Is there anything more symbolic of our great country than baseball, Dodger dogs, and apple pie? Each one is a small part of the colorful tapestry that makes up this country. At no time is our patriotism more on display than the Fourth of July.
We celebrate our Independence Day with family, friends, BBQ’s, baseball and if we’re lucky some homemade apple pie. But, this day is more than that, our independence as a nation was fought for by courageous men and women who answered the call to serve.
While every service member deserves our praise and recognition, I thought I’d spotlight a few of baseball’s greatest players who answered that call.
Many baseball players enlisted or were drafted during wartime, the degrees with which they served varies. Some were utilized for their celebrity to garner support for the war effort and boost morale on the homefront and others took a more active role.
TY COBB In 1918, Cobb was in his 14th season in the big leagues and still at the top of his game when baseball cut the season short due to the hostilities between the Allies and the Central Powers in Europe. Cobb was initially placed in a deferred class because he was older and had a wife and three young children. But, soon after he was commissioned as an officer to the US Army’s Gas and Flame Division, a unit comparable to today’s special forces. Cobb headed to France for training, but the armistice was signed before he would see any time in combat. Cobb returned to baseball in 1919 and would go on to win his 12th batting title.
Regarding his service, Cobb stated, “I don’t believe the people care to see a lot of big, healthy young men out on the field playing ball while their sons and brothers are abroad risking their lives to conquer the Huns.”
YOGI BERRA’s amazing on-field accomplishments are well known by most baseball fans, but perhaps less known is Yogi Berra’s service during World War II. Nineteen year old Second Class Seaman Lawrence P. Berra played an integral part in one of the war’s most infamous campaigns, the Normandy Invasion aka D-Day. He was a gunner’s mate aboard a Navy rocket boat. Their main responsibility was clearing the beaches before the troops landed. Although he was fired at, thankfully, he was never hit. He received several commendations for his bravery.
“Well, being a young guy, I thought it was like the Fourth of July, to tell you the truth. I said, “Boy, it looks pretty, all the planes coming over.” And I was looking out and my officer said, “You better get your head down in here, if you want it on.” ~ Yogi Berra Interviewed on Countdown with Keith Olbermann 2004
BOB FELLER put his stellar pitching career with the Cleveland Indians on hold for four years to enlist in World War II. After basic training, Feller was made a Chief Petty Officer by the Navy. He was assigned as a physical training instructor, but this would not do for Feller as he wanted to go into combat. He applied for gunnery school and sea duty. He was later assigned to the battleship USS Alabama as a gun-captain. The Alabama escorted convoys into the North Atlantic and then moved onto the central Pacific where among other duties they supplied support and protection for amphibious assaults. In 1945, he re-signed with the Cleveland Indians and continued his storied career.
“I was only a gun captain on the battleship Alabama for 34 months. People have called me a hero for that, but I’ll tell you this – heroes don’t come home. Survivors come home.”
~ Bob Feller
TED WILLIAMS had one of the most impressive baseball careers in the game, but his career as a fighter pilot was quite impressive too. Williams suspended his baseball career in 1943 to serve three years in the US Navy and US Marine Corps during World War II. In primary flight school training Williams showed a proficiency in aerial gunnery where he set numerous cadet records. In 1944, Williams was commissioned a second lieutenant and earned his much coveted pilot’s wings. He never got called into active combat and was discharged in December of 1945 and picked up his baseball career with the Red Sox for the 1946 season. But, Williams’ military service didn’t end there, he was recalled from inactive reserves in 1952 to fight in the Korean War as a member of the First Marine Air Wing. Williams flew 39 combat missions and earned a remarkable array of medals and awards.
“It’s a funny thing, but, as years go by, I think you appreciate more and more what a great thing it was to be a United States Marine… I am a U.S. Marine and I’ll be one till I die.”
~ Ted Williams
JACKIE ROBINSON broke racial barriers in baseball, unfortunately he was unable to avoid the racism that was prevalent during his military service as well. In 1942, Robinson joined the United States Army and entered officer candidate school. A year later he was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Despite his military standing he was still subjected to racism when he was court martialed for refusing an order to move to the back of a military bus. He was later acquitted of the charges. Robinson was unable to engage in combat due to a previously broken ankle and was medically discharged in 1945. That broken ankle didn’t hinder him from going on to an historic baseball career.
Regarding his court-martial and later acquittal Robinson said, “I don’t want any unfavorable publicity for myself or the Army but I believe in fair play.”
So there you have it, a tiny bit of history while you wait for your grill to heat up. Enjoy all the wonderful things this holiday has to offer, but also say a special thank you to those that helped grant us the freedoms we enjoy today and every day.
Have a happy Fourth of July Dodger fans!
Reference, Research and Photos