Category Archives: Uniforms
The hits just keep coming. I don’t know how to properly assess the current state of the baseball militaria “market,” but I have been seeing quite a spate of historically significant artifacts being listed for sale over the last several months. In previous months (years, actually), the well has been fairly dry in terms of the sorts of pieces that have been turning up but I am in awe the currently emerging trend. In terms of determining some measurement or rate of success, I am taking a bit of a retrospective look into what I have landed as compared to what has been listed (in concert with those items where I was outbid by more aggressive buyers). As with baseball statistics, the rate of success (such as in batting average) is only part of the picture. Yes, I have landed a fair percentage of the artifacts listed at auction, however it is the quality of the items that I brought home that lies at the heart of my success.
Two of the most recent Chevrons and Diamonds articles touched upon baseball in the Pacific Theater with both the All-Stars games in the Central Pacific and the late-war All-Stars Western Pacific tour. While both of these articles spotlighted auctions that I did not win, all four listings (that were covered in the articles) provided me with invaluable insight and research for upcoming efforts. As hard as it was to not have success with securing any of those pieces, what did come home was comparable, if not invaluable for my collection.
While I have several forthcoming articles currently in varying states of research and drafting, I am finding that, for the majority, their focus lies within the realm of baseball within the Pacific theater. Today’s piece lies directly at that epicenter: World War II baseball in the Hawaiian Islands.
In researching so many of the professional players who enlisted during WWII, I have read or listened to many interviews with players discussing their time in the service of their country. Each one of these men with the opportunity to discuss their war service unhesitatingly reflects upon how the nation was unified in the struggle against the tyrannical Axis forces. These men talk of setting aside their ball-playing careers to join millions of Americans who left their jobs and homes to carry the fight to the enemy. I have had the opportunity to speak with a few legends (Bob Feller and Duke Snider, on separate occasions) in the early 1990s to discuss our time serving in the Navy and to exchange our experiences – having them ask ME about what I did and where I went during my naval career was gratifying. However, not all of the players who set aside their professional flannels, spikes, bats and gloves did so without reservations and self-concern.
Without a doubt, one of the most recognizable baseball players of all time is Yankees’ long-time center-fielder, Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio, simply known as “Joltin'” Joe DiMaggio, the “Yankee Clipper.” When the United States was drawn into World War II following the December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor attacks, Joe DiMaggio had only months earlier, concluded one of the greatest offensive seasons by a ball player. That year saw two accomplishments which, after 76 years, each seemingly remains insurmountable. Aside from Ted Williams’season in which he finished with a .406 batting average (which ranks 18th among single-season records) his .400+ average performance is the last of the 20th Century and the only one since Bill Terry’s .401 average 11 years earlier. Considering those two .400+ batting averages, at the beginning of each successive decade (as compared to the seven time it happened during the 1920s and three times in the teens), the difficulties in hitting were obviously on the rise.
William’s accomplishment aside, a ostensibly impossible (to break) record was breached and a new, significantly higher mark was set by the Yankee’s DiMaggio in 1941. The game of baseball is difficult and using the small wooden bat to make contact with a small leather ball (traveling at speeds ranging from 80-105 mph) is so challenging that missing failing to do so, seven out of 10 attempts is considered an impressive achievement (obviously, Ted Williams’1941 season reflected a failure rate of only six times in ten). Failing to put the ball into play and get on base during a game (or even a brief string of games) is a normal occurrence. It is so normal that when players begin to hit safely in a succession of ball games, players, managers, the press, etc. take notice and talk about it when that streak begins to approach 20 games. By 1941, 26 batters had hit successfully in 30 or more consecutive games with the Baltimore Orioles’ (of the National League) “Wee” Willie Keeler holding the record at 45 games (set over the course of the 1896-97 seasons). By today’s standards, 45 games seems to be insurmountable yet Philadelphia’s Jimmy Rollins reached 38 in 2006 (not to overlook Pete Rose’s 44-game streak in 1978 or Paul Molitor’s 39 in 1987).
More impressive than Keeler’s 45 game-streak was the one accomplished by the Yankee Clipper during the 1941 season. Not only did he surpass Keeler’s mark, he blew past it with 11 additional games, setting the record at 56. Keeler’s record stood for more than four decades and though there were some players who drew close to Willie’s record (Ty Cobb -40- in 1911 and George Sisler -41- in 1922), by 1941, it seemed unreachable. During the streak, both Williams and DiMaggio were slugging it out offensively for both average and power. During DiMaggio’s streak, he would hit .408, clout 15 home runs and drive in 55 runs. He would finish the year in third place behind Williams and Cecil Travis (.357) for batting average and fifth for home-runs (behind Ted Williams-37, Dolph Camilli-34, Charlie Keller-33 and Tommy Henrich-31) with 30. “The Streak” and the .406 seasons are so well-documented and how they happened is known by even the most nominal baseball fan. So impressive was the 56-game streak that mathematical analysis has been brought to bear in order to determine a measurement of probability (or perhaps, impossibility?) of its occurrence.
Joe DiMaggio and his Yankees’ would place a period on the 1941 season by winning the World Series, beating their opponent four games to one on their way to four titles during the decade (after having closed out the 1930s with five titles; four consecutive from 1936-1939). I would be remiss in mentioning that the 1941 National League pennant-winner was my beloved Dodgers having overcome decades of futility on their way to becoming perennial contenders for the next five decades.
It is well-publicized that two days after the Japanese sneak-attack on Pearl Harbor, Bob Feller enlisted into the United States Navy, motivated to serve as so many other American young men (my maternal grandfather, included) in those first few days and weeks. Many from baseball’s major and minor league ranks set their careers aside and joined the fight in the first few weeks. However, several of the games biggest stars did not immediately sign up to serve, Joe DiMaggio included.
Despite the countless images, documents and accounts of Joltin’ Joe’s time during World War II, DiMaggio did not set his career on hold to join the armed forces until February of 1943 after playing the entire 1942 season, despite the early-January, prevailing question (by Commissioner Landis) as to whether the game would continue (and President Roosevelt’s decision and response). Joe was not alone in his avoidance of serving. DiMaggio’s rival batting leader from the Red Sox, Ted Williams hired an attorney to have himself reclassified as 3-A (“Registrant deferred because of hardship to dependents”) being the sole-provider for his mother following receipt of his draft notice in January of 1942. William’s received a torrent of negative publicity and finally enlisted into the Naval Reserve in May but played the entire season (the last game of the year, September 27th, his Red Sox faced DiMaggio’s Yankees where Williams mustered a single, going 1-3 with an intentional walk while Joe was 2-4 scoring two and knocking in three runs, including a 2-run homer) before heading into the Navy’s V-5, aviation cadet training program in early 1943. Joe DiMaggio (apparently begrudgingly) enlisted into the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) on February 17, having previously been granted (like Williams) a 3A deferment status. It should be noted that with the exception of a handful of notable professional ballplayers enlisting in the opening several weeks of the War, most players didn’t join the ranks until the waning months of 1942.
In Joe DiMaggio: A Biography (Baseball’s All-Time Greatest Hitters), according to author David Jones, “DiMaggio resented the war with an intensity equal to the most battle-scarred private. It had robbed him of the best years of his career. When he went into the Army, DiMaggio had been a 28-year-old superstar, still at the height of his athletic powers. By the time he was discharged from the service, he was nearly 31, divorced, underweight, malnourished, and bitter. Those three years, 1943 to 1945, would carve a gaping hole in DiMaggio’s career totals, creating an absence that would be felt like a missing limb.” Though he may have desired to serve as a combat soldier, the Yankee Clipper would find himself serving in a morale-boosting capacity, as a team-member on various Army Air Force service teams, much to enjoyment of thousands of GIs serving both domestically and throughout bases within the Pacific Theater.
By the time that Joe DiMaggio arrived in the Pacific to play baseball with the 7th Army Air Force team (based at Hickam Field), he had already spent the previous 16 months playing for his Santa Ana Army Air Base team as well as an All-Star team managed by Babe Ruth that squared off against the Boston Braves on July 12, 1943. Nearly a year and half spent away from his $40k+ annual salary as he was earning $50 per month along with his GI-counterparts. Aside from performing for the troops, Joe was away from his wife an their shaky-marriage and their small son.
He suffered, according to William Cole in his September 2010 Honolulu Star Advertiser article, Misery filled baseball star’s days in isles during WWII, considerable gastrointestinal problems due to stress leading to being “admitted to the station hospital at Hickam for eight days” on July 9, 1944. The slugger’s time away from duty continued, as on “July 27 DiMaggio was again hospitalized and returned to duty a month later,” which seemed to develop into a cycle. Cole wrote, “He was rehospitalized Sept. 4 for two weeks. Another hospital trip on Oct. 12 led to a stay at Tripler General Hospital for four days.” Cole references a 1945 psychiatric report conducted following Joe’s continued hospital visits throughout the remainder of his time in the service, citing” Although he denies nervous or mental disability, he admits that he has always been moody, and it would appear that he has always been high-strung, irritable, easily aroused and quick-tempered.” According to Cole, “DiMaggio definitely didn’t like the public relations role he was fulfilling.”
The physician noted in his report (as conveyed in Cole’s article), “When he (DiMaggio) was in Honolulu, for instance, he felt he was exploited by being put on exhibition, and, what is more, he feels not to the profit of the Army but rather to increase the income of civilians by gate receipts. He feels that he should have been utilized at all times as a physical instructor, and shows a definite aversion to playing baseball while in the Army.”
Despite the emotional and health issues that were apparently plaguing DiMaggio, he still managed to continue playing baseball for the troops in Hawaii. Days after arriving via an arduous transit (aboard a ship) Joe would participate in a pair of exhibition games played over a five-day period, DiMaggio would crush two memorable home runs, one in each game. The first one would land outside the stadium’s right field on Isenberg Street, traveling 435 feet, in the first game. The second would be a 450-foot mammoth blast, striking the St. Louis College alumni clubhouse, Drier Manor, across Isenberg Street, to the cheers of more than 20,000 fans in attendance.
I have never been interested in collecting Joe DiMaggio. Perhaps my lack of desire for his memorabilia was due to multiple factors ranging from near-loathing of the Yankees due to my allegiance to Brooklyn and the Los Angeles Dodgers to being priced out of the market as a result of the Yankee Clipper’s immense and enduring popularity among baseball collectors. Being interested in DiMaggio’s military service and is playing time during his time on active duty transcends my anti-Yankees stance though still precludes me from affording anything pertaining to his career; especially his stint with the USAAF…until a few weeks ago (more on this ahead).
A simple internet search for Joe DiMaggio photos from his wartime service yields plenty of images in uniform ranging from his Santa Ana team to one in a Fort Lawton (located in fort Seattle) uniform, however, it is the home uniform of DiMaggio’s 7th Army Air Force team that dominates the (internet search) results. The 7th AAF uniform is very distinctive with its dark shell and white sleeves which makes it one of the most recognizable of all World War II known and photographed baseball uniforms. The jersey is a dark shell with white sleeves with distinctive lettering across the chest spelling out 7th AAF in white. The soutache that encircles the collar and frames the placket is a thin white line of trim while each sleeve has a thin dark line of trim located approximately one-inch in from the edge.
The trousers that accompany this uniform appear to be color-matched to the dark shell of the jersey but the trim on the pants-legs appears to consist of two 1/2-inch vertical stripes extending from the waistband to the cuffs. The cap is also color-matched but with thin, white trim sewn over each seam of the crown’s six panels.
Due to DiMaggio’s enduring popularity among collectors and fans, this (7th AAF) home jersey was one of the first military baseball uniform reproductions to be made (if not the first) by Ebbets Field Flannels (which they mistakenly identified as a road uniform). It is highly-likely that this jersey is the most-popular repro military baseball garment sold (by any maker) which is why, it should be updated to be historically-accurate, though it was originally made based a photographic study as no known examples survived through the decades.
One of the most difficult challenges faced by companies in reproducing from black and white images (when an original uniform is unavailable) is color-accuracy. To even the most experienced photography analysts, discerning unknown colors is a near-impossibility. In a conversation (regarding my recent find) with WWII military baseball expert, Gary Bedingfield, while discussing the 7th AAF uniforms, he shared with me a conversation (via an exchange in correspondence in multiple letters traded between Bedingfield and the baseball veteran) that he had with Yankees’ back-up catcher and DiMaggio’s 7th AAF team, Charlie Silvera.
“Their (the 7th AAF) home uniforms were dark green and white,” Bedingfield relayed to me, “although I’ve never seen a color photo of them, the always look black and white.” Bedingfield continued, “they were softball uniforms (that had been) donated to the team.”
In addition to what can be found on internet searches of the dark/white home variant, there are a few photos of the 7th AAF team (including DiMaggio) wearing the road version of the uniform. Not quite as distinctive, this uniform is entirely gray with a thin, dark line of soutache on the placket, around the collar and on the sleeves. The dark lettering across the chest is aligned in an arc (rather than straight across as is on the home uniform).
Now that I have your attention (or perhaps I lost you, dear reader, after taking you through 2,600 words in such a lengthy 3,400+ word-story), I can delve into the incredible (to me, at least) find while searching through online auction listings.
While seeking something completely unrelated, I stumbled upon a scantly-described (no details regarding size, age, etc.) auction listing that was rife with misspellings but displayed an incredible, type-1 photograph of the “Yankee Clipper” wearing the road gray uniform of the 7th AAF. The listing had one person watching and no bids with less than 24 hour remaining and the price was extremely low for what this was. I hurriedly did some research of the photo in trying to determine when and where it was taken and I zeroed in on the stadium in the background and the photographer’s marking in the lower left corner.
It was obvious to me that the photo was snapped at Honolulu Stadium, the capital city’s all-wooden ballpark (affectionately dubbed, the “Termite Palace” for reasons that require no explanation) with its unusual grandstand design and the facade on the face of both the upper and lower stands. The photographer, Tai Sing Loo, a well-known Hawaiian photog who snapped some of the most iconic imagery of the Pearl Harbor attack as well as of legendary surfer and renowned athlete, Duke Kahanamoku, snapped and printed the photograph during the game action during one of the two exhibition games soon after DiMaggio arrived on the Island.
I had no reservations in setting up my bid, hoping for the best and that no one else found the image as I had. When the auction closed the next day, I was elated to see that mine was the winning bid and I quickly paid the seller for the the photo. After a few days, I received a notice of shipment without a tracking number (it was shipped very economically, without insurance and tracking!!) I prayed and hoped that it would arrive safely and nervously anticipated its arrival. After a few days, I breathed a massive sigh of relief when I pulled the envelope from my mailbox. I quickly opened the parcel to see that the photo was indeed a Type-1 and in excellent condition.
One of the most interesting and mysterious aspects of this photo surrounds a uniform element that is visible on DiMaggio’s left sleeve. In the three examples of DiMaggio in the uniform, none show the 7th AAF shoulder sleeve insignia (SSI) on the jersey as is clearly visible in the image that I acquired. In viewing the images of the pages of the program from the fourth game of the Central Pacific Championship Series played between the All-Stars of the Navy and Army, there are hints of what appears to be SSIs on the sleeves of both Ferris Fain and Dario Lodigiani in their player photos. Without the insights from the players themselves, there is seemingly no way to know when or why the SSI was used.
As incredible as it was to add such a fantastic photograph of a baseball legend to my collection, it wasn’t the end of my magical run of success with these significant military baseball-related artifacts from the Pacific Theater.
- Baseball in Wartime profile: Joe DiMaggio
- Joe DiMaggio made a poor soldier, military records show
- Say It Ain’t So, Sergeant Joe
- Air Force History: ‘Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio and the 7th AAF
- Kid from Kapahulu meets DiMaggio at stadium in WWII
- Moiliili bank’s motif a tribute to Honolulu Stadium
Brick walls. Dead ends. Regardless of the term one employs to describe fruitless research, the end result will always be disappointment.
A while ago, I located a fantastic jersey for a very reasonable price and despite the cursory research and due diligence not yielding specific results, I moved ahead with making a bid to purchase the artifact. What initially drew my attention to this jersey was that it was a departure from my norm in terms of the armed forces branches that were already represented within my collection (which, at the time, consisted of one Navy, two Army and three Marines baseball uniforms or jerseys). In nearly ten years of actively searching for military baseball items, I hadn’t yet seen anything from the Army Air Forces (or Air Corps).
The online listing showed a rather simple, road gray wool flannel jersey with thin black soutache on the placket, around the collar and located about one inch from the edge of each sleeve. What sets this jersey apart from others is the the application of the lettering. Spelling out “BOLLING FIELD” are athletic felt, two color (gold over navy blue), large block characters. Each letter consists of a gold piece of felt centered over a larger one of blue felt with color-matched stitching that give a illusion of three-dimensional appearance. The careful placement of the “E” (in FIELD) ensured that the button hole alignment wouldn’t interfere with a tasteful alignment of the team name.
On the left sleeve, a two-piece athletic felt (similar to the lettering) winged-propeller emblem, complete with accenting embroidery (adding feathers to the wing and a baseball at the center of the prop) denoting the Air Forces mission of the base. The back of the jersey is plain and without numerals. The style of the jersey and the overall design is representative of those from the early 1940s which coincides with the what the seller described as being a World War II baseball jersey.
Attempting to determine the age of the jersey or when it was made isn’t necessarily an easy task however there isn’t really anything substantive that can be used to pinpoint the age. The team name provides an era (1918-1948) when the base existed as an airfield (rather than an Air Force Base following the establishment of the U.S. Air Force). Bolling Field was established after the Defense Department’s property was divided between the army and the navy for each branch’s aviation operations in the Washington D.C. area. Named for Ranar C. Bolling, a colonel who, having been recently appointed (by General Pershing) as the chief of air service for II Corps when he was killed (on March 26, 1918), during Operation Michael while he was scouting in the early days of the offensive. A thirty-year window of age possibilities hardly provided me with specificity so I had to look at the jersey’s other elements.
A commonality among the majority of the military jerseys that I have seen and certainly within my collection is the absence of manufacturer’s tags. Most of the uniforms and jerseys worn by service-member ball players have just a lone size tag. the Bolling jersey has a tag that until I acquired this jersey, I had not seen before.
If the jersey was made by Spalding or Goldsmith, the tag would be very useful in determining the age (see: Early Baseball Uniforms Manufacturer Tags Database: 1890 – 1942). These two manufacturers employed a measure of consistency (even as the logo changed, it did so in specific periods) over the course of manufacturing an immeasurable volume of baseball uniforms for professional and amateur teams. However, the manufacturer of the Bolling jersey, Lowe & Campbell, has a more murky history in terms of label usage and available, pinpoint-dated examples to draw comparisons. I was able to find a handful of L & C label examples but when attempting to use them as a basis for dating, there is considerable challenge, especially considering the company’s history.
Lowe and Campbell (L&C) was founded in Kansas City, Missouri in 1912 by George C. Lowe and Keedy Campbell during a period of massive growth in the sporting goods industry that was already being dominated by companies (Spalding, Rawlings and Wilson) that, today remain the leading manufacturers and suppliers of sports equipment. L&C’s early years in the industry found their principle customers in schools, colleges and universities and within the the realm of athletic teams sponsored by private industry. Throughout their first decade, the company experience growth, opening up offices throughout the Midwest but by the early 1930s, had become a target of one of the larger sporting goods giants who were seeking to rapidly expand into markets via acquisitions, as was the common practice, rather than expending effort and resources to develop into these areas. Wilson Sporting Goods entered into a merger agreement with L & C in 1931, but rather than to absorb the smaller company, Wilson positioned themselves as the wholesale supplier and retained their acquisition, L&C became a division of the giant as retailers of their products.
Maintaining this corporate alignment well into the next few decades, Wilson expanded the L&C offices into new markets and continued to produce products that carried the company’s logos. The catalogs throughout this era reveal that Lowe and Campbell expanded their product lines to include a greater variety of sport. As with the practices of many sporting goods retailers, their product offerings were predominantly manufactured by different sporting good companies with L&C adding their own tags and company markings. Even prior to the merger, Lowe and Campbell sold re-branded products supplied by manufacturers such as Hillerich and Bradsby, the makers of Louisville Slugger bats.
“After the merger the Lowe & Campbell brand of baseball bats disappear from the catalogs. Wilson baseball bats are added to the catalog by 1940, but they continue to sell Louisville Slugger bats, which dominate the catalogs. Wilson continued to manufacture baseball gloves under the private Branded Lowe & Campbell name. Because of the lack of catalog information it is not clear when Louisville Slugger began to make the Lowe & Campbell brand of baseball bats They do appear in the 1922 Lowe & Campbell catalog along side Louisville Slugger.” – KeyMan Collectibles
Following World War II, Wilson’s growth had continued as they acquired additional small sporting goods companies. Lowe and Campbell’s retail operation was eliminated as they were transformed into a wholesale operation their parent, Wilson functioning as both the manufacturer and wholesaler. The shift away from retail diminished the L&C brand and by 1960, Wilson eliminated it all together, shuttering the division and even closing down the Kansas City facility where Lowe and Campbell began.
Today, the remnants of the sporting goods brand exist via collectors who preserve the artifacts that produced and sold by Lowe and Campbell. However, a re-birth of the L&C brand is in process and the owner, Thomas Martin, whom acquired the brand, shared with me (via the company’s Facebook page) that Lowe and Campbell‘s 2018 fall launch will be headlined with American manufactured sports apparel.
Attempting to chronologically trace the progression of the company’s label history seems to be a futile attempt, especially in determining the of date the Bolling Field jersey. I found various (dates known) L&C branded garments and checked the labels in an effort to piece together a timeline and was unsuccessful at narrowing down transitional patterns.
Desiring to tap into the expertise of the new owner of the Lowe and Campbell brand, I asked Thomas Martin about the logos and tags, sharing some of the samples (shown above) in an effort to gain some insight. “No one,” Martin stated, “kept historical dated records of the brand,” but, in his experience with the vintage garments themselves, is able to determine the age, having seen countless products that were made and sold by Lowe and Campbell during the company’s first incarnation. Mr. Martin’s assessment of the label in the Bolling jersey was that it dated from the 1930s, “L&C only used two logos,” Martin wrote, “the one you have was used in the 30’s.” Martin discussed the logo change as a result of being acquired (in 1931 by Wilson). Garments made by the company in the 1940s began to receive a new logo (see the two bottom-right examples, above) on their tags.
My next research step will be to search through newspaper archives from WWII in the Washington D.C. area seeking any box scores or news articles regarding the Bolling Field team’s game-play. My hope is that the Army Air Force public relations personnel was as open in terms of publicizing the competitiveness of their base team. In my estimation, this team had to have competed against other service teams within the region including the Norfolk Naval Training Station and Norfolk Naval Air Station teams. The only baseball-specific lead (with a possible connection) that I have discovered regarding Bolling centers on Hank Greenberg.
In Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes, author John Rosengren states, “A friend of Hank’s, Sam Edelman, wrote on his behalf to have Hank promoted to the rank of captain and assigned as an athletic director in the Air Corps (sic) at Bolling Field. Two brigadier generals carried the request to the War Department, lobbying for the educational qualifications (for an officer’s commission) to be waived for Greenberg. The Adjutant General denied the request on the grounds that it was ‘contrary to the policies of the Secretary of War.'” No mention is made (within the book) regarding Sergeant Greenberg’s ball-playing at Bolling Field. However, according to Rosengren, Greenberg would eventually be assigned as a director of the physical training program at MacDill Field in Tampa, Florida and would subsequently be assigned to the Orlando Air Base baseball team for an exhibition game against the Washington Senators at Tinker Field. I would love to discover anything that would connect such a legend to the Bolling team.
A recurring statement often read on Chevrons and Diamonds is that further research and time are required to break through the mystery, pushing beyond the dead-ends and brick walls that I have reached with my efforts up to this point.
- Lowe and Campbell Sporting Goods Building NRHP Registration Application
- Catalog – Lowe & Campbell Athletic Goods, 1935 – 1936
- L&C Vintage Clothing – Online Sales Listings
- Made In Chicago Museum – Wilson Sporting Goods
Lowe and Campbell vintage sports uniform examples:
- 1929 Notre Dame Football Sideline Jacket
- 1930’s Game-Worn/ Used Basketball Uniform – Jersey & Trunks
- 1948 London Olympics Team USA Rowing Uniform Items – Gold Medalist Lloyd Butler
- 1950s Ararat Shrine All-Star Uniform – 1956 Olympic Gold Medalist, Dick Boushka
(Postscript: Sometimes, my research uncovers fascinating facts that while contextual with my interests, further energy would take me into a different direction. What I discovered appears to be the only piece of Bolling Field baseball history that is available online. This fantastic snippet regarding a Women’s Army Auxilliary Corps veteran, Sergeant Theresa M. Dischler, who also played for the WAAC baseball team at the air field during her time in the service of her country.
One of my favorite personal accounts of World War II is found in Ensign George Gay’s autobiography, Sole Survivor: Torpedo Squadron Eight – Battle of Midway written by the only person of 30 naval aviators and crew of USS Hornet’s (CV-8) Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) that launched from the carrier to survive the first attack on the Japanese carries during the initial assault. Ensign George Gay would watch the entirety of the battle floating in the water after having ditched his Douglas TBD Devastator after being damaged by enemy fire. The story was harrowing as U.S. Naval air forces from the three carriers, which included the Enterprise (CV-6) and Yorktown (CV-5), executed the initial attack on the Imperial Japanese Navy forces and were devastated in the process.
While the Battle of Midway was a victory for the United States and the turning point of the war in the Pacific (placing the Japanese on the defensive until their unconditional surrender in 1945), it was a massive gamble and if things had gone differently, the entire West Coast and what remained of the United States Pacific territories would have been left wholly unprotected from the advancing Japanese navy. Nimitz’ battle paid off as did those of the men who actually carried the battle to the Japanese.
The story of VT-8 would otherwise be one of failure as Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron carried the battle to the Japanese and in doing so, had disobeyed the orders of his commanding officer and that of Hornet’s skipper, Marc Mitscher regarding which heading he was to proceed upon takeoff. Once airborne, LCDR Waldron changed direction (but failed to get the entire attacking force to follow), following his best assessment of where the enemy would be. Once his VT-8 squadron arrived, they were without American fighter protection and were cut to pieced by both Japanese fighters and shipboard anti-air gunnery. However, once the other squadrons of American torpedo and dive-bomber planes arrived, the Japanese fighters were out of position (having dropped down to engage VT-8. As a result of the lack of cover, the Japanese carriers were exposed for the American dive bombers (from squadrons VB-6, VS-6 and VB-3) to attack with success, destroying three Japanese carriers within six minutes of the commencement of their attack.
There were several men who played key roles in the success of the attack on the Japanese naval forces and there were decisions made with extremely high risk of failure that could have ended up in disaster but the gambles paid off. Many valor decorations were awarded for the actions spanning the dates of June 4-7, 1942 including the Navy Cross LCDR Waldron received (along with the 14 other VT-8 pilots). His citation reads:
The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Lieutenant Commander John Charles Waldron (NSN: 0-58825), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Torpedo Plane and Commanding Officer of Torpedo Squadron EIGHT (VT-8), attached to the U.S.S. HORNET (CV-8), during the “Air Battle of Midway,” against enemy Japanese forces on 4 June 1942. Grimly aware of the hazardous consequences of flying without fighter protection, and with insufficient fuel to return to his carrier, Lieutenant Commander Waldron resolutely, and with no thought of his own life, led his squadron in an effective torpedo attack against violent assaults of enemy Japanese aircraft fire. His courageous action, carried out with a gallant spirit of self-sacrifice and a conscientious devotion to the fulfillment of his mission, was a determining factor in the defeat of the enemy forces and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
Waldron’s leadership in trying moments (his pre-flight orders and his decision to attack without fighter cover) was heroic and he was so honored with the Navy’s highest, decoration (short of the Medal of Honor). As a naval aviator, his name was further esteemed when the Navy bestowed the aviator’s name upon a Naval Auxiliary Air Field (NAAF) near Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. NAAF Waldron was commissioned on April 1, 1943, ten months after the decorated aviator was shot down during the Midway battle. NAAF Waldron was established as a training base to develop, (appropriately) torpedo bomber pilots, continuing the education for naval aviation cadets. In addition to the naval training facilities constructed on the base, the need for these men to enjoy recreational downtime during their intense and rigorous training necessitated the construction of athletic areas and resources. As baseball was (and still is) our national pastime, fields and diamonds were built and leagues teams were established for active duty personnel as had been established at other naval training facilities (Norfolk, Chapel Hill, Fort Belvoir, Camp Pendleton and in Hawaii).
As with many other bases during WWII, NAAF (sometimes referred to as Naval Air Station – NAS) Waldron fielded a team of aviation cadets. At least two filling the roster of the Waldron team were veterans of the major leagues (Sam Chapman, a rising star outfielder of the Philadelphia Athletics and the Boston Braves’ pitcher, Johnny Sain). As of this publication date, there are no available records to research regarding games, game logs, wins or losses or complete rosters for the duration of the war.
My pursuit of military baseball uniforms (especially jerseys) is well-documented on this site. When a jersey bearing the Waldron name was listed at auction last fall, my interest was piqued, prompting me to begin researching the uniform in an attempt to validate the seller’s claims.
“RARE Waldron Field Baseball Jersey World War II NAS M-41 M-43 President Bush??Do you like World War II-era items? Do you like baseball?Then here’s your chance at acquiring the best of both worlds!Bid on or buy this EXTREMELY RARE Corpus Christi Waldron Field Naval Air Station Baseball Jersey from the days of World War II
Old heavy flannel made in Louisiana for the Texas team.This really belongs in a military or sports museum. Give it a good home.MORE RARE than a combat-worn M-41 or M-43 jacketHOW RARE??? There are 20-25 players to a team, plus a handful of coaches = NOT MANY JERSEYS!GOOD LUCK FINDING ANOTHER!”
The listing and the photos were captivating and soon I was performing due diligence in determining of the seller’s claims were valid. Prior to seeing the auction, I had no idea if a “Corpus Christi Waldron Naval Air Station” base in existence or if there ever was one. I seldom get buoyed by the attempts to fuel emotional responses so I immediately disregarded all of the other information that the seller provided. I also took note that there was no mention of any provenance or if it was associated with any estates. One off-putting aspect of the listing was that the asking price was well above what these jerseys typically sell for. Often times, sellers will initially list them at a high buy-it-now and initial bid amount as they are hopeful that there would be a knee-jerk, trigger-pull response to bidding. The lack of interest at such a high price will prompt the seller to enter into a cycle of re-listing, reducing the price each time. In this case, I watched this happen twice and then decided to contact the seller at the end of the second listing.
My researching of the jersey led me to the information about the Waldron Naval Auxiliary Air Field and subsequently, the photo (shown above) of the ball club in uniform. While my research wasn’t conclusive in terms of confirming that the seller’s Waldron jersey was, in fact from this team, I was able to rule out every high school named “Waldron.” Also, the lettering of the auction jersey, made of road gray wool flannel and a two-color (blue and red) soutache trimmed around the placard and the sleeve cuffs. Also, the jersey’s design was representative of the early-to-mid 1940s and the “W A L D R O N” lettering was applied to this jersey exactly as it is in the NAAF team photo (seen above).
Armed with my information and not wanting to tip my cards to the seller that I was really interested, I did pass along to him the sale-price history of similar military jerseys for the last few months and years. After some back-and-forth dialogue, we were able to negotiate a fair price for the jersey but I needed to wait a week to be able to pay the price (this was getting close to the Christmas holidays and my budget was very restricted). When I was ready and the appointed day arrived to execute the deal we struck…nothing. The seller re-listed the jersey for a significantly higher (than the initial listing price). After further correspondence in attempting to ascertain what went wrong, I realized that I was best to simply let go of the transaction and see what would happen with the auction.
As I predicted to my wife, the jersey did not sell and the auction ended. Weeks rolled by into nearly two months since that latest listing when he made another attempt. This time, the seller included a “best offer” functionality to the listing and I submitted the same price as what was negotiated more than two months prior. The seller countered my offer (it was reasonable, if unethical…but who am I to argue? I really wanted to have the jersey) and I accepted and quickly paid the seller. What happened next perplexed me. The seller sent a message to inform me of the anticipated date of shipment, ” This will ship by Saturday. Enjoy,” he wrote. “And please let me know what you get for this when you re-sell it. I’m curious what you’ve got here,” his closing sentence left me perplexed. Did he honestly think that I spent more than three months of effort and energy just to turn around and flip it for profit – considering he was wholly unable to do this? After follow-up discussion, I informed him of my efforts and he satisfactorily explained himself further but I was still scratching my head. It was the first time that a seller made such a comment to me in more than 500 transactions spanning 17 years.
The jersey arrived as promised and it was fantastic to place this artifact among my (now) eight vintage military baseball jerseys and uniforms.
Author’s Note: World War II was especially difficult for the Waldron Family. Not only did LCDR Waldron’s (ten years-older) sister lose her brother during the Battle of Midway in 1942, but she also lost her youngest son, Major Robert Phillip, USMC, a naval aviator when his aircraft was lost at sea slightly more than a year after her brother was killed. Major Phillip’s aircraft was lost on June 24, 1943 in the waters near Manono Island (Samoa). As devastating as these two losses were, the cost of the war to the Waldron family wasn’t yet finished. Alice Island “Isle” (Waldron) Phillips oldest son, Commander George Phillip Jr. paid with his life during the Battle of Okinawa on 16 June 1945 when the destroyer that he commanded, USS Twiggs (DD_591) was sunk after a Japanese torpedo plane struck the ship with a torpedo then circled back in a kamikaze attack, igniting a mass-conflagration of explosions and flames. The Twiggs sank within an hour and Commander Phillip went down with his ship and 151 other men.
Missing out on pieces that would fit perfectly with what I collect is becoming too common of an occurrence for me lately. I am not one who spends my weekends scouring garage and estate sales in search of these precious artifacts but perhaps there might be something to that activity. The problem with taking that approach is that there is a considerable time commitment required just to make it worthwhile and to afford chances to find such treasures. Another challenge is that these military baseball artifacts are so hard to find due to the small population of service members who played the game during their time in the armed forces. I find that it is best to take my chances with the collections, personal items – pieces that are listed by veterans, family members, collectors and pickers.
It is not secret that my tendencies in collecting, both with militaria and in military baseball are towards the Navy and I work harder to land those related items that surface within the marketplace. Often, there are pieces that are of little interest to other collectors or they are listed in such a manner that they elude people who might be using a few different (yet limited or too specific) search criterion or formulas. Even I have missed out on pieces because I was too lazy to search beyond my normal, standby perfunctory methods.
Sometimes, I make discoveries of items that perfectly fit my collection and line up with everything that interest me but are discovered because I was exploring a tangential interest. One example of this was when I was seeking a specific rating badge (a WWII-era bullion Radarman version), I discovered a binder filled with shipyard modernization work orders that belonged to a Chief Electrician (a warrant officer) who used for the heavy cruiser, USS Vincennes (CA-44) that would later be sunk in the Battle of Savo Island in August of 1942.
My collection of Navy baseball artifacts, despite my best efforts, are scantily few. It seems that besides the there being so few pieces in existence, the competition for those items can be quite fierce.
Vintage military photographs are something that I collect. In addition to my naval ship and military baseball photograph archive, I also have several images that were part of a veteran’s photo scrapbook from his service in the 20th Air Force. Among those images of ground activities, bombing missions, wrecked aircraft and airmen enjoying downtown between missions, there are images of several B-29s and their nose art.
Nose art, especially what was seen on B-17 an B-29 bombers, has considerable following for collectors and historians alike. When the number of just these two types of aircraft (12,731 B-17 and 3,970 B-29 bombers) are considered coupled with the notion that the majority of them (that were deployed to their respective theaters of the war), there would be thousands of differing paintings and illustrations to be documented. In recent years, there have been several undertakings by historians who are seeking to locate photographs of every example of nose art for each aircraft. If the photograph exists, these folks want to have it.
In terms of collectors, those who pursue painted bomber jackets in particular, to possess both the jacket and photographic artifacts from the same ship help to make a great display. I have never actually purchased a vintage photo of a bomber or other Air Force aircraft.
A few days ago, while I was browsing through some listings of B-29 photographs taken on Tinian and Saipan (the two principle bases of operation for bombing missions to the Japanese homelands during the latter years of the War), I spotted a vintage photograph that was listed as a “nose art” image. In the thumbnail of the photo in the listing, I could see that there was a large gathering of men posed beneath the aircraft, which wasn’t unusual. What was out of the norm from what I have seen in other images was the sheer number of people lined up in multiple rows. Something about the men also caught my eye as it appeared different from all the photos that I had seen. The Superfortress looked normal though the nose art, from what I could tell, was quite diminutive compared to what was commonly applied to these massive planes.
I decided to open the auction listing and I was immediately astounded. There, in the formation ranks were a few recognizable faces – Johnny Mize, Pee Wee Reese and Fred Hutchinson to name a few – among the 43 visible service members. Twelve of the men in baseball uniforms were wearing the road gray navy flannels while 14 were decked out in the pinstripes and blue home togs. Other men posing in the image are in the Army Air Forces and Navy military uniforms. The image appears to be a type-1 (defined as first generation photograph, developed from the original negative, during the period – within approximately two years of when the picture was taken) and the clarity is impeccable. It is obvious that the photograph was snapped by a professional war correspondent, judging by the exposure and composition, regardless of the cropping out of men on the edges of the group.
I really wanted to land this photograph. Not wanting to risk being outbid, I set my amount for more than twice the highest price that I have ever paid for a vintage photograph. I could see that there were some new-to-eBay folks (those who place bids very early after an item is listed) which gave me a little bit of concern as these people tend to drive prices unnecessarily high (my bid won’t show until just prior to the close of the auction). I waited the remaining five days for the close of the bidding and hoped for the best.
I wish that I could say that my bid amount was enough to bring this photograph home to me but someone else with deeper pockets and, very obviously in possession of the knowledge of the significance of this rare photograph took the same actions as I did and placed a higher bid at the same time (just seconds before the auction’s close) that mine was made. Losing and missing out on this image was a painful lesson to learn. If the item matters this much, I had better step up to the plate and take a real swing.
At least I was able to grab a digital copy (albeit, low resolution) for posterity.