Monthly Archives: February 2018

Struck Out Swinging: Pee Wee Reese, Johnny Mize and Fred Hutchinson on Tinian

Missing out on pieces that would fit perfectly with what I collect is becoming too common of an occurrence for me lately. I am not one who spends my weekends scouring garage and estate sales in search of these precious artifacts but perhaps there might be something to that activity. The problem with taking that approach is that there is a considerable time commitment required just to make it worthwhile and to afford chances to find such treasures. Another challenge is that these military baseball artifacts are so hard to find due to the small population of service members who played the game during their time in the armed forces. I find that it is best to take my chances with the collections, personal items – pieces that are listed by veterans, family members, collectors and pickers.

It is not secret that my tendencies in collecting, both with militaria and in military baseball are towards the Navy and I work harder to land those related items that surface within the marketplace. Often, there are pieces that are of little interest to other collectors or they are listed in such a manner that they elude people who might be using a few different (yet limited or too specific) search criterion or formulas. Even I have missed out on pieces because I was too lazy to search beyond my normal, standby perfunctory methods.

Sometimes, I make discoveries of items that perfectly fit my collection and line up with everything that interest me but are discovered because I was exploring a tangential interest. One example of this was when I was seeking a specific rating badge (a WWII-era bullion Radarman version), I discovered a binder filled with shipyard modernization work orders that belonged to a Chief Electrician (a warrant officer) who used for the heavy cruiser, USS Vincennes (CA-44) that would later be sunk in the Battle of Savo Island in August of 1942.

My collection of Navy baseball artifacts, despite my best efforts, are scantily few. It seems that besides the there being so few pieces in existence, the competition for those items can be quite fierce.

Vintage military photographs are something that I collect. In addition to my naval ship and military baseball photograph archive, I also have several images that were part of a veteran’s photo scrapbook from his service in the 20th Air Force. Among those images of ground activities, bombing missions, wrecked aircraft and airmen enjoying downtown between missions, there are images of several B-29s and their nose art.

This rare color photograph of the B-17 “Going My Way” with Bugs Bunny is very typical of what was seen on many WWI bomber aircraft.

Nose art, especially what was seen on B-17 an B-29 bombers, has considerable following for collectors and historians alike. When the number of just these two types of aircraft (12,731 B-17 and 3,970 B-29 bombers) are considered coupled with the notion that the majority of them (that were deployed to their respective theaters of the war), there would be thousands of differing paintings and illustrations to be documented. In recent years, there have been several undertakings by historians who are seeking to locate photographs of every example of nose art for each aircraft. If the photograph exists, these folks want to have it.

This jacket, combined with the above image of the Goin’ My Way nose art photo would work together for a fantastic display.

In terms of collectors, those who pursue painted bomber jackets in particular, to possess both the jacket and photographic artifacts from the same ship help to make a great display. I have never actually purchased a vintage photo of a bomber or other Air Force aircraft.

A few days ago, while I was browsing through some listings of B-29 photographs taken on Tinian and Saipan (the two principle bases of operation for bombing missions to the Japanese homelands during the latter years of the War), I spotted a vintage photograph that was listed as a “nose art” image. In the thumbnail of the photo in the listing, I could see that there was a large gathering of men posed beneath the aircraft, which wasn’t unusual. What was out of the norm from what I have seen in other images was the sheer number of people lined up in multiple rows. Something about the men also caught my eye as it appeared different from all the photos that I had seen. The Superfortress looked normal though the nose art, from what I could tell, was quite diminutive compared to what was commonly applied to these massive planes.

In this undated photo, the U.S. Navy team poses with airmen in front of the Superfortress known as “Flag Ship” (serial number BA 42-63504). Among the players in the image are Pee Wee Reese, Fred Hutchinson and Johnny Mize. Flag Ship would be damaged on July 24, 1944 by a crashing “Thunderin’ Loretta”(serial number 42-24913) when she went down on take-off, killing 10 men. The crash damaged seven other parked B-29 bombers (serial numbers 44-69841, 42-63506, 42-93992, 44-69844, 44-69972, 42-63504, and 44-69859).
Flag Ship has the distinction of being the first B-29 to land on the Island of Tinian (source: eBay image).

I decided to open the auction listing and I was immediately astounded. There, in the formation ranks were a few recognizable faces – Johnny Mize, Pee Wee Reese and Fred Hutchinson to name a few – among the 43 visible service members. Twelve of the men in baseball uniforms were wearing the road gray navy flannels while 14 were decked out in the pinstripes and blue home togs. Other men posing in the image are in the Army Air Forces and Navy military uniforms. The image appears to be a type-1 (defined as first generation photograph, developed from the original negative, during the period – within approximately two years of when the picture was taken) and the clarity is impeccable. It is obvious that the photograph was snapped by a professional war correspondent, judging by the exposure and composition, regardless of the cropping out of men on the edges of the group.

I really wanted to land this photograph. Not wanting to risk being outbid, I set my amount for more than twice the highest price that I have ever paid for a vintage photograph. I could see that there were some new-to-eBay folks (those who place bids very early after an item is listed) which gave me a little bit of concern as these people tend to drive prices unnecessarily high (my bid won’t show until just prior to the close of the auction). I waited the remaining five days for the close of the bidding and hoped for the best.

I wish that I could say that my bid amount was enough to bring this photograph home to me but someone else with deeper pockets and, very obviously in possession of the knowledge of the significance of this rare photograph took the same actions as I did and placed a higher bid at the same time (just seconds before the auction’s close) that mine was made. Losing and missing out on this image was a painful lesson to learn. If the item matters this much, I had better step up to the plate and take a real swing.

At least I was able to grab a digital copy (albeit, low resolution) for posterity.

 

Military Baseball Competition: Citizens’ Military Training Camps Baseball

Still in the throws of the euphoria of bringing home such a unique baseball-militaria discovery in the Midshipman Frank Fenno Naval Academy medal (which I acquired early in 2017), I was excited to see another military-centric award listed at auction. The quality of the carving in the minting-strike coupled with the engraving and the suspension along with the original box, I didn’t hesitate to set a snipe-bid with hopes of doubling my military-baseball medal collection. It is getting to be a more familiar action that I have been taking – pulling the trigger prior performing due diligence, let alone some cursory research. It wouldn’t have required much effort – the medal’s surfaces were rich with researchable information.

In looking at the photos of the medal and box in the auction listing, the box appears to have been damaged in transit. The seller didn’t protect the item from being crushed (it was bubble wrapped in a mailer envelope.

A few days after the close of the auction with my winning bid, the medal arrived in my mailbox and that’s when I decided to research what this artifact represented.

The obverse of the medal contained a relive of the figure of Lady Victory holding a laurel branch in her outstretched right hand with Pegasus at her side. Text encircles the figures that reads, “THIRD CORPS AREA | UNITED STATES ARMY” which seemed to be a great data point with which to begin my research. However, the reverse possesses even better, more specific details that made a basic internet search all that was required to pinpoint the medal’s information. Unlike the front, the back of the medal lacks artwork. There is a combination of lettering done in relief (C.M.T.C. and FT. HOWARD M.D. 1928) and text that is engraved, post-stamping that reads “CHAMPION BASEBALL.” Unlike so many items within my collection, this medal provides almost everything that is needed to understand why it exists. Note that I wrote, “almost;” which I will attempt to explain with a brief walk through early 20th century military history.

A lack of preparedness for the defense of a nation, let alone being ready to launch any offensive, has been a norm for the United States since the dawn of the 20th Century  When the U.S. Congress formally declared war on April 6, 1917, the nation was ill-prepared to send troops to fight though it was glaringly obvious that the nation would eventually be drawn into Europe’s bloody war of attrition.

With the war raging in Europe and the United States’ involvement in supplying its allies with materials to sustain them in the fight, a groundswell of planning was started in in 1915 to commence making preparations in terms of man-power, despite the isolationist’s loud opposition to any and all involvement in Europe’s (seemingly) continual wars. However, by mid-May of that same year, the tide began to turn following the sinking of the RMS Lusitania (near Ireland by the German U-boat, U-20) and the Preparedness Movement was ignited. Born from this movement was the basis for bolstering the Army with new troops (including filling the need for officer and enlisted leadership) which segued into a national conscription once the congressional war declaration was made, nearly two years later. Even with the Preparedness Movement, the armed forces were grossly undermanned which resulted in a protracted time-period (more than seven months: from April to December) before a significant contingent of trained and outfitted troops could be sent into combat. By July of 1918, the Allied Expeditionary Forces (known simply as the AEF) was established with American troops (comprised of predominantly U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps personnel) to fight in alliance with (rather than individual augmentation of) French and British units.

A component of the Army, the CMTC was part of the overall national defense program in conjunction with the National Guard and Army Reserves.

Following conclusion of WWI, forces were again reduced, however military leadership and their congressional supporters saw the need to continue facets of the Preparedness Movement. In 1921, the Citizens Military Training Camps (CMTC) military training programs commenced which would provide young men with basic military training without any obligation to serve. This program was a voluntary four-year-cycle summer camp that, upon successful completion of all four camps (a progression from The Basic camp through The Red, The White and graduating following The Blue camp) the participants (ages 17-24) could receive a reserve officer commission as a second lieutenant.

According to the 1st Battalion 22nd Infantry organization, “The government paid for all expenses, including transportation, uniforms, food, quarters and medical care. There was no service obligation. The camp schedule called for elementary infantry drill in the beginning and later for special training in the different branches of the service. A large part of the training day was devoted to physical training and athletic sports. Army Chaplains saw to the religious needs of the trainees. Many who enrolled in the CMTC were inclined thereafter to join the National Guard or Organized Reserve.”  Organized baseball was an integral part of the athletic aspects of the training these students which meant that competition between camps within the Corps Areas was a part of the program: my medal was presented to a trainee who played on the Fort Howard (Maryland) team within the Third Corps area (which consisted of Pennsylvania, Maryland, District of Columbia and Virginia with headquarters at either Fort McHenry or Fort Howard).

  • First Corps Area-New England.
  • Second Corps Area-New York, New Jersey, and Delaware.
  • Third Corps Area-Pennsylvania, Maryland, D.C., and Virginia.
  • Fourth Corps Area-South of Virginia to Mississippi.
  • Fifth Corps Area-Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia.
  • Sixth Corps Area-Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois.
  • Seventh Corps Area-Minnesota, N. Dakota and south to include Arkansas and Kansas.
  • Eighth Corps Area-Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.
  • Ninth Corps Area-Montana and south and west, plus Alaska.

“Every effort was made to instill in the trainees, a devotion to country, a sense of civic responsibility, and an ideal of individual development toward physical, mental and moral excellence. Basic military training and discipline were taught, and the students were expected to conduct themselves like soldiers for the time they were in the camp. Heavy emphasis was placed on physical training, and organized sports were considered part of the training program.” – Citizens’ Military Training Camp – 1-22infantry.org

The CMTC was at its peak during the 1920s though the organization continued to train young men until it was discontinued with the United States’ entry into WWII.

My research did not yield enough results to help me determine for certain the specific occasion that my new (1928)medal was awarded. My best guess is that the medal was awarded to one of the baseball teams within the Third Corps for securing the 1928 championship among the CMTC camp teams.

Three athletic medals awarded to trainees at Plattsburg Training Center in Plattsburg, NY (image source: William K. Emerson | emersoninsignia.net).

The reverse of the Plattsburg medals: engravings show that they were awarded for (left to right:): 50-yd breaststroke (1927), 400-yd run m(1929) and the 1939 intercompany relay race (image source: William K. Emerson | emersoninsignia.net).

Athletic competition was integral in the Citizens Military training programs. In addition to baseball, other sports played a significant role in developing team cohesiveness such as track and field and swimming events. As with baseball, medals were also presented to victorious trainees. According to research (see Citizens’ Military Training Camps and Commonly Used Citizens’ Military Training Camps Medals) by collector colleague and Vietnam veteran, William K. Emerson (U.S. Army Insignia), there were several different types of medals throughout the existence of the CMTC program that were awarded, including those awarded for academic and military excellence.

Little by little, my collection of baseball militaria is growing and this medal, while adding diversity to the items that I already possess, it demonstrates how much more interwoven the game is within the fabric of the military than I had previously known.

 

 

Researching a WWII Army Baseball Team: 75th…What?

Dead end after dead end…Researching photographs that are scant in details poses challenges that amount to insurmountable barriers – no, these are chasms that I cannot bridge.

I have passion for vintage baseball photography and images produced by George Grantham Bain (see his Library of Congress images on Flickr or his LoC section), Charles M. Conlon and Barney Stein are some of the most iconic photographs taken in the first half of the 20th Century. The photographs by these men document the Golden Age of the game and, for some of the early players, are the only visual glimpses into their days on the diamond. These three photographers (there were plenty of other photogs around the country) are responsible for thousands upon thousands of photographs of nearly every player that took donned a major league uniform. The photographic coverage of the game massively expanded as photographic technology (cameras, film, processing) advanced.

One of my vintage, original baseball images shows WWII combat Marine veteran, Gil Hodges (of the Brooklyn Dodgers) tagging out Alvin Dark of the NY Giants as he attempts to get back to the bag at first base. This is an original Barney Stein photo.

While there is generally no shortage of beautiful images of the game at the major league level and while fewer images exist of minor leaguers and their games, it is the military game and players that are severely limited. One can certainly argue that during the times of war (WWI and WWII), the focus of coverage laid with the lens turned towards the battlefield, the people fighting in the conflicts and the support areas and personnel. By contrast, little attention was afforded to the rest, relaxation and morale-boosting activities that took place in the rear. Combat photographers and correspondents may have covered the occasional service team game but for the most part, the images that exist of military baseball games are predominantly the results of GIs taking snapshots of their units’ participation.

My collection has steadily grown over the years and yet I have been rather selective in the images that I have brought home. In particular, I pay attention to the quality of the image – subject matter, composition, clarity and exposure along with how well the image has been preserved. I am not opposed to buying an image that may be in poor condition or suffering from improper exposure (I have managed to salvage a few with some work using high resolution scans and editing within Photoshop). In the years that I have been working with these images, I have developed an eye for salvage-potential and typically shy away from images that are unworkable. My more recent acquisitions were the result of significantly more pre-purchase scrutiny than was used when I started buying vintage military baseball photos.

The players from the 75th gathered in an army encampment.

When I discovered an auction listing for a group of six snapshots of baseball players wearing their game uniforms, posing together around army tents, I had to submit a bid and hope for the best. For a minimal investment of a few dollars, these photos (obviously broken apart from a now-deceased GI’s photo album) found a home among my growing collection of similar images. Other than the army tents and one photograph in the group showing some of the players in the back of a deuce-and-a-half (a 2-1/2 ton truck), the only other element that might provide me with a research pathway are the uniforms worn by the players. Visible on most of the photos are the digits “75” located on the jersey fronts (right chest) which, in my opinion, indicate the military unit these players where assigned to.

Unfortunately, the numerals are not unique and do not allow my research to narrow down the field of potential commands that were in service during WWII:

US Army

  • 75th Infantry Division (1943-1945)
    • 75th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop
    • 75th Quartermaster Company
    • Headquarters, Special Troops, 75th Infantry Division
    • 75th Counterintelligence Corps Detachment

US Army Air Force

Ralph McLeod (source: Baseball Reference)

Some cursory research led me to Ralph McLeod, a Quincy, Massachusetts native who, in 1938 had a six-game cup of coffee with the hometown National League team, the Boston Braves. His professional career lasted from 1936 to finishing at the end of the 1940 season with a few stops at the highest levels of the minors. In February of 1941, instead of heading to spring training, he was drafted into the Army for a year of service which, after the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor meant that his ball-playing career was put on hold for the duration of The War.

McLeod was assigned to the 75th Infantry Regiment after it was formed in 1943, heading to the European Theater with his unit late in 1944. McLeod’s first taste of real action came during German offensive that would come to be known as “The Battle of the Bulge” that began on Christmas Eve. After the Allies stymied the Germans in the Ardennes, the 75th saw action throughout Europe, connecting with “the French in the Colmar area,” according to McLeod in a 1995 interview (SABR.org). “Then we joined the British up in Holland. We got bounced around to different places. We ended up in Dortmund, Germany. We saw a lot of action. I lost a lot of good friends,” McLeod concluded.  Following the German surrender, McLeod donned flannels and “played baseball all over Europe. Not many of the guys played in the majors but there were a lot of guys who had played professionally in the minors. But I had missed almost four years of not touching a baseball. I remember playing a game against Blackwell, the old Cincinnati pitcher. He blew them by me so fast I couldn’t see them. That game was in France, just outside Paris. I think he was in the Air Corps. He made me look foolish.” I wondered if McLeod was among the men in my photos.

These four from the 75th are geared up and ready for the game.

I inconclusively compared the lone photo of Ralph McLeod to the faces in my photos, though one of the ball players bore some resemblance. With this uncertainty, I have nothing left to do but to shelf my research and simply be content with maintaining the photos within my photo archive.

Without anything significant (at least to my eyes) being revealed within the photographs, I am unable to narrow down which unit is represented by the “75” on the uniform jerseys of the ball players in these photos. As I do with researching artifacts within my collection, discontinuing my research at present could have positive results (which is what happened with this naval aviation cigarette box) and allow time for other information to surface or for knowledgeable people to discover this post and images and offer their expertise.

For now, I wait and simply enjoy the photos. Dead end, indeed.

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