Today marks the 75th anniversary of a tragic day in American history; the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The incident ultimately led to the United States’ entry into World War II.
Many brave men and women stepped up to serve their country in a time of need. One of them was Elmer Tarbox, a legend on the girdiron for the Texas Technological College Matadors.
Born in 1916, Tarbox was raised in the Texas panhandle town of Higgins. While he loved to play sports, his town didn’t have a football team because it was so small.
But when he enrolled at Texas Tech in 1935 to study business, Tarbox watched the Matador football team and was intrigued, learning as he watched. Head coach Pete Cawthon gave Tarbox a chance as a walk-on, and he wouldn’t regret it.
Tarbox played on both sides of the ball as a halfback and cornerback. He set a school record with 11 interceptions in one season, which also led the entire country in that statistical category. At the same time, he racked up enough rushing and receiving yards to also be in the top ten statistically in the country.
His college playing days came to an end with a 21-13 loss at the hands of St. Mary’s in the Cotton Bowl. The Matadors ended the season 10-1, to this day one of the most accomplished teams in school history. Interestingly, with a Border Conference record of 2-0 that year, they were not named champions in favor of co-champions New Mexico (4-2) and New Mexico State (4-1).
Tarbox also lettered in basketball and track during his career in Lubbock, and went on to be drafted 18th overall by the NFL’s Cleveland Rams. However, he decided to pass up a professional career and enlist in the Army instead.
He learned how to fly the B-25 bomber, and about a year and a half after his enlistment, Pearl Harbor was attacked. While serving in WWII, Tarbox was credited with saving American lives by improving the B-25’s machine gun capabilities in battle.
After his military service, Tarbox and his wife came back to Lubbock and Tarbox began his ventures as a business man. His family opened the first drive-in movie theater in the city of Lubbock, and he also created ankle and wrist weights for athletes to help condition them while training.
One of his final adventures was more political. Tarbox was elected to serve as a representative serving West Texas in the state legislature. He stayed in office for 10 years, and played an instrumental role in setting up the Texas Tech medical school we still enjoy today.
Elmer Tarbox also served on the board of St. John’s Methodist Church in Lubbock and was the area’s Texas Tech Alumni Association president. He is rightfully a member of the Texas Tech Hall of Fame.
Tarbox exemplified everything we should all strive to be. He made it his life’s mission to make his school, city, community, country, and the world a better place. And by all accounts, he was pretty good at it.
He passed away in 1987 after leaving his legacy in Lubbock that won’t soon be forgotten.