Steve James ‘Shanghai’ Vucic (1915 – 2001)
A source referenced copy of the text below is available on request
Player for US Fourth Marines in Shanghai (1935 – 1938)
Left: Vucic in the Marines' 2nd Battalion Athletic team, Febuary 1938
Right: Detail from above team photo
Vucic's signature from a 1950 document
Steve J. Vucic was born 23 February 1915 to Croatian immigrants. His father, also named Steve, worked in the local steel mills. He and his wife Anna settled in Rankin Borough, Allegheny County in Pennsylvania. This remained Steve junior’s home location for the rest of his life, returning to it after his tours of duty with the Marines.
He graduated from Rankin High School, Pittsburgh and joined the Marines in 1934. In August of that year he was sent to Shanghai with the US Fourth Marines where he stayed until February 1938. When he returned to Rankin, he was known locally by the nickname "Shanghai" or "Shang" to his close friends.
After the 1941 season, he was elected Most Valuable Player, placed on the Pennsylvania All-State team and selected on "All-Opponent". His coach Gene Edwards rated him as one of the greatest guards in the country. Such was his reputation, he received offers to turn professional. However, he was committed to the Marine Corp after graduation and was unable to accept the offers.
On re-joining the Marines, he returned to active duty. After graduating from the Officer Candidate School in Quantico, he was sent to fight in the Pacific Theater. While there, he was shot in the leg during the battle for the Marshall Islands, earning himself a Purple Heart, and sadly; a football career ending injury.
Returning home after the war, on 29 December 1945, he was married. Not to a ‘White Russian Princess’ as many of his comrades in Shanghai had been, but to a lady from his home town of Rankin, perhaps a child sweetheart, Evelyn Rose Stretavsky, six years younger than Steve. Their first child was born in 1948, also named James, after his father and grandfather. In 1950, the young family were living at 112, Fourth Street in Rankin. The new grandparents a short distance away on the same street at number 210.
After he was finally discharged from the Marines as a captain in 1949, he worked briefly as a steel worker for Carrie Furnace, just across the Monongahela River from Rankin. Later he became a teacher of mathematics and history and the coach of the Rankin High School football team. Later he was promoted to athletic director. He retired from what had by then become the General Braddock School District after 33 years of teaching, with a Master's degree from Duquesne University.
In 1982 he was inducted into the East Pittsburgh Boroughs Hall of Fame. His wife died in January 1988. ‘Shanghai Steve’ lived for another thirteen years, eventually succumbing to diabetes on 22 December 2001 aged 86. He died in Braddock, near where he was born and was survived by his son James, three daughters, Stephanie Venturella, Valerie Smith and Evelyn Mills and a granddaughter.
Vucic is pictured here in the act of scoring a try, his face obscured by Shanghai team's club captain R H Roe. In the number 13 shirt is Ernest P Blondin of the Marines. This match was Vucic's penultimate game in Shanghai.
The 1936 - 37 US Fourth Marines Rugby team in Shanghai
Back Row (left to right): Herbert S. Vulgamore, Hudson, Jerome F. Dolan, Colonel C. F. B. Price, Walter T. Bloodgood, Harold E. Darewitt, Buster P Stull
Middle Row (left to right): Eric M. Mencner, Fox, Thacker, Steve J. VUCIC, Peter J. Soloway, James C. DeWitt, Edward W. McGloin,
Ringley Ritter, Bruce T. Hemphill
Front Row (left to right): Harvey C. Tschirgi, Stephen M. Zeher, "Joe" Storm, Carl Zatkoff, Driscoll, F J Smith, Cook, Edward A. Padbury, Herman S. Tubick
His played withthe Marine’s American football team in Shanghai, however, due to the limited number of football games played in Shanghai and the Marines focus instead on playing rugby, he started to play the English game. His first match in December 1935 was with the Marines second XV, but it was not long before he was a first team player. He went onto play in some of the important rugby games of that period. Notably playing for the Marines against Meiji University, Japan’s rugby champions, in December 1936. In January 1938 he played against Shanghai’s 1st XV (pictured above) and the Durham Light Infantry who had won that year’s Shanghai rugby championship in January.
When he left Shanghai, the Shanghai Marines weekly newspaper the Walla Walla lamented his going;
Perhaps one of the most outstanding all-around [sic] athletes of the Fourth Marines today is Steve Vucic. Commonly known as “Power-House” to his many friends. Vucic has blazed out a wonderful and outstanding record on the rugby, American Football fields and basketball floors. Vucic has captained the Fourth Marine football team for the past two seasons and he has been the backbone of the Fourth Marine rugby fifteen for the past two seasons. His stamina and power-house offensive and defensive tactics have stamped him as one of the most dreaded linesmen in China – be it rugby or football. He has been a consistent guard on the basketball floor but his outstanding basketball career has been his ability to stand up under fire and lead his team to victory. … Vucic is planning entering college when he returns to the States and it is our honest opinion that should he carry on in college athletics… he is bound to win wide recognition. In fact, we would not be surprised to see his name on the All-American football selection in the next two to three years.
On his return to the USA he did indeed leave the Marines to study. He enrolled at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, in the foothills of the Laurel Mountains, 40 miles from Rankin, on an athletic scholarship. While earning a bachelor's degree in education, he fulfilled Walla Walla’s predictions and received recognition for his athletic prowess. He was twice the college’s most valuable player in football. As an upperclassman, he was the team's captain as well as its starting left guard. In 1941, he was selected to the small-college All-American team and picked by every opposing team as part of their "All Opponent Team".
1970 photograph of Vucic
Pitsburgh Progress newspaper 6 March 1944 reporting Vucic's wounds