Category Archives: Trophies and Awards
For most of our lives, we have been surrounded by people who were our neighbors, letter carriers, doctors, dentists, nurses or even grandparents or parents. They were ordinary people who lived ordinary lives. We encountered them every day and were entirely oblivious to the extraordinary lives they lived decades before. They didn’t dwell upon the things of the past as they sought only to pursue careers and raise families and leave their world better than it was when it was handed down to them.
“The Greatest Generation” is a term that has fallen out of favor in the last decade. Often overused to describe the men and women who were born following the Great War and spent their adolescence immersed in the Great Depression, the term spoke to their experiences that were brought to bear following the end of the Second World War when the United States saw its largest economic (and generational) boom. Most Americans didn’t recognize these aging men’s and women’s resilience, determination, patriotism and service to their communities and families as anything outside of normalcy until the last decade of the twentieth century, when they began entering their eighth decade and their rate of passing started to rapidly increase.
The kind-hearted, soft-spoken, gray-bearded gentleman was a favorite teacher among the students, year after year. He taught eighth-grade science at your junior high school and his style was anything but boring as he walked you through the basics in chemistry, light waves, refraction and reflectivity among many elementary principles. In ninth grade, many of the scientific elements that he previously introduced you to were foundational in the course that he taught in which his artistic passion was transferred to you through the world of photography.
It was in ninth grade during that photography class that you noticed something different. As you worked through an assignment with your classmates, the gray-bearded man sat at his desk that was positioned at the head of the classroom and adjacent to the counter that contained the Bunsen burners and petri dishes. Upon his desk was a deformed metallic object, heavily oxidized with dirt caked into the recesses of the twists of what appeared to be aluminum. The shared curiosity among your classmates wasn’t enough to stir anyone to action; so you decided to approach the teacher, gesturing toward the object as you posed your simple question, unprepared for the emotion-filled story that he was about to bestow upon you.
In a matter of moments, you were transported from simple childhood ignorance to the 8th Air Force and B-17 Flying Fortresses on bombing missions over Third Reich targets, with a tale of bailing out over enemy-occupied territory after sustaining heavy enemy fire. The tears welling up in your teacher’s eyes provided a painfully obvious sense of loss as he described himself and one other crewmen as the only survivors from that flight as the others were too badly wounded and incapable of bailing out before the aircraft crashed. He told you that the pilot ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft as he kept it at altitude long enough for the two survivors to make a safe exit. That harrowing story of survival decades earlier transitioned to the present day as your teacher shared with you his summer vacation of traveling to Europe and visiting the newly discovered crash site of his Flying Fortress. The remains of the crew who had been unable to escape the crash were among the wreckage when the site was discovered. Of course they had been removed before he visited. The piece that sat upon the teacher’s desk served as a reminder of the sacrifices made so that he could live his life in peace and share the stories of what made his generation truly great.
Seventy miles northeast of Detroit, Michigan, lies a small city on the shores of Lake Huron where the St. Clair River empties into the lake. Port Huron lies on the western bank of the river opposite Sarnia, Ontario. The two cities are connected by the Bluewater Bridge on Interstate 94. Three miles southwest of the bridge on 24th and Court Streets lies Port Huron High School, which today looks nothing like it did in January of 1943 when Jack Dobratz, a multi-sport star athlete, graduated.
Born to Charles G. and Minnie C. Dobratz, Jack was the third of five children and the third son born to first generation German-American parents. Jack was a stellar athlete in football, basketball and baseball, earning 10 letters with the Port Huron High School Reds, the first student to do so in twelve years. His departure from the school in the middle of winter left a gaping hole in two of the school’s sports rosters. The starting center for the basketball team graduated in the middle of the season and weeks later was wearing a different uniform.
Seeking Jack’s inspiration for participation in athletics, one need look no further than his father Charles, who clearly had a passion for sports. His August 6, 1951 Port Huron Times Herald obituary said that Charles’ love of sports was widely known. “Mr. Dobratz’ interest in every type of sporting event was carried over to the athletes who participated in them.” Charles left his imprint on the following generations with his involvement in Port Huron’s sports community. “Youngsters particularly, beginning to play softball, basketball and baseball, received invaluable counsel and encouragement from him.” The elder Dobratz was a member of the Port Huron Old Timers Association, whose members included notable baseball men such as Fred Lamlein, Frank Secory and Bill Watkins. Charles Dobratz also served as an umpire in industrial, city and church basketball leagues, no doubt influencing his son Jack.
There were no doubts about Jack’s post-graduation destination as he registered for the wartime draft on June 30, 1942, leading him to enlist in the U.S. Army on February 16, 1943. At that time in the Pacific theater, the ground offensive on Guadalcanal was pushing the Japanese off the island. With the Axis stranglehold across Europe, Operation Torch, the Allied offensive in French North Africa against German and Vichy units, was in its third month as the planning was well underway for what would be known as Operation Overlord – the Normandy Invasion. Camp Wheeler served as an infantry replacement center and Dobratz was trained for future assignment to replace a combat casualty as the need arose.
Once his training was completed at Camp Wheeler, the six-foot-three, 182-pound private pitched for his unit’s baseball team before he was transferred to England in July, 1943. His athletic abilities were apparent to his unit upon his arrival overseas and he found himself continuing his mound duties on foreign soil through for the remainder of 1943 and into the following year.
Private First Class Dobratz reported to the 115th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division on July 18, 1944 and was assigned to Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion. He was promptly appointed to the rank of sergeant. His arrival at the 115th was as a replacement. The regiment was in need of personnel, having sustained 3,700 casualties in the The Battle of Saint-Lo. Sergeant Dobratz’ military occupation specialty was 729 Pioneer (construction and engineering); so he was more than likely assigned to the support platoon.
The 115th Infantry Regiment saw action in the August-September battle for Brest during which Dobratz spent three days hospitalized for a non-battle injury. On September 30, the regiment crossed into Germany during the Rhineland Campaign, which saw the 115th along the Roer River. Due to the region’s heaviest rainfalls in more than three decades combined with heavy enemy resistance, the men of the 115th got bogged down in the very harsh conditions. The troops lacked personal foul weather gear to protect them from the wet conditions, resulting in an increase in non-battle casualties (NBC) for issues such as trench foot. In early December, Sgt. Dobratz came off the line and reported to the hospital for an NBC that ultimately saw him dropped from the 115th Infantry’s muster rolls. By February 10, 1945 he had been released and reported back to his unit. Two weeks later, the 29th Division launched their offensive on February 23, attacking the enemy across the Roer River towards their objective, the German town of Jülich, which fell on the first day of the assault. The Division pressed onward toward the Rhine, linking up with the British 21st Army Group, led my General Montgomery. Having seized München-Gladbach, just 32 kilometers west of Dusseldorf and the Rhine River, the 29th was relieved on March 1 for a much needed period of rest and recuperation as well as resupply and refit.
The 29th Division’s Central European Campaign continued for several more weeks of mopping up pockets of German resistance, leading up to the May 2 surrender of Third Reich forces. The 115th Infantry Regiment began transitioning from combat to occupation duties. In the weeks that followed, idle troops across the European Theater began to form baseball leagues with more than 100,000 participants. Dobratz was an obvious choice for the 29th Division’s team as the search for the most talented players netted a mix of former professionals, semi-pros and star high school players in order to field a highly competitive roster.
The 29th Division’s Blue and Grays worked their way through the season and captured the Seventh Army Championship (details of the games and opponents have yet to surface) and gained entrance into the ETO (European Theater of Operations) World Series semifinal games against the 71st Infantry Division Red Circlers. The Red Circlers were well rested following their early August five-game series in which they captured the Third Army championship by defeating the 76th Infantry Division’s Onaways. Former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Ewell Blackwell had tossed a 7-0 no-hitter in the second game and 5-0 two-hitter in the fifth and deciding game.
40,000 GIs and WACS witnessed the 71st Division defeat the 29th at Nuremberg Stadium on August 26, 1945. “This was baseball’s biggest spectacle to date as pennants of all major league teams flew from the rim of the stadium and Red Cross vendors climbed up and down, peddling beer, soft drinks and peanuts. Two thousand cases of beer, mostly American brands, were sold during the day as shirt-sleeved soldiers reveled.” (Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, New York, August 29, 1945.)
The 71st carried their momentum forward as they faced the Blue and Grays of the 29th Infantry. Ewell Blackwell’s pitching was dominant in the first game as he captured the 2-1 win. Bill Ayers, victorious pitcher from the 12-innnng, 2-1 Game Three in the Third Army Championships, followed Blackwell with a two-hit, 3-1 win that put the 29th on their heels for the make-or-break Game Three. Ken Heintzelman, former Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher, entered the game with the score knotted at 3-3 in the top of the eighth inning and held the 29th hitless. In the bottom of the frame, Heintzelman’s bat ignited a three-run rally that broke the game open. In the top of the ninth, the ex-Pirate set the side down in order to seal the three-game sweep of the Blue and Grays. Dobratz and his teammates were eliminated from the series, falling three wins short of the ETO World Series and being forced to settle for the Seventh Army Crown. The 29th Infantry Division members were presented with engraved German-made medals that commemorated the Seventh Army title at Mannheim, Germany in August of 1945.
After acquiring the medal awarded to his teammate, Earl Ghelf, a year earlier (see: European Theater Baseball (the 29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays at Nurnberg)), we were keenly aware of the significance of the piece when a second medal appeared in an online auction listing. The engraving on the medal’s reverse was an identical match to our medal, prompting us to place a bid and hope for the best. When the auction closed, we were astounded at the minimal competition as our bid closed the deal. Upon its arrival, we were already challenged in researching the inscribed name as our attempts continued to reveal nothing. “J. DEBRATZ” was an absolute mystery and we were resigned to waiting and hoping for a research breakthrough.
Days after publishing our article regarding “Debratz’s” medal (Metal Championship: Two 7th Army Victors of the 29th Division), we were contacted by a board member of the Maryland Museum of Military History who was an actively serving U.S. Army colonel. Col. Drew Sullins, along with historian Joseph Balkoski, author of several 29th Infantry Division books (see below), had been researching the 29th Division’s 1945 Blue and Gray baseball team and had uncovered significant details. Sullins researched the Division’s archive within the museum on our behalf for “DeBratz” among the morning reports. He soon discovered that the name as it appeared on our medal was misspelled, “Those Army clerks weren’t always perfect.” Colonel Sullins said. The colonel’s research yielded significant details, opening the doors for us to pursue other directions into Jack Dobratz’ military life.
“Jack Dobratz is having a good time ‘abroad’ in spite of being in the service of his country,” the September 23, 1945 Port Huron Times Herald read. “He does some pitching on a team that lists former major league players like Whitey Moore, former Cincinnati pitcher, and Jack Calloway [Don Kolloway] of the Chicago White Sox.” The article made mention of the team’s championship. “The 29th claims the Seventh Army baseball title, winning it on a field built by German labor.” Uncertain about his return home, Dobratz made plans for the winter athletic season in Germany, as he “sent for his basketball togs,” the article concluded.
By early December, Dobratz was back home in Port Huron and resumed his athletic competitiveness. He signed onto semi-professional basketball teams, first with the Mueller Brass club followed by Chrysler, and dominated his teams’ offensive statistical categories. By the spring, Dobratz was back in flannels, pitching for the Marine City semi-pro club and leading the team into the Blue Water District League finals.
During his World War II service, Sergeant Jack Dobratz was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, two Bronze Star medals, the Army Presidential Unit Citation ribbon and the Army Good Conduct, Europe-Africa-Middle East (EAME) Campaign (with three bronze star devices), American Campaign and World War II Victory medals.
Nearly two years after returning from Germany, Jack Dobratz married Ruth (Jensen) Smith, who was widowed when her husband’s C-109 Liberator Express was lost on December 16, 1944 in the China-Burma-India theater of operations. First Lieutenant Walter J. Smith was serving as the converted B-24’s navigator at the time of the aircraft’s loss.
The Dobratz couple later moved to Kalamazoo, where Jack worked as a floral designer until he passed away at age sixty-six on September 29, 1989. Almost three years later, his wife joined him in death. The couple had no children. Throughout the 44 years following his return from Europe, how many people who encountered Sgt. Dobratz had any concept of his actions during the war? Did he ever speak of the horrors of battle or did he fondly recollect his four months on the diamond with the 29th Division Blue and Grays? Perhaps our medal with Dobratz’ misspelled name served as a pleasant reminder of the months following V-E Day while the rest of his war artifacts were pushed aside, never to be seen again. While we are grateful for the opportunity to preserve Sgt. Dobratz’ 1945 Seventh Army Championship medal, we are left wondering what became of his service decorations.
Related Chevrons and Diamonds Stories:
- Metal Championship: Two 7th Army Victors of the 29th Division
- European Theater Baseball (the 29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays at Nurnberg)
- Third Army – Baseball Championship Series
29th Infantry Division History (by Joseph Balkoski)
- From Beachhead to Brittany: The 29th Infantry Division at Brest, August-September 1944
- From Brittany to the Reich: The 29th Infantry Division in Germany, September – November 1944
- Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy
- Last Roll Call, The: The 29th Infantry Division Victorious, 1945
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.“
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.
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
|Ed “Big Jeff” Pfeffer||P|
|Maurice “Red” Shannon||SS|
|Charles D. “Casey” Stengel||RF|
“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
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.”
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.
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.
- Fenno’s submarine controlled the Pacific seas – By Fred Sullivan | Looking Back – Telegram, Jan 14, 2007
To most collectors of American militaria, vintage medals and decorations are easily recognizable with distinctive patterns stamped into each face as well as the ribbons that they are suspended from. In our militaria collection, we have focused on people (family members), a handful of U.S. Navy warships and other places that my relatives and ancestors served. In terms of collecting, medals and decorations are of tertiary importance, though I have acquired several pieces that otherwise captured my interest.
In 2017, a group of photos, game programs (basketball), correspondence and a medal were listed in an online auction. All of the items originated from a veteran who served in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) during World War II with the 69th Infantry Division and played baseball for the unit’s team on his way to pitching in the ETO World Series in 1945 for the 29th Infantry Division team, the Blue and the Grays. After winning the 7th Army Championship, a semi-final elimination tournament, the 29th team faced (and was defeated by) the Red Circlers of the 71st Division.
Focusing primarily upon the photographs, European Theater Baseball (the 29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays at Nurnberg) also addressed the historic and rare imagery in the group (the Earl Ghelf Collection) – how Mr. Ghelf photo-documented the baseball park that was constructed on the grounds of Soldiers Field (formerly known as Nuremberg Stadium). What was not covered in the article was the medal that was central to the group; a German-made piece with a diminutive red and white ribbon with engraving on the reverse. The obverse features a relief bust of an athletically-built man with the words “Dem Sieger” (which translates to, “The Winner”) above the figure’s right shoulder. The engraving on the reverse reads:
7th Army Baseball Champions
E. R. Ghelf
It is apparent that the 7th Army leadership locally sourced the medal and had it engraved and presented to Mr. Ghelf. It was assumed that the entire 29th Division Blue and Greys team was presented with the same personalized medal to commemorate their victory en route to the ETO Championship series. Not having seen another copy previously, the assumption about the entire team receiving them was untested and unproven…Until today.
Some of the best finds that arrive to the Chevrons and Diamonds collection come by way of accidental discovery. When I was researching a ball player in an attempt to find any correlation or connection to military service, an unintentional Google image search yielded a photo of a familiar medal – one that featured the same obverse design as the Ghelf medal (above) along with the same ribbon and suspension.
Recognizing that the image was from an online auction listing, I clicked on the image, opening a current auction listing for another engraved copy of the 7th Army Championship medal. The engraving on the reverse is exactly the same as my copy (save for the name):
7th Army Baseball Champions
29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays (Seventh Army Champions) 1945:
|Pvt.||Earl A. Dothager||P||Springfield (WA)|
|Sgt.||Wallace W. Kale|
|Pvt.||Kazimer J. Waiter|
|Pvt.||Robert W. Lansinger||P||Lancaster (ISLG)|
|1st Lt.||Erwin Prasse||LF/Mgr.||University of Iowa|
|Wesley “Lefty” Howard||P|
|William A. “Bill” Seal, Jr.||IF||Vicksburg (CSTL)|
|Don Kolloway||IF||White Sox|
|Sgt.||Jack Dobratz||P||High School|
|Lloyd “Whitey” Moore||P||Cardinals|
Without any hesitating, a sniped bid was set ahead of the due diligence in researching the name. The only instance of a roster for the 7th Army (29th Infantry Division) Championship team is located on Baseball in Wartime.com and a quick check revealed no player with that name. Searching through other sources yielded similar results. Who was J. Debratz? Was his name misspelled on the medal? Was he a coach or a manager? The decision was made to proceed despite the auction with the hope that should our bid prove successful, in time, the research could pan out.
Upon auction close, our bid was the only one and the Debratz medal arrived a few days later (a few days before publishing this article). One of the most rewarding aspects of collecting named pieces such as this medal is the satisfaction that follows a research or discovery breakthrough. For the present-time, this medal will be displayed along with the Ghelf copy.
With the assistance of Colonel Drew Sullins, board member of the Maryland Museum of Military History, J. Debratz was positively identified as Sergeant Jack Dobratz of Port Huron, Michigan. Sgt. Dobratz entered the United States Army on February 16, 1943 and was assigned to Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion in the 29th Infantry Division. He was promoted from private first class to the rank of sergeant on July 18, 1944. Dobratz graduated in January, 1943 from Port Huron High School where he excelled in athletics earning 10 letters in football, basketball and baseball. He was the school’s quarterback and punter on the gridiron and toed the mound as their star pitcher. Leading up to D-Day, Jack “Dobie” Dobratz pitched for his company’s team domestically and after arrival in England.
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|
|Robert Lansinger||P||Pre-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: