Monthly Archives: June 2020

Legends of the Fleet and Game: Admiral Frank W. Fenno and Chief Ovie Mulkey

There are many motivations for saving and preserving artifacts and mementos. To some critics and people who have no need for or interest in these things, the reasons may seem to be somewhat out of the realm of what is normal. However, from the vantage point of those who collect historical artifacts, the notion of being connected to history through an object is captivating. Perhaps the preceding is merely a statement of the obvious, but it serves quite well in prefacing stories regarding historical artifacts.

We had been engaged in a fruitless pursuit of a historic pair of baseball militaria photographs that depict the 1942 Service All-Stars team (that faced the 1942 American League All-Stars in Cleveland) for many years. Not too long ago, one of the two images became available and we were able to secure it. The image we acquired captured the team lined up in advance of the game, wearing their service dress uniforms before they changed into their baseball flannels. After dressing for the game, a second photo captured the players lined up in their same positions (as shown in the first image) for a matched set. The two photos were published on page 6 of the July 16, 1942 edition of The Sporting News.

These interesting and exclusive pictures of Mickey Cochrane’s U.S. Service squad were taken at Cleveland Stadium prior to the game with the American League All-Stars the night of July 7. At left, the Service players are shown as they appeared in their service garb when they reached the stadium, and in the other picture they appear as they had dressed for the fray. Insofar as possible, the photographer tried to line up the boys in the same positions in each picture.

Our copy of the highly sought 1942 Service All-Stars team photo – pictured in their service uniforms. The accompanying caption reads: “Here are the players in their service raiment and their assignment posts:
Front row, left to right – Vincent Smith, Norfolk Training Station; Don Padgett, Great Lakes Training Station; Ernest Andres, Great Lakes; Herman Fishman, Great Lakes; Fred Schaffer, Great Lakes, Frank Pytlak, Great Lakes; Russell Meers, Great Lakes; Johnny Lucadello, Great Lakes.
Center row – Don Dunker, Great Lakes; O.V. Mulkey, Great Lakes, Fred Hutchinson, Norfolk Training Station; Sam Chapman, Naval Aviation Base, Washington D.C.; Bob Feller, Norfolk; George Earnshaw, Naval Aviation Station, Jacksonville, Florida; Manager Mickey Cochrane, Great Lakes; Hank Gowdy (coach), Reds; Joe Grace, Great Lakes; Cecil Travis, Camp Wheeler, Georgia; Mickey Harris, Canal Zone; John Rigney, Great Lakes.
Back row – Ken Silvestri, Fort Custer, Michigan; Pat Mullin, 1301 Service Unit, New Cumberland, Pennsylvania; Johnny Sturm, Jefferson Barracks, Missouri; Sam Harshaney, Great Lakes; Chester Hajduk, Great Lakes; Bob Peterson, Great Lakes; John Grodzicki, Fort Knox, Kentucky; Mush Esler, Great Lakes, Benny McCoy, Great Lakes; Emmett Mueller, Jefferson Barracks; Morris Arnovich, Fort Lewis, Washington (Chevrons and Diamonds Archive).

The 1942 Service All-Stars – dressed for game time. We are still seeking an original, vintage copy of this team image for our photo archive (source: ACME Newsphoto).

After scanning and editing our photograph, we shared it with notable WWII Navy baseball researcher and author Harrington “Kit” Crissey as part of an ongoing research effort. Much focus of our work is given to players who were not of the caliber of major leaguers but may never have had an opportunity to play alongside them if not for the war. The players listed in the accompanying caption include Bob Feller, Mickey Cochrane, Fred Hutchinson, Mickey Harris and Sam Chapman along with 26 other former major and minor leaguers then serving in the armed forces. In a previous conversation with Mr. Crissey, we noticed that one of the men on the roster (who was present in the pair of Service All-Stars photos) had an unusual name and no documented professional baseball playing experience: O.V. Mulkey.

Listed on the rosters of Great Lakes Naval Training Station scorecards and programs, O. V. Mulkey was one of the team’s coaches and served as an assistant to Mickey Cochrane in the team’s successful 1942 campaign; yet we didn’t know who this man was or his level of experience that afforded him favor with the future Cooperstown enshrinee manager. More details emerged in researching Mulkey’s naval career in terms of his service; however, his baseball acumen was not at all apparent.

Born on March 1, 1893, in a small Illinois farming community (Mulkeytown, IL), 95 miles southwest of St. Louis, Missouri, that bore his surname, Ovie Mark Mulkey was one of six children born to John and Mollie (Mary) Mulkey. He was employed by 1910 as a public schoolteacher at age 17 following the early death of his father the year before at the young age of 46. When he was 21 years old, Ovie enlisted in the Navy on November 10, 1914, as war was rapidly engulfing Europe. Records indicate that Mulkey served a four-year enlistment and then re-enlisted in September of 1918, having been detailed overseas in the previous year. Aside from a few pieces of information regarding his active duty service, the only other item that documented his time in the Navy was the Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem (BIRLS) file showing that Ovie Mulkey served from 1914 until 1932 for the first segment of his naval career.

By April of 1940, Ovie Mulkey was working as a civilian engineer for the War Department in a small town (Cape Girardeau) in Southwestern Missouri on the west bank of the Mississippi River (less than 70 miles south of his childhood home). Mulkey was accompanied by his wife Bernice and two sons, Wayne and Michael. With war raging in Europe once more, the Navy Department needed experienced veterans to train the influx of young men in anticipation of the peacetime draft that would go into effect on October 16 of that year. Mulkey returned to active duty service just two days before the first wave of young men began to report to serve their obligated duty. With his proximity to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, assigning Mulkey to train new recruits was better suited to a man approaching his 50s rather than duty aboard ship.

Through our research, we were able to eliminate confusion surrounding Mulkey’s first name and initials. Mulkey’s given first name, Ovie (misspelled at times as Ovey), was often listed as the initials “O. V.”. Causing further confusion was his name being printed as “O. M.” for his first and middle names.

Through our research, we were able to eliminate confusion surrounding Mulkey’s first name and initials. Mulkey’s given first name, Ovie (misspelled at times as Ovey), was often listed as the initials “O. V.”. Causing further confusion was his name being printed as “O. M.” for his first and middle names.

Crewmen of the USS Trout (SS-202), commanded by Lieutenant Commander Frank W. Fenno, offload 20 tons of gold and silver from the treasury of the Philippines at Pearl Harbor, March 3, 1942 (Chevrons and Diamonds).

We concluded our research pathways without answering our question as to Mulkey’s baseball experience. Often, clues arise when pursuing other avenues or while exploring the history of other veterans or baseball players.

During a subsequent conversation regarding the Great Lakes baseball team, Mr. Crissey mentioned he discovery of a June 11, 1942, In The Service column in The Sporting News pertaining to Chief Quartermaster O.M. Mulkey having been a member of the 1923 Atlantic Fleet baseball team alongside a naval officer who was a recent recipient of the U.S. Army’s highest decoration, the Distinguished Service Cross Medal., subordinate only to the Medal of Honor.

Bataan Hero Played on Atlantic Fleet Squad
Great Lakes, Ill – Lieutenant Commander Frank W. Fenno of Westminister, Massachusetts, commander of the submarine which crept into Manila Bay shortly before the fall of Bataan and removed the larger part of the wealth of the Philippines in gold and silver, was an outfielder on the Atlantic Fleet baseball team in 1923.

One of his teammates was Chief Quartermaster O.M. Mulkey, who now assists Lieutenant Gordon (Mickey) Cochrane, director of the baseball and softball activities at the U.S. Naval Training Station here. Chief Mulkey played shortstop on the fleet squad. – Green Bay Press Gazette, Monday June 8, 1942

The information drew a fantastic correlation to a veteran with whom we are very familiar. Nearly four years ago, while searching for interesting baseball militaria, a listing caught my attention. Having a modicum of experience in the area of collecting military medals and decorations, I was very interested when I saw an unusual medal listed for sale. Without performing due diligence regarding the name inscribed on the medal’s reverse, I placed a bid that went uncontested. The medal, as it turns out, was presented to Frank Wesley Fenno following his 1924 baseball season at the Naval Academy for the team’s highest season batting average (.410).

During the research conducted for our article regarding the Fenno medal (see: Academic Baseball Award: Rear Admiral Frank W. Fenno’s Baseball Career), we took note of the nature of the citation that accompanied his Distinguished Service Cross Medal. It recognized his dedication to duty as he placed his boat (USS Trout) and his men squarely into harm’s way to resupply American forces with much needed artillery ammunition. After unloading the munitions on Corregidor Island, the sub’s crew onloaded 20 tons of gold bars and silver that were evacuated from the Philippine government’s treasury and removed it to Corregidor for transfer to the U.S. to prevent it from falling into the hands of the enemy. Fenno and the Trout departed on February 4, 1942, arriving at Pearl Harbor to offload the wealth a month later on March 3. For the next eight weeks, the Japanese forces pushed the defenders down the Bataan Peninsula and onto Corregidor. On May 6, the senior American officer in the Philippines, General Jonathan M. Wainwright, surrendered, unable to hold off the attacking Japanese forces.

Chief Mulkey’s 1923 teammate, now a highly decorated submarine commander, was in his second year at the Naval Academy (where he was a star player on the Annapolis-nine roster) when he played on the Atlantic Fleet club. Fenno’s 1924 and ‘25 Annapolis seasons would be under the guidance of former Philadelphia Athletics pitcher (and future Hall of Fame enshrinee) Charles Albert “Chief” Bender. Perhaps the irony of Bender’s hiring wasn’t lost on Fenno.

Frank W. Fenno was a standout high school ballplayer in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. According to Fenno’s grandson, (also named Frank Fenno), after completing his first year at the University of Maine (Orono, Maine), Athletics’ owner Connie Mack offered a contract to the young outfielder, “He (Mack) offered him (Fenno) center field with the Philadelphia Athletics,” the grandson wrote (in an April 2017 email to us), “but on hearing he had earned an appointment to the Naval Academy, (Connie) convinced him it would pay significantly better than baseball!  He obviously took that sage advice.” Fenno’s grandson remarked. Of the two 1923 Atlantic Fleet teammates, Fenno wasn’t the only one to play with a major legend.

Chief Mulkey’s 1923 connection to Fenno isn’t the only baseball touchpoint during the tenured veteran’s long career in the Navy prior to his 1942 service with the Great Lakes NTS Blue Jackets. Kit Crissey discovered yet another article that established Mulkey’s baseball experience on one of the great World War I service teams.  According to the April 16, 1942, In The Service column (The Sporting News), Mulkey suited up with two notable Brooklyn Dodgers players.

Don Padgett, sold to the Brooklyn Dodgers by the St. Louis Cardinals but who reverts to the Redbirds because of entering the service, was due to report at the Great Lakes, Ill., Naval Training Station this week, after a two weeks’ leave, following enlistment as a coxswain, to go to his home and settle his business affairs. The outfielder will become one of the many stars Lieutenant Gordon (Mickey) Cochrane, former Detroit manager and catcher, will assemble on the diamond, assisted by Chief O.M. Mulkey, who has been in the Navy since 1914 and was a member of the Brooklyn Navy Yard team in World War I, which included Rube Marquard and Casey Stengel.” – April 16, 1942 – In the Service

Not only was Chief Quartermaster Mulkey well versed in the game as a player, he played with some of the game’s greats during his early years in the Navy. Mulkey’s play on the 1918 Receiving Ship, Brooklyn Navy Yard team was so good that he was named to the Navy All-Star team that faced off against a team of Army All-Stars at the Polo Grounds.

1918 Receiving Ship, Brooklyn Navy Yard Team 

Harry Heitman 1B
Jimmy Hickman LF
Irving 2B
Kearney
Rube Marquard P
Ovie Mulkey 1B
Muller
Murphy
Ed “Big Jeff” Pfeffer P
Riconda CF
Sandberg C
Maurice “Red” Shannon SS
Gene Sheridan 2B
Charles D. “Casey” Stengel RF
Weising

One of the best baseball games of the fast closing season was won by the Navy from the Army, at the Polo Grounds, Manhattan, yesterday, by 1 to 0. It was a game for the benefit of the Red Cross and to decide the service championship of this vicinity. About 5,000 military, naval and civilian fans of all sorts and colors were on hand and got more than the usual run for their money in bang-up baseball.” – September 15, 1918, Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Charles D. Stengel was part of a dominant baseball team that featured a handful of his Brooklyn Dodgers teammates including future Hall of Fame pitcher, Rube Marquard.

Though Mulkey didn’t get off the bench in the game, his Navy mates were locked into a very tight contest with the Army. Ed Pfeffer (former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher) held the Camp Merritt team to three hits, striking out seven and surrendered two walks. In the eighth inning, he was still going strong, striking out Merritt’s Martin, Roseff and McGaffigan in order. At the plate, Casey Stengel was 2-4, driving in Gene Sheridan as his bat accounted for the game’s only run. Though still unconfirmed, there are indications that while he was assigned to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Mulkey also appeared in games with the then newly-formed Brooklyn Bushwicks semi-professional baseball club.

Mulkey’s service baseball career continued into the latter half of the 1920s as he was a pivotal member of the 1926 Sesquicentennial Navy baseball club, again joined by (now) Ensign Frank W. Fenno. On August 8, 1926, the Sesqui nine traveled to Allentown, Pennsylvania to take on the upstart semi-pro Dukes (1923–26) at Edgemont Field.

According to the Morning Call newspaper, “The Sesqui Navy team yesterday was composed of about the finest looking bunch of athletes to appear here this season.” The article described the visitors, “The team is recruited from among the 90.000 or more officers and men in Uncle Sam’s naval forces, and has been brought together from all parts of the world.” The piece continued, “One came from India, another from China and still others from Panama and other far distant points to represent the Navy at the Sesqui-Centennial in Philadelphia.”

Great Lakes NTS Bluejackets coach, Ovie Mulkey (center) as he appeared in the The Daily Chronicle (De Kalb, Illinois), May 16, 1942

In the game with Allentown, Mulkey, playing first base and batting second in the order, was two for four at the plate and scored one of the Navy’s three runs. Catching and batting behind Mulkey in the three-spot, Ensign Fenno wasn’t an offensive factor (striking out with two runners in scoring position with no outs).  He was 0 for 4 on offense but registered a putout and had three assists behind the plate. Navy’s pitcher Roy Bobo (possibly Linsey Loy Bobo) took a no-hitter into the eighth inning before surrendering a double to Duke’s pinch-hitting right fielder, Hal Joyce. According to the Allentown Morning Call, Bobo was being heavily scouted by the Athletics’ Connie Mack and the Giants’ John McGraw.

The next week, the Sesqui nine were in challenged (and beaten) by a Marine Corps team in the rubber match of a three-game series. With Fenno leading off and playing centerfield and Mulkey batting second, the pair tallied both runs in the 5-2 loss at Shibe Park. With the Sesqui-Centennial Navy team playing their 1926 home games at Shibe Park, it is very likely that Mulkey and the second-year catcher for the Athletics, Mickey Cochrane, crossed paths if not conducted baseball workouts on the same field.

Very clearly, Mulkey’s resume made him an optimal choice to join Cochrane’s 1942 Great Lakes Naval Training Bluejackets coaching staff.

One of Ovie Mulkey’s teammates on the 1918 Receiving Ship, Brooklyn Navy Yard baseball team was Charles D, “Casey” Stengel. This autograph came to us from the collection of former St. Louis Browns 1B, Chuck Stevens.

Hall of Famer players Chief Bender, Rube Marquard and Mickey Cochrane along with Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel are connected in Baconesque fashion to Chief Quartermaster Ovie Mulkey. Similarly, a handful of artifacts share that association.

 

See also:

 

 

 

 

Remembering Pearl Harbor and the Game

A conversation with an American adult in the age range of 18-35 regarding history would be very eye-opening for any World War II living veteran and possibly alarming. Imagine being a veteran who met the enemy on the field of battle in places such as France or Belgium let alone Morocco, Algeria, Leyte or the Aleutians and discovering that the person you are conversing with has absolutely no knowledge that the battles in which you fought either have no meaning or are completely unheard of. It is a difficult concept for people in my generation (born two decades after the end of World War II) that there are Americans who have graduated from high school and university and are detached from their nation’s history.

As a nation, we have allowed ourselves to forget. the Day of Infamy. “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” – Ronald Regan

Arguably the most tragic American event in the Twentieth Century is the one that catapulted the United States into the Second World War and its memory is slipping away from the consciousness of her citizens. With more than 78 years elapsed since the Day of Infamy, the handful of survivors remaining alive at present are rather few as are nearing their tenth decade of life. They still remember that fateful day. Ninety-seven-year-old Seaman First Class, Donald Stratton, the only USS Arizona survivor to publish a memoir (All the Gallant Men, November 22, 2016), passed away just a few months ago on February 16 leaving just two men, Lou Conter and Ken Potts, as the last living survivors from the battleship.

Whether it was the first of several visits to the USS Arizona Memorial or the most recent one, standing above the hulk of the ship that was at the epicenter of the start of World War II (for the United States) is incredibly emotional to consider the violence that engulfed the harbor and very somber realization that one is immediately above the final resting place for the 1,177 men who perished that day. Looking down into the water to see the rusting twisted steel covered in sediment and marine growth as bunker fuel oil slowly seeps to the water’s surface, one can imagine the enemy planes flying in low for torpedo runs or looking into the skies to see high-altitude bombers overhead releasing their deadly destruction. Picturing men being blown over the sides of exploding ships or jumping into the inferno of burning oil atop the water’s surface amid the cacophony of machine gun fire and screams of burning and wounded men, isn’t difficult to envision from the decks of the memorial structure.

“Remember Pearl Harbor” and the sneak attack has been a fading klaxon call for Americans over the last few decades with a brief reminder when the United States was surprise attacked again on September 11, 2001.

A visitor to the USS Arizona Memorial will be initially introduced to Pearl Harbor’s history in the shore-side visitors center which includes a fantastic film about the attack. The center is filled with artifacts (many of which belonged to individual crew members) from inside the ship allowing visitors to see a more personal side of the carnage.

For many collectors of antiques and military artifacts (militaria), items from a veteran or pieces that are attributable to December 7, 1941 are highly sought after. Photo albums, medals or uniform items obtained from a veteran who was present on that day provide historians and militaria collectors with a tangible connection to this considerably pivotal moment in history. No doubt, there are dome concerns regarding the ethics and morals surrounding a private citizen possessing an unrelated veteran’s medals which is a topic of separate discussion (see: The Merits of Heart Collecting). Those visits to Pearl Harbor both as an inquisitive historian and as an active duty Navy veteran left this author inspired and on a perpetual quest to secure a Pearl Harbor-connected artifact for our collection.

The attack on Pearl Harbor along with several key military installations throughout the Island of Oahu would seem to provide an ample field of artifacts from which to source over the course of a decade.

With 100 ships present (and thousands of service men and women) around the harbor that day, it would seem to make sense that an artifact of note would surface in that time. Sadly, the timing never seemed to work and if it did, the bidding-competition was far to fierce and would drive cost (to acquire) the item out of the range of possibility as was the case for the pre-war USS Arizona enlisted man’s flat hat, including the ship-named Talley (see: A Piece of the Day of Infamy or Simply a Connection to an Historic Ship?).

One Saturday morning in early May, I awoke to find a private message from a colleague (a fellow Red Sox fan) who has an extensive and incredible baseball memorabilia collection. The tone of the message was an excited urgency from my friend who told me about a baseball jersey that, rather than pursue it himself, remarked that he thought of me immediately. It seemed that one of his local colleagues came across the jersey in the course of his business and texted his baseball-collector friend with the details and a few photos. What was relayed to me certainly held my interest and I wasted no time in responding.

Armed with a phone number, I reached out to the man with the jersey, who then mentioned that he obtained the the artifact along with a few Navy uniforms. The man was contracted by by the surviving family of a recently deceased elderly WWII Navy veteran to remove what remained of the decendent’s personal effects from his home. Over the course of carrying out his cleanup tasks, the man discovered the aforementioned jersey and service uniforms left behind to be disposed of (either through sale or other means). Understanding the historical nature of the pieces, he retained them and reached out to our mutual colleague. Our conversation was brief as the man described the items and mentioned that he would send the photos of the jersey and take (and send to me) additional pictures of the veteran’s dress uniforms when it was convenient to do so.

Even though the jersey was described to me, I was quite moved to see the photos of the heavy wool flannel with the lettering spelling out, “U S S P H O E N I X” arched across the chest. Internal questions as to the age of the jersey and the validity of the verbal story regarding the veteran’s connection to the ship swirled around in the sea of excitement surrounding the possibility that we were on the verge of acquiring artifacts from a veteran of the Pearl Harbor attack.

Over the next few weeks, conversation regarding the arrangements ensued as research was performed on the veteran to validate the information regarding the uniforms and jersey. Not only did we verify the details within the veteran’s obituary, but also the service details before making the final decision to acquire the group.

Due to mismatching schedules, it took some coordination to make the appropriate arrangements to bring the Phoenix jersey home (along with the veteran’s sets of dress blues and his flat hat (see: An Old Bluejacket Tradition Long Gone: Tar Hats to Flat Hats). After nearly a month since we initially spoke and a lot of nervousness during the shipping transit, the package arrived safely. The anticipation to open the package required restraint (to avoid damaging the contents with the knife) as the box was very securely sealed.

The very first garment withdrawn from the packaging was the road gray jersey that was somewhat dingy and clearly aged (and in need of cleaning). A thorough inspection and assessment of the baseball shirt showed that there were no personal markings, names or other inscriptions and that the overall condition was excellent (save for a lone moth-nip). All of the stitching seemed to be quite strong with no signs of separation or failing threads. Each of the athletic felt letters show no signs of decay or moth damage (they are commonly a target of insects). The condition of the lone numeral on the back matched the front lettering. The Wilson manufacturer’s tag matched the period of the veteran’s naval career showing that the jersey dates from as early as 1942.

Obviously wrinkled and in need of cleaning, the debate ensues as to whether we should dry clean, hand-wash or leave it alone (Chevrons and Diamonds photo).

The armpits are vented beneath the raglan-style sleeves. Two thin lines of navy soutache encircle the sleeve cuffs (Chevrons and Diamonds photo).

As each successive garment was withdrawn from the package, it became apparent that there were more Navy dress uniforms in the box than was expected. Each jumper top bore the sailor’s rating badges and service stripe (“hash mark”) indicating that the veteran served for at least four years. A fourth uniform in the package differed from the first three. Instead of the fire controlman rating badge on the left sleeve, this one and the rating badge of a first-class electrician’s mate (EM1/c). The garment tag bore the same last name as the other three but with differing initials for the first and last name. A cursory research check showed that this uniform was issued to the veteran’s older brother who also served during WWII (though he enlisted nearly two-and-a-half years later).

Vincent Gunderson from his junior year in high school (image source: Ancestry.com).

Laying out the entire group, I considered all that this sailor, Fire Controlman Second Class Vincent Gunderson witnessed and experienced during his naval career. According to our research, Gunderson was born in Wisconsin in the year 1922. In July 1940, the 18-year-old Gunderson left his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin (this small city, less than 23,000 residents in 1940, is the home of seven Medal of Honor recipients) and traveled 90 miles to the east to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. Upon graduation from boot camp, Apprentice Seaman Gunderson reported on board the 2-year-old Brooklyn-Class light cruiser, USS Phoenix (CL-46) on October 5, 1940.

Though we were unsuccessful in locating artifacts or articles that would lend insight as to the ship’s baseball team roster configuration, we were able to find a few news stories about the squad. In the spring of 1941, the USS Phoenix nine embarked upon the season of play within the Oahu National League. On March 31, the ship’s “Phoo- Birds” team faced the Primos in a 10-inning 5-4 loss. A few days later, the Phoenix battery of Joe Simone and Hal Crider went up against the Richmond Ramblers, dropping the game, handing them a 3-1 loss. Simone pitched a two-hitter as offensive support came from six Phoenix hits (two each by Sandman and Carpenter’s Mate 3/c Bill Lindsey).

USS Phoenix shows off her wartime camouflage scheme (U.S. Navy photo).

The USS Phoenix was a state-of-the-art light cruiser (“light” indicates that the main battery or principal gun bores were less than eight inches) assigned to the Pacific Fleet’s Cruiser Division Nine under the direction of Admiral H. Fairfax Leary. Of the division’s five cruisers, the USS Helena (CL-50), USS St. Louis (CL-49) and the flagship, USS Honolulu (CL-48) were at anchor in Pearl Harbor along with the Phoenix. USS Boise (CL-47) was off the Philippine Island of Cebu having completed convoy escorting duties.

Almost two and a half hours after the attack began, USS Phoenix got underway, heading for the sea as she slides past the the black smoke plumes emanating from USS West Virginia (left) and USS Arizona at the right (U.S. Navy photo).

“Phoenix saw planes proceeding to Ford Island at 0755. She got underway at 1010, temporarily returned to its moorage as ordered, but eventually joined other cruisers at sea. The ship fired eighty rounds of 5-inch between 0900 and 0915 on planes dive-bombing Ford Island and the battleships.” – “Pearl Harbor: Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal” by Vice Admiral Homer N. Wallin, USN (Retired)

On the morning of December 7, 1941, just before 0800, the lead Japanese aircraft of the first attacking wave appeared over Pearl Harbor, men working topside on the USS Phoenix spotted them. Laying at anchor a half-mile to the north of Battleship Row (just off the shoreline of Aiea’s McGrew Point), the men of the Phoenix had a front row seat to the carnage that was unleashed upon the Navy’s capital warships. With bomb and torpedo explosions amid enemy aircraft machine gun strafing, USS Phoenix’s commanding officer, Captain Herman E. Fischer, commenced with getting his ship underway in order to clear the harbor as well as prepare to repel an enemy landing. Ordered to return to moorage, Captain Fischer followed the order as the gunners battled the attacking aircraft.

Vince Gunderson recently promoted to fire controlman 3/c was most likely operating the directors for the guns in order to target the aircraft. Though he was trained during peacetime conditions, he was now learning his job in ways that he never previously imagined. From that day on, the Phoenix was continually operational and often at the tip of the spear.

During the battle of Surigao Strait, the closes that Phoenix came to any real danger was when two American torpedoes passed close astern (they were inadvertently launched by one of the sinking DESRON 24 destroyers. Later, while screening USS Nashville (CL-43), a kamikaze struck the Nashville while just missing the Phoenix. The Phoenix continued to skirt damage elsewhere. En route to Lingayen, Phoenix warded off multiple kamikaze attacks and was bracketed by four enemy torpedoes (two passing astern and two raced ahead of the bow). Her avoidance was becoming noteworthy as she again dodged shore-based artillery fire that straddled the ship near Corregidor and Balikpapan. Her reputation for evading enemy targeting was continually building among the fleet and back home. The moniker, “Lucky Phoenix” was becoming commonly used when discussing the ship’s exploits.

April 22, 1944, USS Boise and USS Phoenix (on the horizon, to the right of the island) fire on enemy positions at Humboldt Bay, New Guinea. At another part of the island, major leaguers Don Padgett and Phil Rizzuto were serving in support of the removal of Japanese forces (U.S. Navy photo).

In every campaign, operation and battle, Gunderson was there manning the targeting directors for the ship’s guns, ensuring that every round fired would find its mark. When the ship came off the line for refit and resupply, at times the crew may have come ashore for recreation. Though we have yet to uncover any documentation regarding specifics for the men of the Phoenix, narratives from shipboard-serving players such as Seaman First Class Duke Snider and Chief Gunner’s Mate Bob Feller include periodic instances of R & R on American-held Pacific Islands where highly competitive baseball games were played (often with significant bets and bragging rights on the line). It is a safe assumption to consider that Gunderson saw game-action in similar fashion. Following the Phoenix’s support of the retaking of Bataan and Corregidor during the latter half of February 1945, Gunderson was detached from the ship (on March 24) to proceed to advanced fire control school in Washington D.C. for training. He made his way back to the states riding first the USS Boise and the carrier, USS Wasp (CV-18); the latter was returning for repairs following damage sustained in the Ryūkyūs campaign. Gunderson arrived at Puget Sound Navy Yard (Bremerton, Washington) on April 13, 1945 for further transport to the nation’s capital.

In need of proper laundering and pressing, Fire Controlman 2/c Gunderson’s dress and undress blue uniforms were included with his baseball jersey (Chevrons and Diamonds photo).

For Fire Controlman 2/c Gunderson, the war was effectively over in terms of combat operations. He completed his training and returned to the Phoenix (nearly six months later) on November 2. However, following Gunderson’s departure, the Phoenix continued operations in support of removing enemy strongholds in the Philippines for the next few months.

During break from action in early May, the Phoenix lay at anchor in Subic Bay affording the crew some much needed rest. While attending a baseball game on May 10, one Phoenix’s crew members, 24-year-old Radio Technician 2/c Aaron Abramson suffered a fatal head injury when he was struck by a baseball. On May 11, the crew mustered for funeral services to honor their fallen shipmate. RT2/c Abramson of Brooklyn, New York, left behind his wife of nearly four years, Shirley.

Phoenix continued supporting operations surrounding the Philippines until she was directed to the waters surrounding Indonesia and Borneo to support landing operations in June. By early July, Phoenix was back in Philippine waters. In need of overhaul the Phoenix was directed to proceed to San Pedro, California reaching home by late August (the atomic bombs were dropped during her transit). After a short visit in port, the ship was ordered to the Philadelphia Navy Yard (by way of the Panama Canal). Prior to transiting the canal, Phoenix anchored at Acapulco for a port visit during September 1-2. During her visit, Japanese officials signed the instrument of surrender in Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Missouri.

The war was over. Gunderson was still attending school as the Phoenix was on her way to the East Coast. Rather than undergoing an overhaul in Philadelphia, the ship received minimal upkeep. When Gunderson returned to the ship from school, he found the Phoenix transitioning to a modified decommissioned status as crew were being discharged and sent home. Gunderson remained aboard the ship until she was officially decommissioned on July 3, 1946. Two days later, on July 5, Fire Controlman Gunderson was discharged from the Navy.

Gunderson’s decorations earned during his service. We are determining if we should proceed with building out his ribbons to restore his dress uniform, fully. Top Row: Navy Good Conduct Medal Middle: American Defense, American Campaign, Asiatic-Pacific medals Bottom: WWII Victory, Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, Philippine Liberation medals

After a long life, 97-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor Vincent Gunderson passed away on the 78th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Saturday, December 7, 2019.

Acquiring the Gunderson group provides us with the opportunity to share with our readers as well as our local in-person audiences who can see the artifacts during our public showings. With the addition of the Gunderson Navy uniforms, our militaria collection is wonderfully enhanced affording us the ability share a Pearl Harbor veteran’s story. As to our collection of service baseball uniforms, Gunderson’s USS Phoenix jersey is truly a centerpiece in telling the story of the intertwining histories of baseball and the armed forces.

Serving Behind the Scenes, Rizzuto Shared His Heart for the Game

In the decade that we have been researching artifacts and players, we have encountered the occasional baseball fan bearing a measure of bitterness and animosity towards the men who played baseball on service teams during World War II. While it certainly is understandable when comparisons are made with players such a s Warren Spahn or Gil Hodges participated in and witnessed some of the most horrific battles of the war. It is far too easy to look at the stories surrounding players like Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams who seemingly entered the war with significant hesitation that appeared to some to be evasiveness when other ballplayers such as Bob Feller, Hank Greenberg, Sam Chapman and Al Brancato volunteered days after the Pearl Harbor attack. Perhaps with perspective and insight into the wartime service of these professional ballplayers and the positive impact they had on their fellow servicemen, that bitterness may lessen. 

September 12, 1942 – Norfolk, Virginia: Shortstop Phil Rizzuto of New York Yanks, shown taking the oath given by Lieutenant Commander John Quincy Adams at Norfolk, Virginia, has enlisted in the Navy. He rejoined the club at Chicago announcing that he will report October 13 as a seaman first class (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

The very first Norfolk Naval Training Station artifact that landed within the Chevrons and Diamonds collection was a magnificent team photograph of the 1943 Bluejackets. The condition of the vintage type-1 photograph is less than desirable, and the image was a bit overexposed. Regardless of these detractors, the faces of each player are clearly identifiable in the high-resolution scan that we made from the photo. Soon after the acquisition of the photograph, we sourced a scorecard from the first games at Norfolk’s McClure Field against the Washington Senators (see: Discovering the Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets Through Two Scarce Artifacts). 

One of the featured players of the Norfolk team was already a budding star in his two-year major league career with 10 games in two trips to the World Series (1941 and ‘42) along with a championship ring. Phillip Francis “Scooter” Rizzuto played his last professional game on October 5, 1942, a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic.  Two days later, “Scooter” was in Norfolk for boot camp having reported for duty in the U.S. Navy on October 7, 1942. By the spring of 1943, the former Yankee shortstop was filling the same position on Bosun Gary Bodie’s Norfolk Naval Training Station Bluejackets. 

February 10, 1943 | Norfolk, Virginia: Pee Wee Reese, Phil Rizzuto and Hugh Casey (left to right), study the Bluejacket’s Manual instead of baseball record books, these days at the Navy base in Norfolk, Virginia, where they are stationed. Reese and Casey were shortstop and pitcher, respectively, for the Brooklyn Dodgers, last year, and Rizzuto was shortstop for the New York Yankees baseball team (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

With many of the stories of baseball players finding their way onto service team rosters versus serving alongside other Americans in conventional armed forces roles (including combat), there are those who view these professionals with disdain seeing men who found a path to remain outside of harm’s way. Even today, there are those detractors who view these men with great animosity. Perhaps it is safe to make such an assumption that there were at least a few baseball players who could be judged in this manner, however it is far too simplistic and considerably easy to disregard what any of these men thought, felt or actually did, in addition to simply playing baseball.  One must consider the impact that the games had on fellow servicemen. To stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Pee Wee Reese, Bob Feller, Joe DiMaggio or any of the hundreds who served and played the game to uplift the GIs and give them respite and a taste of home.  

October 11, 1943 – St. Louis, MO: Phil Rizzuto, left, and Terry Moore, former Card captain and center fielder, are now part of the armed services. They got an opportunity to be present at the World Series and turned up in their uniforms to be given a hearty welcome by their teammates (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) writer, Harry Grayson penned a rather sarcastic commentary (published in syndicated newspapers in mid-October across the U.S.)  regarding Cardinals’ pitcher, Murry Dickson being granted a 10-day furlough (from his Seventh Service Command duties) in order to participate in the 1943 World Series versus the Yankees. However, the same opportunity was not afforded to Johnny Beazley, Howie Pollet or Enos Slaughter who were also serving on active duty. What made the inconsistency stand out more, according to Grayson was that Phil Rizzuto was on furlough in New York (to spend time at home before being sent for duty in the South Pacific) and played in a series with the legendary semi-professional Brooklyn Bushwicks as they took on the New London (Connecticut) Coast Guardsmen on September 26. Rizzuto, wearing his Navy service dress blues, was joined by airman (and former Cardinals center fielder) Terry Moore at Yankee Stadium (also dressed in his service uniform). The author mentioned Major League Baseball Commissioner Landis’ prior refusal to accommodate Navy Lieutenant Larry French’s request to pitch for his former club, the Brooklyn Dodgers, while he was stationed at the nearby Navy Yard, illustrating further contradiction. However, Grayson’s punctuating closing sentence that ballplayers, who had been scheduled for an exhibition tour of the Pacific, were left without excuses for duty (other than baseball). 

Rizzuto’s time at Norfolk didn’t conclude with the baseballs season as he spent the winter months on the court with the NTS basketball team along with former Dodgers shortstop, Harold “Pee Wee” Reese. By early March 1944, Bosun Bodie was left to rebuild his baseball club due to the departure of Benny McCoy, Charlie Wagner, Tom Earley, Vinnie Smith, Don Padgett, Dom DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto for new duty assignments. Scooter, Vinnie Smith and DiMaggio landed in San Francisco Bay Area Sea Bees base known as Camp Shoemaker (located near present-day Pleasanton). While further assignment, Dom DiMaggio and Rizzuto were added to the Shoemaker baseball team, the Fleet City Bluejackets. DiMaggio was handed the managerial reins to the club that also included Hank Feimster (former Red Sox pitcher) and former Cincinnati Reds outfielder, Hub Walker. the rand faced the Pacific Coast League San Francisco Seals on April 4 for an exhibition game. 

Since late January 1942, the Island of New Guinea was one of the Japanese Empire’s strategic targets with its natural resources and more importantly, its proximity to the Australian continent. With their invasion of Salamaua–Lae, the Japanese began to take a foothold on the island. By the time that Rizzuto and his former Norfolk Teammate, Don Padgett arrived on the Island in the spring of 1944, the Allied forces were amid the Reckless and Persecution operations against the Japanese. During his time in New Guinea, Rizzuto contracted malaria and suffered with a severe bout of shingles requiring his removal to U.S. Navy Fleet Hospital 109, located at Camp Hill, Brisbane, Australia. One serviceman wrote of Rizzuto’s time at the hospital and how he would interact with the American wounded mentioning (Ruby’s Report, The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, July 13, 1944)  that Phil would do “everything to keep the patients’ minds off the war. Wrote the young sailor from Kentucky, “I have seen him sit down and answer questions by the hour and never once try to avoid a session of baseball grilling as only a bunch of hospital patients can put on.”  

Once he recovered from his ailments, Rizzuto took on duties as an athletic instructor, managing baseball service league while down under. “You’d be surprised how much sport can do to help the men who have just returned from battle.” the shortstop mentioned in an interview with sportswriter, Blues Romeo. Rizzuto’s primary duty in Australia was to organize games and tournaments for the battle-wounded sailors and Marines. “The physically handicapped boys in the hospital got together and formed athletic teams, “said Rizzuto. “They call it the ‘Stumpy Club.’ It’s made up of men who lost legs and arms in battle.” For those critical of baseball players who “got a free pass” from the war might consider the positive impact that many of the former professionals had on their peers. “Despite their handicaps, the men put everything they have into the game.” Rizzuto told the reporter. “At first it’s not a pleasant sight, watching so many guys with crutches, but that’s the kind of stuff that keeps their mind at ease.” the shortstop mentioned. “What guts those guys have!”  

Joining Rizzuto in Brisbane were fellow major leaguers, Don Padgett, Dom DiMaggio, Charlie Wagner, Benny McCoy along with a handful of minor leaguers.  

Navy leadership had no intentions of losing bragging rights to the Army heading into the Service World Series after watching the heavily stacked Seventh Army Air Force team dominate the 1944 league play on Oahu.  While the 7th was busy handling the competition and planning for the fall series, the Navy began assembling top major and minor league talent from the continent and the Pacific Theater. 

Rizzuto in Melbourne dressed for a game at the local cricket ground.
Back row. left to right: Peskoff (commentator), CDR Steen (Navy Hospital), Kaplan, Giancola, Holland, Briganti (umpire)
Front row: Phil Rizzuto, M. C. Gilley (umpire-in-chief), Dom DiMaggio, Gulin (umpire).
(Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Rizzuto and DiMaggio were recalled from Australia in September to Oahu in anticipation of the Service World Series (September 22 through October 15, 1944. Ahead of the series, Navy All-Stars manager, Lieutenant Bill Dickey plugged both Dom and Phil into their normal positions (center field and shortstop, respectively) for a Friday night (September 15) exhibition game against the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins at Weaver Field (the Navy All-Stars won, 7-4). Two days later, DiMaggio and Rizzuto switched teams as the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Dolphins for a regular season game against the Hawaii Leagues champion 7th Army Air Forces squad on Sunday, September 17.   

While the Army roster consisted of the 7th AAF team (augmented with players from other Hawaiian base tames) For the series, the Navy fielded a team of All-Stars that would be the envy of either major league. To maximize the top-tier talent, some players were re-positioned from their normal spots on the diamond. Rizzuto was moved to the “hot corner” to allow for Pee Wee Reese to play at short.   

1944 Hawaii Service World Series Results: 

Game 1 – September 22 – Furlong Field, Hickam (Navy, 5-0)
Game 2 – September 23 – Hickam Field (Navy, 8-0)
Game 3 – September 25 – Redlander Field – Schofield Barracks (Navy, 4-3)

Game 4 – September 26 – Kaneohe Bay NAS (Navy, 10-5)
Game 5 – September 28 – Furlong Field (Navy, 12-2)
Game 6 – September 30 – Hickam Field (Navy, 6-4)
Game 7 – October 1 – Furlong Field (Army, 5-3)

Game 8 – October 4 – Fair Grounds, Kahului, Maui (Navy 11-0)*
Game 9 – October 5 – Fair Grounds, Kahului, Maui (Army 6-5)*
Game 10 – October 6 – Hoolulu Park, Hilo (Tie, 6-6)*
Game 11 – October 15 – Kukuiolono Park, Kalaheo, Kauai (Navy, 6-5)
*

*Rizzuto and Dom DiMaggio were sent back to Australia following the conclusion of the seventh game.

With the Army All-Stars defeated handily in the Service World Series, Rizzuto returned to Brisbane and resumed his duties with the service baseball leagues and the “Stumpy Club.”  

Following the completion of his duties in Brisbane, Rizzuto was transferred back to New Guinea to the small port town of Finschhafen (which was the site of a 1943 Allied offensive led by Australian forces) that ultimately secured the town and the harbor. Rizzuto was subsequently assigned to the Navy cargo ship, USS Triangulum (AK-102) serving once again on one of the shipboard Oerlikon 20-millimeter cannons anti-aircraft gun mounts as the vessel ferried supplies within the region.  As the Triangulum was constantly steaming to keep the troops supplied in the surrounding Bismark and Western Solomon Islands, General MacArthur and the American forces were keeping his promise to return to the Philippines and dislodge the Japanese forces that had been in the Island territory since December of 1941. 

By January of 1945, Rizzuto was serving on the Philippine Island of Samar (three months earlier, the Japanese Navy was dealt a deadly blow by the small destroyers and destroyer escorts of Taffy 3 just off the island’s coast) and remained in the region until he was returned to California by the middle of October.  Rizzuto was discharge on October 28, 1945 and returned to the Yankees for training camp the following spring having been tempted by a lucrative contract and incentives to play in Mexico. 

Whether it was the thousands of cheering service personnel attending the games in which Rizzuto played or his hands-on service rendered to the recuperating combat wounded in Australia, he served in ways that are entirely ignored by critics of wartime service team baseball. 

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