Major League Baseball Veterans of World War II
Represented by Joe Anders, Lou Brissie, Jerry Coleman, Bob Feller, Monte Irvin, Ralph Kiner and Mickey Vernon.
December 7, 1941. 7:48 AM. Naval Air Forces of the Empire of Japan commence their attack on the U.S. bases at Pearl Harbor, leaving in its wake over a dozen ships sunk or damaged and 2,400 people killed. Americans awoke that day to find their nation at war, in a struggle that would test the resolve of every man and woman across the country.
Major League Baseball was in a golden era in 1941 â€“ Joltinâ€™ Joe Dimaggio had his record 56-game hitting streak, while Ted Williams became the last man to bat .400. Bob Feller won 25 games, and the Yankees beat the â€œBumsâ€ from Brooklyn to win the World Series. Following Pearl Harbor, Bob Feller enlisted in the Navy. Before long, DiMaggio, Williams, and many other stars from the game followed Fellerâ€™s lead and entered into the military.
Many of baseballâ€™s then and future stars found themselves involved in some of the pivotal episodes of World War II. Yogi Berra served in the Navy at D-Day, Warren Spahn was a combat engineer who survived the collapse of the bridge at Remagen, while Bob Feller saw action aboard the USS Alabama in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters.
Monte Irvin joined the Army engineers, serving in France and Germany. New York Yankee Jerry Coleman was a pilot in the Marine Corps, flying 57 combat missions in the Pacific Theater and earning the Distinguished Flying Cross. Future Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner joined the Naval Air Corps in the Pacific, while Joe Anders, who was taught to play baseball by â€œShoelessâ€ Joe Jackson, joined the Army. Mickey Vernon, the beloved first-baseman for the Washington Senators for much of a career that spanned 20 years, joined the Navy.
Following the Alliesâ€™ victory in World War II, many players were able to return to baseball, resuming careers put on hold. Many of baseballâ€™s stars came back better than ever. For some, the return to the game was not as easy. Lou Brissie, a bright young prospect before the war, was severely wounded while serving with the 88th Infantry Division in Italy. Twenty-three operations, three years, and countless hours of rehabilitation later, Brissie made his debut with the Philadelphia Athletics, realizing his dream and making an improbable comeback.
While Lou Brissie realized his dreams, others were much less fortunate. Star shortstop Cecil Travisâ€™ feet were frozen in the siege of Bastogne, never allowing him to return to form. Elmer Gedeon was killed in France in 1944, while Harry Oâ€™Neill was killed on Iwo Jima in March 1945. Also killed on Iwo Jima was Jimmy Trimble, an outstanding pitching prospect, who like thousands of other young Americans would never have the opportunity to make his dreams come true.
The Major League Baseball players who put their careers and lives on hold to fight in World War II are emblematic of a generation of Americans who put duty and service to their country above all else. All Americansâ€”from sports heroes like Bob Feller and Hollywood actors like Jimmy Stewart to every day men and women across the countryâ€”felt an obligation to do their part in combating the twin evils of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
For their devotion to duty and sacrifice and their willingness to put country first despite their potential for fame and glory on the field, the American Veterans Center is proud to present the Major League Baseball veterans of World War II with the 2008 Audie Murphy Award.