Category Archives: Trophies and Awards
It seems as though it has been ages since I had the opportunity to write about baseball outside of the Pacific Theater (PTO), especially considering the continuous run of acquisitions (and missed opportunities) that have been associated with the game in this expansive area of World War II operations. Judging by what is sitting in my office that still requires research, photographing (and scanning), I still have more PTO artifacts-bases stories looming on the horizon.
Following the surrender of Germany on May 7th, 1945,at Reims, in northwestern France, the work of of fighting and waging war ended. With so many thousands of servicemen in Europe at that time, the role transition from fighting to that of an occupation force was not something that could be done overnight. From dealing with displaced persons, severely impacted by the Third Reich’s harsh occupation in not only the surrounding countries but also within their homeland and how the victorious occupying forces had to deal with the thousands of (hopefully) disarmed German troops (still in uniform) heading back to their homes along the same routes now traveled by the Allies. The interactions, for the most part were amenable. However, one could see how an allied soldier, still reeling from the loss of a comrade could view the vanquished enemy with a vengeful mindset. The horrors of the Third Reich were continually surfacing with the discovery of each POW, slave-labor and death camp; the emotional impact on the occupation forces were substantial and leadership recognized the need for positive outlets and distracting these men away from the realities as they awaited word on their own disposition (whether they would be discharged or sent to the Pacific Theater).
Baseball leading into and during World War II was truly America’s pastime. Though the game was a few years away from being integrated, Americans (of all ethnicity) had a passion for the game being within the major, negro or the countless levels of minor leagues. Baseball was used to build camaraderie, competitiveness, agility and improve physical conditioning as part of the athletic program in military aviation training programs (such as within the Navy Pre-flight schools) as the need for pilots dramatically increased early in the war. The popularity of the game coupled with the fact that the armed forces were inundated with professional ball players from all levels served, in part, as motivation for creating competitive teams. As with the teams fielded by the US Army Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps in the Pacific, the European Theater (ETO) saw many professional and semi-pro ball players (and some very good non-pros) filling out their unit rosters.
Prior to the German-surrender, Baseball had already been imported into Europe in 1942 and played on the Emerald Isle (Belfast, Northern Ireland). Games played between unit teams from the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 133rd Infantry Regiment as well as pitting the 34th Infantry and 1st Armored Division clubs. As American forces were located throughout Great Britain, baseball proliferated England as teams from the various units competed throughout the War.
A few years ago, I published an article (Authenticating a Military Championship Baseball) where I discussed, in addition to the team-signed baseball, the details surrounding this program for the Third Army Championship series played between the 71st and 76th Infantry Division baseball teams in early August of 1945 (three months following VE Day).
The Third Army Championship was a five-game series played in Ausburg, Germany between the 76th Div “Onaways” and the 71st Div “Red Circlers” in August of 1945, having originally been scheduled to commence on the 7th (it was rescheduled due to bad weather – as noted by the hand-written inscription on the cover of the above program). The series wrapped up with the Red Circlers defeating the Onaways as they secured the championship in Game Five with a dominant, 2-hit shutout performance by Ewell Blackwell (who tossed a no-hitter in game two, evening the series with one win a piece).
A few months ago, I spotted an auction listing that was a group containing military sports-related artifacts consisting of photos (both in an album and loose), ephemera and a medal from the ETO in 1945-46. The listing’s images showed glimpses of the photos and spotlighted the (named) engraved medal. Since the auction was hours away from closing when I discovered the listing, I set my bid and planned on researching the group when (if) I won it. A few days after auction close, the package arrived. While the bulk of the photos were merely snapshots, they provided a visual narrative of the veteran’s experiences in the months following the German-surrender as a part of the occupation forces. Images can be seen of baseball players in their flannels (in team poses, warming up or just preparing for games) and the same faces in their Army uniforms in the surrounding areas. Also seen are photos of heavily damaged buildings (from aerial bombardment), artillery emplacements and the Zeppelinfeld (often referred to as Nürnberg Stadium (note: that Nürnberg and Nuremberg are synonymous and interchangeable. The origins of one spelling and pronunciation over the other is unknown and can be the subject of debate), but better known by American forces as Soldiers’ Field) converted for use as a baseball stadium.
The Zeppelinfeld or “Zeppelin Field” was designed by Albert Speer and would be used by the Nazi socialists for massive rallies to bask in their self-promotion of superiority. With nearly 200,000 (spectators and uniformed military and party and government participants lock-stepped with each other, photos and films from the gatherings began turning the stomachs of people from all over the free world. However, due to the efforts of the Allies, the “Thousand-Year Reich” was abbreviated to slightly longer than a decade and the party symbols were unceremoniously demolished from the structures as the facility would be put to good use by the American occupation forces.
Contained within this group is a veritable walking tour of the newly-named, Soldier’s Field with the Third Army insignia placed not too far from where the emblem of hate was once displayed. Stadium seating, rather than having chairs as within American ballparks, were steps covered with grass to provide natural, comfortable (with the exception of during inclement weather) places to sit and watch the games. An outfield fence with foul poles and a center-field scoreboard situated 400 feet from home plate
Following their hard-fought victory, the Red Circlers prepared for their next opponent, the Blue and Grays of the 29th Infantry Division who had recently secured the 7th Army Championship heading into the best-of-five series. One of the Blue and Grays pitchers was a nineteen-year-old out of the Midwest, Earl Ralph Ghelf.
A cursory search shows Ghelf listed on the 29th Infantry Division’s team roster (on Gary Bedingfield’s Baseball in Wartime service teams listing):
|29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays (Seventh Army Champions) 1945|
|Nicholas “Lefty” Andrews||P|
|Earl Ghelf||P/INF||Post-war Minor Leaguer|
|Don Kolloway||2B||Pre and Post-war Major Leaguer|
|Whitey Moore||P||Pre-war Major Leaguer|
|Erwin Prasse||LF/MGR||Pre-war minors and 2nd Team All-American Iowa Hawkeyes End|
|Bill Seal||Pre and Post-war Minor Leaguer|
Judging by the scant details (such as first names for many of the players) on the roster, the vintage military newspaper articles were short on information.
The 29th Infantry team, while not as loaded with talent as other Army ball clubs, this roster did have a measure of professional ball player talent. Thirteen of the of the nineteen members of this squad are unidentified requiring research to be conducted just to determine who the men were. Ghelf, one of those identified still requires more in-depth exploration in an effort to determine why his professional baseball career ended before it got started. My goal Ghelf’s photo album is to, at the very least, put the known names to the faces in each of the images and work from there.
Two faces that I have positively identified are Don Kolloway and Erwin Prasse (the latter was unconfirmed on the roster until he was positively IDd in Ghelf’s photographs). Kolloway had a 15 year professional baseball career (12 in the major leagues) while giving part of his 1943 year and two additional seasons to his service in the army and was awarded the Bronze Star after seeing combat with the 29th ID. Erwin Prasse was an all-around athlete who was drafted by the Detroit Lions (following his University of Iowa career where he earned nine letters in three sports) and, instead pursued professional baseball and basketball (playing for the NBL Oshkosh All-stars) careers. According to his obituary, Prasse landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day (the 29th ID supported the 116th Infantry) and was later shot in the arm while on reconnaissance in Germany. Following his time in occupied Germany competing on the diamond and the hardwood, Captain Erin Prasse was discharged from the Army in 1946,
My to-be-researched project stack is increasing as I continue to uncover amazing finds and this group will be one that takes a bit of time to work through to completion. In the interim, I still find it rather gratifying to share seldom-seen images of the infamous stadium having been transformed to field suitable for playing the American pastime and photos of one of the successful WWII military baseball teams that is rarely, if at all, mentioned among baseball history aficionados.
For further reading on baseball in the Eastern Theater of Operations see:
- The Amazing Story of the U.S. Military’s Integrated “World Series” in Hitler Youth Stadium in 1945
- Baseball in Europe: A Country by Country History – by Josh Chetwynd
- Baseball in World War II Europe (Images of Sports) – by Gary Bedingfield
With the United States armed forces’ reduction and consolidation of military bases domestically and abroad, the Department of Defense Dependents Schools closed the Nuremberg American High School (that had been using the stadium for sports practices since 1947, ceased in 1995 when the school was closed. The stadium and grounds have been in neglect in the years following. The Norisring auto racing use the surrounding roads including the surface that passes in front of the principal grandstands beneath Nuremberg Stadium’s dais. There is much debate and discussion ongoing regarding the disposition (and proposed preservation) of the grounds and structures (see: Nuremberg: Germany’s dilemma over the Nazis’ field of dreams).
One area that is a more recent development – awards and decorations – is becoming a nice addition to my collection. Adding breadth to my collection of military baseball artifacts (beyond uniforms, photographs and equipment) in the form of metal decorations helps to show the results of the competitive nature of the sport but in a more representative fashion. While traditionally, championship teams are awarded trophies and rings, the military has a different take on how to bestow victors’ hardware upon its champions.
I have authored several articles regarding U.S. armed forces decorations and awards (including Happen to Have $250k for a “Rare” 1775 Medal?) in which I touch on the the development and progression of medals that are awarded for personal valor; individual and unit achievements and accomplishments; participation and support of campaigns and conflicts; and qualifications in various military disciplines. Once a service member receives an official award or decoration, it becomes a permanent part of their uniform for the duration of their career. Certain decorations can be qualify veterans for benefits in post-military careers (such as added points to a civil service testing score) or with public recognition (valor medal recipients vehicle license plates, for example) and they are authorized to formally wear their issued decorations on civilian attire.
In the militaria side of my collecting and research passion, I don’t have a personal interest in acquiring awards and decorations presented to other veterans, though I have a few pieces in my collection. Most of what I have were inherited as part of my (now deceased) relatives and I am now honored to be the caretaker of their history.
I have also acquired some medals and ribbons in my efforts to “rebuild” and recreate ancestors’ displays to represent their service in the armed forces. The idea of purchasing medals to own – especially those awarded posthumously (such as Purple Hearts) – doesn’t sit well with me due to the personal nature of the award and the familial grieving that is associated with the presentations made to the surviving family members. However, I recognize those collectors who go to great lengths to preserve and honor both the veteran and their history in their pursuits of these significant decorations.
The history of awarding medals for sporting proficiency dates (at least) as far back to the establishment of the modern Olympic Games in 1896 when victorious competitors were awarded a silver medal and, as was done in the ancient games, an olive wreath. Runners-up received a bronze medal and wreath (the three-tiered medals of gold, silver and bronze commenced with the 1904 St. Louis games). Today’s fans of the game of professional sports are familiar with the practice of championship team members being presented with rings commemorating their victorious season of competition, a practice that began in 1922 following the New York Giants World Series. In the years prior, individual team members were presented with varying jewelry; pocket watches, pins, watch fobs and medals.
Over the last year and a half, I have added three medals that were awarded to members of military baseball teams (not to mention a medallion presented to members of a ball club fielded by a military aviation contractor) ranging from a medal awarded (in 1944) to an American baseball team from the Army Post Office (APO 677) team based at Goose Bay, Labrador (which is awaiting my research efforts), to one awarded to a ball player on a Citizens’ Military Training Camp team, and finally the medal presented in 1924 to (then future rear admiral and three-time Navy Cross recipient), Naval Academy Midshipman Frank Fenno for his .410 single-season batting average. These pieces of hardware have been fantastic additions to my collection.
The baseball medals, with the exception of the Republic Aviation medallion, all possess inscriptions and details that afford a pathway for researching specifics regarding the manner in which they were earned. One of my most recent acquisitions is lacking such data and will, most certainly leave me with no such research trail to follow. I am admittedly a novice with many collecting focuses and though I have a handful of belt buckles, this is an area that where I have virtually no interest. The buckles that I own predominantly originate as part of the military uniform that I wore during my service, some of which were custom-made and commemorate the ships on which I served. However, this baseball-themed artifact, perhaps some manner of an award for a winning team, piqued my interest and was an appropriate fit with what I have been bringing home.
Motivated by the Art Deco design the two-color enamel of the emblem, the baseball theme and the low opening bid amount, I decided to set my maximum price (and ultimately, the winning bid amount) to see if I could land the small Naval Station Boston buckle. One area that had me questioning the history and accuracy was the name cast into the face of the buckle – “Naval Station Boston” – doesn’t exactly exist, nor did it ever in any official capacity. The photos accompanying the listing weren’t as detailed as I prefer, so I assumed that there might be a maker’s mark located within the clasping mechanism on the back of the buckle.
Of the naval installation that existed in the Boston area leading up to or during World War II, not one is referred to as Naval Station Boston:
- Boston Navy Yard
- Boston Naval Yard Fuel Depot Annex
- Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot
- Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot Annex
- Naval Air Station Squantum
- Naval Auxiliary Air Facility Beverly
- Naval Auxiliary Air Facility Hyannis
- Naval Auxiliary Air Facility New Bedford
- Naval Hospital Boston
- Navy and Marine Corps Reserve Center, Lawrence
- Navy Operational Support Center Quincy
- No Man’s Land Navy Airfield
- South Boston Naval Annex
- United States Naval Mine Test Facility, Provincetown
- United States Navy Field Test Station, Fort Heath
The lack of such a reference is, in my opinion inconclusive based upon my understanding of how sailors can and often to morph the names of their duty stations. Another possibility for the unofficial name could be the result of a team comprised of players from numerous surrounding commands forming a conglomeration that was thus named, Naval Station Boston. The next step in researching will be to scour news article archives of the region within that time-period in hopes that there exists some coverage of the team’s competition.
When the buckle arrived, my initial action was to check the back for markings that would indicate a date of manufacture. Aside from the Art Deco-influenced design (which was at its zenith in the early 1930s), trying to pinpoint the date without an actual mark is nearly impossible with the visual influences of that period continued on into World War II. Cast into the buckle’s locking mechanism in very tiny lettering, was GIANT GRIP, PAT PEND, “INVISIBLE” and MADE IN U.S.A., none of which provided more assistance than to find other listings of similar buckles.
With my to-be-researched pile growing, this piece will have to remain prioritized towards the bottom.
Belt Buckle Collecting Resources:
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.
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.
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.
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.
This blog has been dominated by some fairly traditional examples of baseball memorabilia – jerseys and uniforms, gloves, scorecards and vintage photography (depicting baseball) – but I keep my eyes open for the unusual and unique items that would serve to tell a more complete story of the game and its inseparable connection to the U.S. armed forces.
While the war was being fought on the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific islands and upon the high seas, the American home-front was a hotbed of activity as citizens worked tirelessly and in unity to keep the troops equipped with the hardware and ammunition to take the fight to the enemy. With President Roosevelt’s January 15, 1942 “Green Light” letter to Major League Baseball’s commissioner, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the game would continue despite the commencement of the players’ exodus to enlist in order to serve. Baseball equipment manufacturers got in the war-game in manufacturing for the effort – some making equipment to fight the war (such as Hillerich and Bradsby’s manufacturing of M1 Rifle stocks) while continuing to outfit players of the game. In addition to the supporting the domestic professional, collegiate, recreational and scholastic leagues, manufacturers supplied the troops with baseball equipment to use during periods of R&R and in conjunction with their training and fitness.
With so many Americans taking leave of their employment in order to take up arms against the enemy, factories were scrambling to fill the shortages of workers as they ramped up from their slow, depression-era production into full-scale war manufacturing. The president wrote that Major League Baseball must continue because workers, “ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.” In addition to being able to attend professional ballgames, recreational leagues were formed among the manufactures and some companies even fielded teams that competed at the semi-professional level. One such team was the Boeing Bombers of Wichita, Kansas.
Beginning in 1942, the Boeing plant in Wichita, KS began construction (under a sub-contract from Cessna) of 750 model CG-4 towed gliders in preparation for a future invasion of Europe. Around the same time, the Boeing company of Wichita formed the Boeing Bombers team that competed as semi-professionals and was comprised of solid athletes who also worked for the company. In 1942, the team won the National Semipro Championship defeating the Waco Dons in 12 innings by a score of 2-1. Boeing would continue to field the Bombers into the 1950s. One of the Boeing team alum, Daryl Spencer, went on to play for the New York and San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers and finished his career in 1963 with the Cincinnati Reds.
While reviewing the results of one of my online auction searches, I saw a listing for a sterling silver medallion that was associated with Republic Aviation and prominently featured a baseball player on the face along with what appeared to be a two-digit year (54). The medallion is approximately two inches in diameter and features a machined hole for a suspension. Across the bottom is a set of USAAC/USAAF/USAF pilot’s wings with the Republic Aviation superimposed over the center. I performed some cursory, fruitless searches for anything related to the now-defunct aircraft manufacture having fielded a baseball club, perhaps similar to the aforementioned Boeing Bombers. I decided that being in possession of the artifact was far more interesting then to let it pass by and I could conduct the research once I have the medallion in hand.
After the package arrived, I took out my loupe for a close-up examination hoping to find any detail that might help with research. Other than what was visible in the seller’s photographs, there was nothing hidden. I decided to spend some time researching Republic Aviation’s history to no avail regarding anything related to a baseball team. I did manage to find Clarence Wilber “Buster” Bray, a four-game-centerfielder (with 11 at-bats and an .091 batting average) for the 1941 Boston Braves who spent part of the war working for Republic Aviation before serving, himself.
Republic was absorbed into Fairchild in 1965. I found a June 2013 article in Air & Space (Smithsonian) Magazine by Joshua Stoff (curator for the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, in which he describes having peek into the archives of Republic Aviation in 1987 just prior to the Fairchild management’s decision to destroy every item. From that article, I was led to the American Airpower Museum’s website on which I submitted a request for assistance in researching baseball at Republic Aviation.
Within a day, Jacky Clyman responded and directed me to Ken Neubeck, president of the Long Island Republic Airport Historical Society (LIRAHS). Mr. Neubuck was a former employee of Fairchild Republic and recalled that the company, “fielded a team for several years, up to the point when the company closed in 1987.” This was the first positive news that I had received since I began my investigation. Ken asked, “Is there any particular significance for the 1954 team?”
I informed Ken about the medallion and that I was seeking anything at all regarding a company team, what their record was for that season and why they might have been given the medallion. I also sent him an image to give him a visual reference.
The next day, Mr. Neubeck replied that he had spent time searching through his collection of Republic Aviation’s newspapers from 1954 in search of anything pertaining to baseball. He stated, “Unfortunately, your medallion makes no reference to whether it is softball or baseball,” and provided me with two images of the newspapers for me to review. The articles mentioned the Republic Aviation Corporation’s (RAC) sponsorship of a local little league baseball team which had some on-field success as well as an RAC varsity intramural softball team. Ken was unsuccessful in uncovering anything relating to a baseball team and then stated, “I have to believe that it must be a RAC varsity softball participation medallion to the softball team members.”
As I was writing this article, I did discover an older auction listing of the same medallion dated, 1949 that provided no history or provenance – another dead end. While there is nothing conclusive or definitive in what was provided to me by Ken Nuebeck, it is a safe to agree with his assessment.
The medallion, if nothing else, displays nicely with my baseball collection and has a direct link to military history with Republic’s rich heritage of warplane manufacturing.
Now that the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2017 has been announced and the debates are raging on about which of the elected are truly worthy over those who were once again overlooked, I am looking forward to the upcoming season, hopeful for the Dodgers to overcome last season’s playoff fade. The Dodgers have won the last four consecutive NL West flags and have two NLCS and two NLDS defeats to show for their efforts. Fortunately, I can fall back upon my military baseball collecting where there are both victories and defeats and yet no off-season.
Until recently, I have focused attention on acquiring photographs with a keen eye trained for uniforms to add to my collection. I have been selective, landing some vintage photos from as early as prior to WWI and into WWII, a WWII-era Hillerich and Bradsby bat (stamped U.S. Navy) and a few other assorted pieces.
One piece that I landed a few years ago caught my eye due to its uniqueness and that I hadn’t seen anything like it before (or since). Not being very in tune with the service academy athletics (beyond attending college football games that included West Point and the Air Force Academy teams and watching the annual Army/Navy football game on television) or the history as it pertains to baseball, I took particular interest in what the seller described as an athletic varsity letter (think: letterman’s jacket) for baseball from the Naval Academy in 1944. The seller had two listings: one for the letter and the other for the 1944 Lucky Bag (Annapolis’ yearbook) from the naval officer for whom the letter was awarded. Landing this letter caused me to pay closer attention to anything that might be related to baseball within the service academies.
Not long ago, I spotted an auction listing that was very unusual and a departure from my typical baseball memorabilia. The listing mentioned a medal that was awarded to a naval officer (at the time, a midshipman) who also was the recipient of three Navy Cross and one Army Distinguished Service Cross medals. This particular medal was engraved with the sailor’s name and the date that it was presented to him and was more in keeping with a sports trophy than a medal awarded for valor or esteemed service in uniform.
Frank Wesley Fenno, Jr. came to the Naval Academy with aspirations of playing professional baseball. Fenneo’s classmates wrote of him in The Lucky Bag (Annapolis’ annual), “His life’s ambition was to play baseball, and when he didn’t get in a game, it was owing to academic interference. Center field was his position and when the little pill landed in that territory, it didn’t have a chance (a warped sense of modesty prevents our telling about that home run in the Army-Navy Game).” During his years there, Frank had a reputation for both his prowess in the outfield and consistency with his bat, as further noted in The Lucky Bag, “In the outfield Fenno, Leslie, and Ward appeared to be the strongest combination. Fenno, our 1925 captain, got anything that came within the range of possibility, and all three men were handy with the stick.”
The medal, presented to Midshipmen Fenno in 1924 by the Naval Academy’s Navy Atheletic Association in recognition of his .410 batting average for his junior year baseball season. Fenno would letter in the sport for all four years before graduating and being commissioned as an ensign in 1925. Admiral Fenno would have an illustrious career as a submariner receiving the Navy’s second highest valor award (subordinate to the Medal of Honor) three times during World War II. He also received the Army’s second highest award during his WWII service. In later years, the Admiral served as the chief of staff at the United States Taiwan Defense Command where his love for the game would continue:
“I’ve been looking through your website and came across a list of Chiefs of Staff for USTDC. I was there as a photographer from 1955 to 1956 and remember that Rear Admiral Frank. W. Fenno Jr. was the Chief of Staff under Vice Admiral Stewart H. Ingersoll, the first Commander of USTDC. Since Rear Admiral Fenno is not listed, his picture is attached along with a photo of him shipping over (re-enlisting) four of the photo lab staff in August 1956. Admiral Fenno also played on the TDC softball team.” (source: US TDC Blog)
I will sheepishly admit to bidding on the medal with no prior knowledge of the admiral nor these types of medals, beating out six other bidders. In communicating with the seller in trying to obtain any provenance and history as to how he obtained the medal, I learned that this it was most-likely sold some time after his other decorations were either sold or donated.
This piece checked a lot of militaria boxes in that it was engraved with the veteran’s name, had reasonable provenance and it was directly dated. When the medal arrived, it was in its original Bailey, Banks & Biddle box (though the it is a little worn). The pendant, ribbon and clasp are all in excellent condition though the metal surfaces show some reasonable tarnish.
- 1st Navy Cross Citation
- 2nd Navy Cross Citation
- 3rd Navy Cross Citation
- Distinguished Service Cross Citation
- Silver Star Citation
- 1st Legion of Merit Citation
- 2nd Legion of Merit Citation
WWII Commands Held:
- USS Trout (SS-202), 1941-1942
- USS Runner (SS-275), 1942 – 1943
- Commander Submarine Division 201, 1943-1945
- USS Pampanito (SS-383), 1944-1945
- Commander Submarine Division 24, 1945
- USS Pampanito: Killer Angel
- Manila Gold: Tales of the USS Trout and the War in the Pacific in World War II