Remembering the Holiday…..with Baseball ties


So here we are on the Fourth of July getting ready to celebrate with family and friends the day of our country’s independence. Sometimes on days like today the true essence and facts of the extreme sacrifices that people have paid both with their blood, sweat and tears over the last 233 years comes to a head when we hear our National Anthem sung before the baseball games today.

Instead of talking about baseball today, I want to salute two of the men of baseball who answered the call of duty to serve in our military and sacrificed some of their careers for our freedoms. It is a very unselfish act of these two former baseball players that have formed and secured some of the freedoms we enjoy today as we sit here with a ice cold beverage and some fantastic grilled meat products.

I want to honor them for their commitment to this great country and hope that we all remember them today at different parts of the games for their courage and heroic deeds. We all know some of the names associated with the game of baseball and the military like  Navy Chief Specialist Bob Feller and Army First Lieutenant Warren Spahn. Both of these men have been personal heroes of mine growing up and I felt it was only right on this holiday of remembering the sacrifices and losses of so many brave souls to include these two greats.

But there have been over 33 members of the current Baseball Hall of Fame who served in World War II.  Guys like Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Luke Appling, Larry Doby, Bobby Doerr, Monte Irvin, Ralph Kiner, Johnny Mize, Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto, Robin Roberts, Enos Slaughter, Duke Snider,and Ted Williams. Many of the top tier players of that era did serve in World War II. 


Navy Chief Specialist Bob Feller 

On December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii  Bob Feller enlisted in the United States Navy. He was sworn in by former heavyweight boxing champion, Gene Tunney, at the Chicago courthouse. He was assigned to the Norfolk Naval Training Station in Virginia, as part of Tunney’s physical fitness program, and pitched for the baseball team. But Feller was not happy. “I wanted to get out of the Tunney program and in to combat,” he told author William B Mead. “So I went to the gunnery school there. And I went on the USS Alabama that fall.”

Feller then spent 26 months as a chief petty officer of an anti-aircraft gun crew on the USS Alabama (BB-60), a South Dakota-class battleship. “We spent the first six or eight months in the North Atlantic. I was playing softball in Iceland in the spring. We came back in the later part of the summer, and went right through the Panama Canal and over to the South Pacific. We hung around the Fiji islands for a while, and then when we got the fleet assembled, and enough men and equipment to start a successful attack, we hit Kwajalein and the Gilberts and the Marshalls and then across to Truk.”

The USS Alabama returned to the United States in the spring of 1945, and Feller was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois, where he coached the baseball team and posted a 13-2 won-loss record with 130 strike outs in 95 innings. He returned to major league baseball in August 1945, and in his Indians debut at home in Cleveland, he beat the Tigers, 4-2, in front 46,477 adoring fans.


In January 1946, Feller set up a three-week school in Tampa, Florida, to develop the baseball skills of returning veterans – both aspiring ballplayers and those with some organized baseball experience. Men paid for their own transportation to the school as well as room and board, but the instruction by fellow major leaguers was free for the returning veterans.

Talking about his military service some years later on an episode of ESPN’s Major League Baseball Magazine, Feller said “I’m very proud of my war record, just like my baseball record. I would never have been able to face anybody and talk about my baseball record if I hadn’t spent time in the service.”  Then again in 2005, he got a chance to chat with people online during a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

One of the many questions he was asked was whether he had any regrets about serving in the war? “No, I don’t,” he replied. “During a war like World War II, when we had all those men lose their lives, sports was very insignificant. I have no regrets. The only win I wanted was to win World War II. This country is what it is today because of our victory in that war.


Army First Lieutenant Warren Spahn

Warren Spahn entered the military service on December 3, 1942 when he reported to Army Camp Chaffee, Arkansas and pitched for the 1850th Service Unit baseball team.  He was finally sent to Europe in December 1944 with the 1159th Engineer Combat Group’s 276th Engineer Combat Battalion. ” Let me tell you, that was a tough bunch of guys. We had people that were let out of prison to go into the service. So those were the people I went overseas with,” he told the Hearst Press in 1945, “And they were tough and rough  and I had to fit that mold.”

Spahn soon found himself in the middle of the Battle of the Bulge. “We were surrounded in the Hertgen Forest and had to fight our ways out of there. Our feet were frozen when we went to sleep, and they were frozen when we woke up. We didn’t have a bath or shower, or even a change of clothes for weeks.”


In March 1945, the 276th were responsible for maintaining the traffic flow across the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, the only remaining bridge to span the Rhine. The bridge was under almost constant attack from the Germans who were desperate to stop the flow of Allied forces into Germany. At the same time they were to build a 140-foot Double Bailey bridge nearby.

On March 16, Spahn was wounded in the foot by shrapnel while working on the Ludendorff. The following day he had just left the Ludendorff when the entire structure collapsed into the river with the loss of more than 30 US Army engineers. The 276th received the Distinguished Unit Emblem and for his efforts to keep the bridge operating, while under constant enemy fire, Staff Sergeant Spahn received a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and a battlefield commission as a second-lieutenant.

After Germany’s surrender in May 1945, First Lieutenant Spahn pitched for the 115th Engineers Group at their base at the University of Heidelberg. In a four game stretch, he allowed only one run and nine hits while striking out 73 batters. “Before the war I didn’t have anything that slightly resembled self-confidence,” Spahn told the Associated Press in August 1946. “Then I was tight as a drum and worrying about every pitch. But nowadays I just throw them up without the slightest mental pressure.”

Looking back on my military experience some years later Spahn said, “After what I went though overseas, I never thought of anything I was told to do in baseball as hard work. you get over feeling like that when you spend days on end sleeping in frozen tank tracks in enemy threatened areas. The Army taught me something about
challenges and about what’s important and what isn’t. Everything I tackle in baseball and in life I take as a challenge rather than work.”

It took another two decades before he would again adorn a military uniform, but it was for a much different situation this time. He was an extra on the set of the World War II television drama “Combat”, and he was this time playing a German soldier in the scene.

unknown origin

These are just two of the amazing stories of former Major League Baseball players doing their part to secure our freedoms in times that dictated their total commitment and loyalty to our country. Others unfortunately did perish in the actions of the war like Army Air Corps Captain Elmer Gedeon, who played briefly for the Washington Senators before heeding the call to battle.

He was killed in action when his b-26 Marauder he was piloting was hit by enemy flak while on a bombing mission to attack German construction works at Bois d’Esquerdes. His plane was hit and he was seen slumping onto the steering wheel before the plane plummeted to the earth. Gedeon perished in the plane. 

                  Delaware newspaper

Or maybe the ultimate sacrifice by Marine Corps Second Lieutenant Harry O’Neill who only played one game with the Philadelphia Athletics but is recognized as one of only two MLB players to die in World War II. O’Neill and the Fourth Marine Division made major amphibious assaults at Kwajalein, Saipan and ..Tinian…

By February 1945, he was on his way to Iwo Jima to help secure the island for use as a base for long-range fighters to escort bombers on their missions to ….Japan…..
Iwo Jima, 750 miles south of ..Tokyo.., is the middle island of the three tiny specks of the ..Volcano Islands… Five miles long with ..Mount Suribachi.. at the southern tip, the island is honeycombed with excoriated volcanic vents.

Hundreds of natural caves communicate with deep sulphur-exuding tunnels. Steep and broken gulleys cut across the surface, ragged sea cliffs surround it. Only to the south is there level sand, but it is fine, shifting, black pumice dust making the beaches like quicksand and rendering it impossible to dig a fox-hole when in need of cover.


The island was riddled with pillboxes, gun-pits, trenches and mortar sites and a three-day naval bombardment beginning on February 16 was intended to rid the island of much of its defense. But despite its enormity the bombardment had minimal effect and US forces met fanatical resistance when they hit the beaches on February 19.

On March 6, 1945 – as American troops moved inland – First Lieutenant Harry O’Neill was killed. It was a month before his wife, Ethel McKay O’Neill, received news of his death from the Navy Department. Both of these men were the only members of the professional baseball fraternity to perish on the battlefield in the Pacific or in Europe. Considering the loss of life in these two theaters of action in World War II, that feat in itself is simply amazing.


If you want freedom, prepare for war. This was an amazing post to read. Thank you for writing it.
Happy 4th of July. Hope you and your family enjoy it.

With North Korea playing game with their nuclear fireworks, the next week might be interesting.
United Nations is already slapped their hands, but can we really avoid any situation with them………….we shall see.
I do not even have the slightest idea what to do with them now.

I always remember my fallen friends on days like this. I drik a nice cold one and say their names out loud.

Rays Renegade

Great post, Rays. You stuck with the theme that Feller and Spahn both emphasized: baseball seemed unimportant when in the heat of battle. Therefore, I respect your decision to talk about these heroes rather than baseball on this national holiday as it is very fitting with the views of these men. Happy 4th of July and keep up the chase in the AL East, it should be an exciting finish.

Thanks Fenway,
I know if I had to make the same decision when I was playing football, I would also take the path Pat Tillman did too.
My father and his three brothers fought for this country, and my one aunt was a nurse in the Navy.
I was brought up in a military-based household and I have learned from stem to stern the sacrifices people have made for this country.
So to honor the men and women who fought on days like Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day and the Fouth of July only seems fitting and right.

Rays Renegade

Rays – what a great post for the 4th of July – and any day! And you’re right – whatever it is that North Korea is up to is very unsettling. We never should forget that our Freedom comes with a great cost. My dad spent 10 years in the Air Force during the Korean War and my sister and I were brought up with the utmost respect for those in uniform. Thank you.


Very interesting post!
The knew that Bob Feller was envolved but I didn’t know about fellow lefty Warren Sphan.
What about the two best hitters of the era Theodore Williams and Henry B. Greenberg. I actually saw something about how Hank Greenberg took WWII personally. he was Jewish, you can make an obvious conclusion.
I actually think North Korea is going to like the other famous Commie country in Asia (no not Vietnam) they’re not going to attatck the US and self-destruct.
Again great post!

Great post! Hope you are enjoying the holiday weekend. I did not enjoy the Rays’ trip to Citi Field a few weeks ago. Anyhow, I have decided to become active again in the MLBlogosphere and hope to have you stop by and discuss our great National Pastime. I will also post a new trivia question on Mondays and Fridays. So stop by and be the first to answer to earn points towards an end of the year baseball related gift. Enjoy your weekend. Go Rays and Lets Go Mets!!!


what a great post! That is why you are like number 5 on the MLBlogosphere top 100. Wow. Good job! I am an O’s fan but I was born in Florida so I know what it is like being around the Rays and the Marlins. My blog is Birdland Blog, and I am hoping to get more comments so please. Can you all check it out. :)

What a beautiful post! It’s unfathomable to think about today’s baseball stars serving in the military, though I’m sure the league would strongly discourage it even if they wanted to. It was a completely different era back then, and I’m just glad that guys like Feller and Spahn felt serving their country was more important than playing some silly game. -Erin

I guess I get to show my gage again here.
Back when I was in Junior High (now called Middle School), they used to sell Vietnam War POW bracelets made of copper for the POW/MIA foundation at the local mall.
I hounded my parents for about a week for $ 20 so I could buy a few of them.
I wore them with pride and checked the papaer every week to see if my guys had either been found alive.
It was just my small part to play as a 11-year old.

Rays Renegade


I left off Ted Williams becuase he enevr got overseas during WW II, but he did kick some major booty in the Korean War. Hank Greenberg might have also used some of the motivation of his time in the MLB also as fule for the fire against the Nazi regime.
I was not real familiar with his fighting, but I can understand his motivation and his drive to make his countrymen safe.
Like I said in the post, there were 33 men who did amazing things in WW II that had MLB roots.
I am afraid to even peak into the Vietnam War or the Iraq War to find out any other men who might have forgone a chance to play in the MLB for our freedom.
But I respect them all for their dedication and courage.

Rays Renegade

Glad to have you back into the MLBlogs fold.
That Mets/Rays series was great, but sometimes the rain makes it worse.
Great to hear we have trivia again making some space online.
I will come by and see what you got, and hopefully be able to answer a few of them.

Rays Renegade

Sorry to rain on my own parade, but I am not in the top 5, but sometimes I do find the right subject and things flow great.
Number 19 is fine with me. Not because I am the highest Rays blogger, but because I get some peace from any psycho drama the top people might get from commenter at times.
I will be sure to stop by and read some of your stuff soon.

Rays Renegade


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