Walter Mayberry

Walter Mayberry

Florida Gators No. 64
Position Halfback
Class 1937
Career history
College Florida (1934–1937)
High school Mainland
Personal information
Date of birth (1915-03-14)March 14, 1915
Place of birth Daytona Beach, Florida
Date of death by March 5, 1944(1944-03-05) (aged 28)
Place of death Rabaul, New Britain
Height 5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)
Weight 172 lb (78 kg)
Career highlights and awards

Walter Thomas "Tiger" Mayberry (March 14, 1915 – by March 5, 1944) was an American college football player, and later a U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilot.

Mayberry was a prominent running back for the Florida Gators football team of the University of Florida.[1] A triple-threat man,[2] he also passed and punted. When punting he excelled at placing balls in the "coffin corner."[3] As was typical of the 1930s, he played both offense and defense;[4] posting multiple school records for interceptions. Mayberry was selected as a sixth round pick of the 1938 NFL Draft, but never played in the NFL. He was the first Gator drafted into the league.[5]

Mayberry was a casualty of World War II, and died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp after his plane was shot down.[6]

Early years

Mayberry was born on March 14, 1915 in Daytona Beach, Florida, and attended Mainland High School in his hometown.[7] His father Tom operated a small grocery store.[8] His mother was Helena Marie Murphy of Lewiston, Maine. He played for the Mainland Buccaneers high school football team, and suffered a broken neck while playing.[9]

University of Florida

Mayberry attended the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida. At Florida, he was a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.[10] Mayberry enrolled as a freshman in the fall of 1934. After playing freshman football for a season, he played for coach Josh Cody's varsity Florida Gators football team from 1935 to 1937.[4] In three seasons of college football, he amassed 2,019 yards of total offense, including 713 yards passing and 1,306 yards rushing; on defense, he accumulated eleven interceptions.[4] His eleven interceptions were a school record until broken by Bruce Bennett in 1965.


Scout Henry McLemore of the United Press once wrote in a piece on Southern football: "And when the time comes to pick the outstanding players of the year it wouldn't be a bad idea to mention "Tiger" Mayberry, captain and halfback of Florida's team . . . given a stronger eleven to work with, and Mayberry would be in the headlines Saturday after Saturday."[11] McLemore later added "I have not seen a better back in six years than Mayberry . . . Wallace Wade, Bernie Moore, and Harry Mehre all told me that Mayberry was the best back in the South, one of the best they have seen in half a dozen years and certainly the best that Florida has produced in a decade."[12] Another sportswriter quipped, "The south says: All-America scouts should keep an eye on "Tiger" Mayberry, Florida back ... The guy has it."[13]

As a junior in 1936 Mayberry played at halfback and substitute quarterback.[14] He returned a kick for 75 yards for a touchdown in a victory over the Stetson Hatters.[4] Mayberry also provided most of the yardage in an 18–7 win over the Sewanee Tigers.[15] He earned second-team All-Southeastern Conference honors at the conclusion of the season.[4]

As the senior team captain in 1937, Mayberry ranked second in the country with 818 rushing yards; only Byron White exceeded Mayberry's rushing total that year.[16] During the 1937 season, Mayberry also intercepted six passes when the Gators' opponents only threw 57 balls,[8][17] and was a first-team All-SEC selection by the conference coaches and sportswriters on behalf of the Associated Press.[18] The 1937 team defeated the Georgia Bulldogs in the two teams' annual rivalry game for the first time in eight years.[19][20] Mayberry also starred in a close loss to coach Pop Warner's Temple Owls,[21] keeping the 10,000 spectators "in an uproar for nearly three periods."[22]


In the 1938 NFL Draft, Mayberry was taken with the 61st overall pick, the first of the eighth round, by the Cleveland Rams. He said he would play professional football if the Rams made him an offer he considered "worthwhile."[23] "If the offer is right I will sign to play pro football next year." said Mayberry.[23] After entertaining an offer, and another for a potential coaching position at Florida,[24] he declined both.[25] During this same time he was a tire salesman[25] and District Commissioner of the National semi-pro Baseball Congress.[26]

World War II

During the run-up to the United States' participation in World War II, Mayberry enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve at Atlanta on May 23, 1941, and was assigned to naval flight training. He transferred to Pensacola Naval Air Station as an aviation cadet near the end of 1941, and joined the U.S. Marine Corps reserve as a fighter pilot on July 2, 1942. He was later sent to San Francisco, and from there to the Pacific Theater of Operations to fight against enemy Japanese forces.[7] Mayberry served with Marine fighter squadron VMF-123, flying F4U Corsair fighter aircraft, and was credited with shooting down three Japanese planes in battle over Vella Lavella Island.[10][27][28][29] Some sources also say it was four, with a fifth as probable.[30]

Mayberry last radioed as he piloted his aircraft over a stretch of water between two Solomon islands,[10] and was shot down near Bougainville Island on August 30.[27] He was subsequently captured by Japanese forces, and died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp at Rabaul in New Britain of Papau New Guinea some time after September 6, 1943.[8][31] Japanese records indicate that he died in an Allied air raid on March 5, 1944, but other records suggest he was executed by the Japanese at an earlier date.[7]

Posthumous honors

Mayberry was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as a "Gator Great." He was also inducted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame in 1964.

Gator alumni from Daytona Beach created an athletic scholarship in his honor.[32]


  1. "All-American Team Selected". Washington C. H. Record-Herald. December 4, 1937. p. 9. Retrieved May 28, 2015 via
  2. John Wilds (September 14, 1937). "Josh Cody Builds For Next Season". The Evening Independent.
  3. "Alabama Gets Three Places on S. E. Eleven". Anniston Star. November 30, 1937. p. 8. Retrieved June 11, 2015 via
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 2014 Florida Football Media Guide, University Athletic Association, Gainesville, Florida, pp. 87, 103, 106, 115, 158, 180 (2014). Retrieved May 28, 2015.
  5. Buddy Martin. The Boys from Old Florida:Inside Gator Nation. p. 23.
  6. Jim Folsom (August 5, 2014). "Athletes Who Played Their Part in WWII".
  7. 1 2 3 Joe Williams. "Marine Corps League hosts 'Fallen Heroes' author".
  8. 1 2 3 "Norm Carlson Looks Back".
  9. Ernie Couch. SEC Football Trivia. p. 51.
  10. 1 2 3 "High Scorer Missing". Sigma Phi Epsilon Journal: 146–147. February 1944.
  11. Henry McLemore (October 19, 1937). "Southern Football Notes By Scout Henry McLemore of UP". Dunkirk Evening Observer. p. 15. Retrieved May 28, 2015 via
  12. Maxwell Stiles (February 1938). "The 1937 All-Sig Ep Football Team". Sigma Phi Epsilon Journal: 192–195.
  13. Eddie Brietz (October 22, 1937). "Birdseye View of Sports Events". Kingston Daily Freeman. p. 18. Retrieved May 28, 2015 via
  14. "Gators Outplay Carolina Boys On Rain-Soaked Field". The Palm Beach Post. October 10, 1936.
  15. "Stanhill Runs 100 Yards Down Field To Score". St. Petersburg Times. November 15, 1936.
  16. ESPN College Football Encyclopedia, p. 1172 (White led the country with 1,121 rushing yards, and Mayberry was second with 818 yards.
  17. Frank S. Wright (October 19, 1937). "Writers, Coaches Praise Mayberry, Gator Captain, As All-American Material". Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
  18. "Versatility, Great Power Represented". The Monroe News-Star. December 3, 1937. p. 10. Retrieved May 26, 2015 via
  19. John Wilds (November 7, 1937). "Old Supremacy of Bulldogs Is Brought To End". Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
  21. Marty Cohen (1995). Gator Tales. p. 31.
  22. "Florida Beaten By Temple Club On Extra Point". The Evening News. October 9, 1937. p. 13. Retrieved May 29, 2015 via
  23. 1 2 "Tiger Mayberry May Play With Cleveland Rams". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. December 11, 1937.
  24. "Looking Up in the Realm of Sports". Green Bay Press-Gazette. August 10, 1938. p. 15. Retrieved October 18, 2016 via
  25. 1 2 "Mayberry Quits Gridiron". The Palm Beach Post. August 18, 1938. p. 6. Retrieved October 19, 2016 via
  26. "Mayberry Commissioner". The Wilkes-Barre Record. August 1, 1938. p. 13. Retrieved October 18, 2016 via
  27. 1 2 Bruce Gamble (2013). Target: Rabaul: The Allied Siege of Japan's Most Infamous Stronghold. pp. 421–422.
  28. "Walter Mayberry of Football Fame Listed As Missing". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. September 7, 1943.
  29. "Walt Mayberry, Ex-Gator Grid Star Missing". St. Petersburg Times. September 10, 1943.
  30. "Ex-Gridster Missing". Marine Corps Chevron. 3 (39). September 30, 1944.
  31. Robbie Andreu. "No. 39 Walter Mayberry". Gainesville Sun.
  32. Bernard Kahn. "U. of Florida Alumni Create W. Mayberry Scholarship". Daytona Beach Morning Journal.
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