Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer. A day to fire up the grill, head to the lake or do whatever summer-related recreational activity for maybe the first time in a while. However, what people too often forget is what this solemn holiday is really about: remembering and honoring the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country.
Their selflessness and that of their families is the reason why we get things that, when put in context, seem so trivial like going to the Dome on a Saturday afternoon.
So, on this Memorial Day, we here at the Fizz honor all of the service men and women who have died fighting for our freedom. All of those over 1.1 million heroes have their own unique stories. One that resonates with Syracuse fans especially is that of First Lieutenant Wilmeth Sidat-Singh.
Sidat-Singh enrolled at Syracuse in 1935 and became SU’s first ever African American athlete. He starred on both the football and basketball teams. Originally, he was only supposed to play basketball, but legendary lacrosse coach and assistant Roy Simmons Sr. saw him play in a pick-up football game and convinced him to join the team.
Simmons Sr. saw Sidat-Singh throw a 55-yard pass flat footed, and knew that was his new quarterback.
He played on both the varsity basketball and football teams from his sophomore to senior seasons. While he was an electrifying talent on the football field, his play on the court is what he’s most remembered for athletically.
Sidat-Singh was a quick point guard, known for his prowess at both ends of the court. As a senior, he led the 1938-39 Orange in scoring. Syracuse basketball went 40-13 across his career.
In those days, both the NBL (the precursor to the NBA) and the NFL were segregated, so Sidat-Singh’s professional career consisted of basketball barnstorming tours with the Syracuse Reds and Harlem Renaissance. After a short pro stint, he moved to Washington, D.C. and became a police officer.
In 1943, Sidat-Singh joined the U.S Army Air Corp and became a member of the Tuskegee Airmen. On May, 9, 1943, his plane suffered an engine failure over Lake Huron during a training flight. He drowned.
In 2005, Sidat-Singh’s No. 19 jersey was retired by the Syracuse basketball program, at the time the fifth player to receive that honor.
Sidat-Singh was a trailblazer in everything he did, both at Syracuse and in his military service. He is one of the most important athletes in SU history, and was an even more remarkable man. Today and everyday, we honor him and all of those who have died defending our country.