By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer
(January 26, 1999)
Herman Wedemeyer, an All-America football player who retook the national stage three decades later as a regular on "Hawaii Five-O," died Monday, January 25, 1999. He was 74.
Wedemeyer died at noon at the Queen's Medical Center of complications from a heart attack, said one of his sisters, Winona Gaison. He suffered a heart attack last week and had been on life support, she said.
A native of Hilo, Wedemeyer was also a businessman who served briefly as a Honolulu city councilman and state representative.
But he was best known for his performances on the football field -- as a halfback for St. Mary's College in California -- and before the cameras as cop "Duke" Lukela in "Hawaii Five-O."
Wedemeyer was inducted to the National Football Foundation College Hall of Fame in 1979.
In 1945 the famed sportswriter Grantland Rice called Wedemeyer the greatest athlete in the country after he was named to the Associated Press and United Press International All-America teams that year.
"Herman was all-around," said former University of Hawaii halfback Tommy Kaulukukui, 84. "He could pass and run. He was a very deceptive kind of runner, fake one way and go the other. They called him Squirmin' Herman."
Wedemeyer was 5 feet 10 and 170 pounds. "I looked up to him," Kaulukukui said. "When someone goes to St. Mary's, we all looked up to that individual. He represented Hawaii very well on the Mainland."
In 1946 Wedemeyer made headlines in New York when St. Mary's played Fordham at the Polo Grounds. He was playing safety when Fordham quick-kicked the ball over his head . He retreated to his 25-yard line to field the punt.
"I saw all 11 of their guys coming at me," he recalled in 1996. "They were going to kill me. I said to myself, 'To heck with that.'"
So he punted the ball back and it rolled dead on Fordham's 15-yard line.
"Those kinds of things take a little savvy to do," Kaulukukui said. "Not many guys would do that. They would either let the ball roll and get away from it, or pick it up and run. That's why he was so great. You couldn't tell what he was going to do."
He threw an 80-yard touchdown pass in the 1946 Sugar Bowl agamst Oklahoma A&M.
Wedemeyer had also led St. Louis College (now St. Louis School) to Interscholastic League of Honolulu football titles in 1941 and 1942. He turned down scholarship offers from Notre Dame and Ohio State to attend St. Mary's.
"In my thinking, he was the greatest football player ever produced in the ILH," said Clay Benham, executive secretary of the league and a football coach at Kamehameha in the 1950s.
Wedemeyer was a first-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Dons of the All America Football Conference in 1947 and later played for the Baltimore Colts, but an injury cut short his career.
He returned to Hawaii, where he had a successful business career and entered politics.
He was elected to the Honolulu City Council as a Republican in 1968, then to the state House of Representatives for the Waikiki-Moiliili area as a Democrat in 1970. He won re-election in 1972.
Wedemeyer appeared in "Hawau Five-O" from 1971 to 1980, playing Edward D. "Duke" Lukela. He appeared in more than 300 episodes, calling it "a fascinating experience."
A former prop assistant for the show, Kailua resident Carey Anderson, remembered Wedemeyer's even-keeled nature on the set.
"He was always cracking little jokes with James MacArthur. Just having a good time with work. The 'Five-O' set is a little stressful. Jack Lord expected the top from his actors and co-stars. It was nice to have an air of lightness sometimes. That was Herman."
He was born May 20,1924.
He is survived by wife Carol, brother Charlie, six children, 10 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
(A memorial service was held 10 a.m. February 13 at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Kapahulu.)
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
See also the Honolulu Star-Bulletin story.