Billy Shaw played for the Buffalo Bills for nine remarkable seasons in the 1960s. He made eight Pro Bowls, five All-AFL teams, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999. Still, when he saw Bob Kalsu play nine games in 1968 he began to worry about his job.
"Bob was somewhat of a threat long term," Shaw told BuffaloBills.com this Memorial Day. "He was one of the first players drafted that I thought could come in and play and eventually take my spot. We were all about the same size. Bob was around 6’3" and 240 pounds and had really good speed and fit the guard position of the day. We were predominantly a running team back in the '60s. Long sweeps and long pulls and Bob had all of those attributes as far as playing that position."
Even though he was just a rookie, Kalsu played an important role on a rebuilding team.
"He played in every game that year due to some injuries," said Shaw. "He played on the right side of the ball and was certainly a vital member of that team."
Kalsu was drafted in the eighth round of the 1968 draft from Oklahoma University. While at Oklahoma, Kalsu joined the ROTC and when called up to active duty during the Vietnam War, Kalsu never wavered in his duty. He reported for service and was killed in combat on July 21, 1970.
"I did not know that he was called up until we got back to training camp in 1969," said Shaw. "I knew that Bob had exhibited enough that he had a chance to be a major part of the team going forward. It was a loss from a team standpoint that Bob wasn’t there. As we left in ’68 after the season you never think that you would never see a teammate again."
Shaw also talks of the respect and gratitude he has for Kalsu and his sacrifice: "To be associated with somebody that made that major sacrifice and eventually the ultimate sacrifice, giving his life, there is a sense of gratitude for what he did, and I’m really proud to have at least known him for a short period of time."
The Bills honored Kalsu by placing his name on the Wall of Fame. He is the only member to spend less than five years with the organization. Shaw, who also graces the wall of Ralph Wilson Stadium, thinks it's the best honor the team could give Kalsu.
"I’m proud that Buffalo recognized the sacrifice that he made and I’m all for him being there on the Wall of Fame even though it was for much different circumstances," Shaw said. "The sacrifice that he made for himself and for our country is certainly something to be applauded. To be applauded in the way in which he was honored by the Bills makes me proud to be on that Wall with him."
It wasn't just a tragedy for the Bills family, though. Kalsu's wife learned the news of her husband's death while in the hospital after giving birth to their son. She had the birth certificate amended to name their son after his fallen father.
On this Memorial Day, Billy Shaw remembers Bob Kalsu like he does every year. We should all take pause and do the same.
"If you’re serious about Memorial Day and what it stands for, you think about those family members and friends and people in your community that made a life sacrifice and Bob is part of that thought process this time of year," said Shaw. "Bob is the only person that I played with during that period of time that made that kind of sacrifice, so his name comes through my memory at this time."