My passion for history is almost as big as my passion for Baseball. Rarely have I thought to combine the two in such a fashion. Usually history and baseball is about big sporting events of the past. Tributes to great performances and such. What about when it’s baseball and war?
Over 72 years ago the largest amphibious invasion in history struck the Normandy coast of Europe. Code-named Operation Overlord, the objective was to invade and liberate France and the rest of Western Europe from Hitler and the Nazis. It would take quite a few months to accomplish this and much blood would be spilled before that reign of terror was extinguished in May 1945. Wiki has a reasonable summary of the events.
Some know that Yogi Berra participated in this invasion as a U.S Navy sailor. Seaman 1st Class Berra. I found this old article that interviewed Berra on his experience that day. But Yogi wasn’t the only baseball player there that day.
MLB put an article online back in 2004 on the 60th Anniversary of D-Day remembering all baseball players who served in WWII.
Leon Day (also a future Hall of Famer) hit Utah beach as a member of the 818th Amphibian Battalion. I found a site called Baseball in War Time that has a bio for Leon Day (though its scant on details regarding his service record, I’m sure google can help more).
But these are the guys who came back. What about the ones that didn’t? I quickly found another piece that mentions baseball players that didn’t make it back from Normandy (though the focus is strictly on Brewer). But a little bit more digging allowed me to find the site called Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice.
I found Private Forrest V. “Lefty” Brewer, Technician 5th Grade John J. “Joe” Pinder, Jr., Staff Sergeant Elmere P. “Elmer” Wright, Private First Class Louis J. Alberigo, Technical Sergeant Frank P. Draper, Jr. and Staff Sergeant Maurice M. Williams. All perished that day during Operation Overlord.
Hall of Famer Bob Feller (who served in the Pacific Theater of WWII) probably had the best perspective (quoted from the MLB article):
“The heroes didn’t come back,” said Feller, a chief petty officer who was director of a set of four anti-aircraft guns on the Alabama. “They’re at the bottom of the ocean — 405,000 of them. I’m only telling this now for the young people, who don’t understand what the world and the war was like.”
Obviously, not all of them perished in the bottom of the sea, but the same sentiment applies.