inspired those who witnessed his actions,” the official US Army report of the event stated.

For his heroism, Staff Sgt. Kilrea, 35 at the time and a member of the US Army’s Company K of the 143rd Infantry Regiment, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest army battle award.

The Ontario-born Kilrea, a naturalized US citizen, saw action on the Anzio beachhead, helped to liberate Rome, and fought in France. He was also awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, and three battle stars.

Turner’s Ultimate Sacrifice

The Red Wings were turning out goalies en masse in the 1940s and 1950s. Johnny Mowers won the Calder Trophy and a Stanley Cup in the 1940s. Hall of Famer Harry Lumley debuted in the mid-1940s, while fellow Hall of Famers Terry Sawchuk and Glenn Hall arrived on the scene in the 1950s.

Another netminder for whom the Red Wings held out high hopes was Joe Turner. He was an AHL all-star with Indianapolis in 1941-42. Turner made his NHL debut on February 5, 1942, playing in a 3-3 tie against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“I took it for granted that he would be our netminder,” Sid Abel Red Wings captain at the time, once told the National Post. “Then, the next thing we knew, he was gone to the Army. And then he was really gone.”

Saw Action In Hurtrgen Forest

Turner enlisted in the U.S. Army in the summer of 1942. Attaining the rank of second lieutenant, he was shipped to the Hurtgen Forest on the Belgian-German border to see his first taste of combat in the winter of 1945. Described as the death factory by those lucky enough to survive the ordeal, some 33,000 Americans were killed or wounded in the Hurtgen Forest. Turner would be one of them.

His unit was assigned to attack a German machine gun position. Turner was wounded in the original assault. Hearing the pleas of another wounded comrade, Turner and a second soldier set out to rescue their compatriot. Neither returned.

On January 12, 1945, Turner was killed in action, reportedly felled by German machine gun fire. At first buried in an unmarked grave in Belgium, in 1950 his remains were returned home and interred in Victoria Memorial Cemetery in his hometown of Windsor, Ontario. Turner was 23 at the time of his death.

Turner’s tour of duty was exactly like his NHL career. Both lasted one day.

After the war, the Red Wings helped organize the International Hockey League. The new league’s championship trophy, the Turner Cup, was named to honor Joe Turner’s memory.

Dolly’s Biggest Save

Clarence “Dolly” Dolson was Detroit’s goalie from 1929-31. He was a World War I veteran, but never would discuss his service.

However, when some members of his old unit visited him in Detroit, they revealed Dolson’s heroism on the battlefields of France while fighting with the Canadian Army.

Eagle-eyed Dolson spotted a German grenade flying into their trench, and the goaltender in him took over. He blocked the shot, scooped up the rebound with the butt of his rifle, and cleared it back toward the enemy a split second before it exploded.

Luckily for Dolson and those in his unit, it was against the rules of hockey back then for a netminder to smother the puck for a faceoff.

Dolson was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the second-highest award for gallantry in action available to members of the Canadian military.

Orlando Jimmied His Papers

During World War II, NHL players in the USA were required to hold down jobs vital to the war effort during the day. This was necessary in order to be permitted to play pro hockey at night. It was mandatory that they provide documentation to the league of this work. Otherwise, they were required to submit their name for the military draft.

Defenseman Jimmy Orlando was a popular Red Wing of that era. He led the NHL in penalty minutes three seasons in a row beginning in 1940-41. However, the true misdeeds of this NHL bad man came to light on March 29, 1943. He was arrested by the FBI as a draft dodger. Orlando had submitted paperwork that he was working as a machinist in a war factory. In fact, he was not.

Orlando was convicted of four counts of violating the Selective Service Act and one count of perjury. He was sentenced to four years in Federal Prison. However, before his sentence began, Orlando was granted permission to return to his Montreal home to attend his mother’s funeral. Orlando never returned to the USA. He lived the remainder of his life in Canada as a draft dodger and wanted felon in the USA. He was unable to resume his NHL career.

Orlando played senior hockey in Quebec and operated nightclubs that were considered to be connected to the Montreal underworld. He died in 1992.