The Navy’s Little Colonel: Chief Athletic Specialist Harold “Pee Wee” Reese
Pee Wee Reese is one of the most beloved Dodgers of all time. In recent years, Reese’s career has been overshadowed in pop culture by his on field display of humanity when he his arm around the shoulders of teammate Jackie Robinson during the former Kansas City Monarch shortstop’s groundbreaking rookie season. While it was certainly a defining moment and worthy of being showcased on film and immortalized in a statue, Reese’s career on the diamond is what led to enshrinement in baseball’s Hall of Fame.
In 16 seasons spanning the years 1940 to 1958, Reese built a career that led saw him named to 10 National League All-Star teams while helping his team win seven pennants and one World Series championship. During those 19 years, Reese, along with 500 major league colleagues, lost time from the game as he served his country during World War II. From 1943 to 1945, Pee Wee’s career was on hold and very little of those three years is documented beyond a sparse few paragraphs.
Our three-part series serves to fill in the gap with details of Reese’s rime spent in Navy service dress uniform along with the time he took up station in his familiar diamond roost not for the Dodgers but with the Norfolk Naval Air Station Fliers, Aiea Naval Hospital Hilltoppers, Navy All-Stars, Fifth Fleet and the Third Marine Division All-Stars in addition to his duties as a graduate of the Commander Gene Tunney Athletic Specialist training program.
Surplus Middle Infielder: Pee Wee Reese Flies High in the Navy (1943)
Seven weeks after the Japanese signed the instrument of surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay before a throng of sailors and Marines surrounding the starboard deck beside turret number two, a breakthrough took place nearly 7,000 miles away in Brooklyn, New York as two men signed a contract that spelled the end of major league baseball’s impenetrable color barrier. As Kansas City Monarch second baseman and former Army Second Lieutenant Jackie Robinson and Brooklyn Dodger general manager Branch Rickey signed the player contract that would send the former for seasoning in the Dodgers’ farm system at Montreal, a former Dodger middle infielder was made aware of the ground-breaking circumstance while aboard transport from Guam back to the States.
On the home front, both the Army and Navy were…Continue reading Surplus Middle Infielder: Pee Wee Reese Flies High in the Navy
A Tropical and Baseball Paradise: Reese Lands at the (Aiea Naval) Hospital (1944)
Following the conclusion of the 1943 baseball season at Norfolk, Boatswain’s Mate First Class Harold “Pee Wee” Reese was serving as the manager for the Norfolk Naval Air Station’s basketball team while he completed his athletic instructor training at the base’s “Tunney School.”
Former heavyweight champion Gene Tunney, known as the “Fighting Marine” due to his service during the Great War, recognized the need for continuous, rigorous physical training…Continue reading A Tropical and Baseball Paradise: Reese Lands at the (Aiea Naval) Hospital
From The Pacific to Cooperstown (1945)
The winter months of 1944-45 provided some of the fiercest fighting of the war for American troops in both the European and Pacific combat theaters. The late October battle of Leyte Gulf paved the way for the coming invasion of the Philippines as General Douglas MacArthur was set to deliver on his promise to the Filipino people and to the Americans taken captive by the Japanese. Early January saw that promise fulfilled as the nearly eight-month campaign to wrest the Japanese occupiers from the islands commenced. As the 1944 calendar flipped to 1945, the Battle of the Bulge in Europe was into its third week, with heavy casualties from the enemy that were exacerbated by the harshest winter in decades.
On the home front, both the Army and Navy were dealing with a public relations mess following…Continue reading From the Pacific to Cooperstown