American Sports goes to War

Motion picture stars of the 40s were not the only public figures who answered the call to serve during this era. Many equally famous athletes rushed to enlist for military duty. Although numbers are not easy to come by, the National Baseball Hall of Fame has derived some telling statistics. Major League Baseball estimated 95% of its players, some 565 in all, served in the military during World War II, including 29 who would eventually be elected to the Hall of Fame. Five Hall of Famers served during the war in Korea, and the percentages were nearly as high in other sports. Professional football players answered the call as well, of the 638 NFL players who served in World War II, 355 were commissioned as officers, 66 were decorated, and 21 lost their lives..

When War Started, They Answered The Call!
A Few Examples of Real Sports Heroes

When pitcher Hugh Mulcahy of the pitiful Phillies took his real-life induction oath in March 1941, he told the Sporting News, "My losing streak is over. I'm on a winning team now." He served with the Twenty-Sixth Infantry Division where he was stationed on New Guinea in 1944 and later in the Philippines.

Willis Hudlin: The Cleveland Indian's pitcher who served up Babe Ruth's 500th homerun was an AAF Flight Instructor

Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg of the Tigers, 28 years old need not serve, but enlisted in 1941 after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the U.S. declared war. Greenberg was the first major leaguer to enlist in the Army, even though he had been excused from serving. While he could have had a stateside job as an athletic instructor, Greenberg chose to serve in the Army Air Corps in the China Burma-India Theater, where he had a distinguished record flying the "Hump".

Cleveland pitcher Bob Feller: In 1940, Bullet Bob became the first American League pitcher to throw a complete game no-hitter on opening-day. At age 23, his career was interrupted by his four-year enlistment in the Navy. Upon entering the Navy, Feller became an anti-aircraft gunner aboard the U.S.S. Alabama and came out a highly decorated war veteran.

Yogi Berra (Lawrence Peter Berra) Berra enlisted in the navy in 1944, and served on board a rocket launcher off Normandy Beach.

Warren Spahn the winningest lefthanded pitcher of all time, and possibly the best as well, Warren Spahn was a complete player who helped himself at bat and in the field. A World War II veteran, Spahn entered the U.S. Army in 1943 and received a battlefield commission as a second lieutenant in June 1945. He reached Europe in December 1944 with the 276th Engineer Combat Battalion and was wounded at Remagen, Germany, in March 1945. After Germany's surrender in May, Spahn pitched for the 115th Engineers Group. Spahn was back with the Braves in 1946 and recorded the first of his13 20-win seasons the following year. Before departing the Army, Spahn earned the prestigious Purple Heart and Bronze Star awards.

Hoyt Wilhelm: After a year in the minors, his progress was interrupted by WWII. He served in the United States Army during the envasion of Europe, and he won the Purple Heart for wounds recieved during the Battle of the Bulge.

Alta "Schoolboy" Cohen served with the United States Army in Europe.

Ted Williams: Following the 1942 season, which produced his first Triple Crown (.356, 36 HR, 137 RBI), Williams enlisted and became decorated Marine fighter pilot in both WW2 and Korea, champion of charity, oversized personality. Sen. John Glenn and Williams met a half-century ago, preparing to fly Marine fighter jets with bombs as cargo. They remained friends, in The Kid's latter years sharing a unique bond. Ted Williams flew in two wars, a decade apart. John Glenn orbited the Earth, a generation apart. "He never complained, not one time," said Glenn, one of the many distinguished participants who dignified the celebration of Ted Williams' life at his funeral. "You don't know what kind of records he could have set had he not been recalled to service."

Dick Whitman traded his baseball uniform for Army kaki, serving in three major battles in Europe with the 1st Infrantry Division.

Billy Fiske of Brooklyn, a two-time Olympic bobsled gold medalist. Fiske talked his way into Britain's Royal Air Force in 1939 and was killed a year later. Fiske's grave is distinguished by a small Stars and Stripes flag. This was the man whom Lt Col J T C Moore-Brabazon (later Lord Brabazon of Tara) honoured with the words in a newspaper tribute, "We thank America for sending us the perfect sportsman. Many of us would have given our lives for Billy."

Enos Slaughter of the Cardinals immediately joined the United States Army.

Al Blozis, was All-Pro Football New York Giants 1942. In December 1943, he finally persuaded the Army to take him, so in 1944 he enrolled in Officers Candidate School. In early January 1945, he rode the troop ship to Europe, arriving in the bitter cold of France's Vosges Mountains just in time to join the Battle of the Bulge. A few days later, a sergeant and an enlisted man in his unit failed to return from patrol. Blozis set out to find them. Machine gun fire was heard, and 2nd Lt. Al Blozis died in defense of his country.

Kyle Rote Sr. running back for the New York Giants became an American soldier and soon found himself fighting his way across Europe

Joe Louis: Drafted into the Army, "Smoking Joe" rose to the rank of Sgt. and served as a Physical Training Instructor

Gene Tunney, Ironically, was one of the most famous athletes to serve in both world wars. Tunney took Dempsey's heavyweight title in 1926 and defended it in the famous "long count" bout a year later. Tunney joined the Marines in 1918 and, although he did not see combat, became known as The Fighting Marine. He reentered the military in 1940 and served as a Navy training officer until May 1945 earning the rank of Full Commander.

Ralph Heywood: Colonel Heywood, a decorated career soldier, is the only pro football player to have served his country during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. A third-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions in 1944, Heywood decided to serve his country before pursuing a pro football career. After serving two years in the Marines during World War II, the two-way end signed with the 1946 Chicago Rockets of the new All-America Football Conference. In 1947 he joined the NFL’s Detroit Lions before moving on to the Boston Yanks midway through the 1948 season. He remained with the Yanks when the franchise moved to New York in 1949. Heywood, who remained a reservist while playing pro ball, returned to active duty in 1952, during the Korean War. Advancing through the ranks, Colonel Heywood went on to serve as the commander of the Twenty Sixth Marine Regiment in the Republic of Vietnam.

The List of American Heroes Who Were Inducted In To The Baseball Hall of Fame
Luke Appling - United States Army
Al Barlick - United States Coast Guard
Yogi Berra - United States Navy
Nestor Chylak - United States Army
Mickey Cochrane- United States Navy
Leon Day - United States Army
Bill Dickey - United States Navy
Joe DiMaggio - United States Army
Larry Doby - United States Navy
Bobby Doerr - United States Army
Bob Feller - United States Navy
Charlie Gehringer - United States Navy
Hank Greenberg - United States Army
Billy Herman - United States Navy
Monte Irvin - United States Army
Ralph Kiner - United States Navy
Bob Lemon - United States Navy

Ted Lyons - United States Marines
Larry MacPhail - United States Army
Lee MacPhail - United States Navy
Johnny Mize - United States Navy
Stan Musial - United States Navy
Pee Wee Reese - United States Navy
Phil Rizzuto - United States Navy
Robin Roberts - United States Army
Jackie Robinson - United States Army
Red Ruffing - United States Army
Red Schoendienst - United States Army
Enos Slaughter - United States Army
Duke Snider - United States Navy
Warren Spahn - United States Army
Bill Veeck - United States Marines
Ted Williams - United States Marines
Early Wynn - United States Army

So how do you feel these real sports heroes of the time when we were "Americans One and All" acted when compared to the sports figures of today? Can you imagine our sports heroes acting like our "new" Motion Pictures Stars? I thought not, neither did I, for that was a time when we were all patriotic Americans; and we all believe that sports is still as American as Mom and Apple Pie!

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