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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1918 Receiving Ship, Brooklyn Navy Yard Team 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

See also:

 

 

 

 

Remembering Pearl Harbor and the Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first Norfolk NTS artifact in the Chevrons and Diamonds collection: this 1943 Norfolk Bluejackets team photo featured many major leaguers including Fred Hutchinson (back row, 6th from right), Dom DiMaggio (front row, 2nd from left) and (front row, 2nd from right) Rizzuto (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection.

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

April 1943 Norfolk Naval Training Station program and scorecard for their season opener against the Washington Senators.

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

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

Another vintage photograph in our collection. The original caption (affixed to the reverse) reads: “New York: Phil Rizzuto, left, and Terry Moore, former Card captain and center fielder, are now part of the armed services. They got an opportunity to be present at the World Series and turned up in their uniforms to be given a hearty welcome by their teammates (Oct. 11, 1943).” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

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

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

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

One of our two vintage photos showing Rizzuto in Brisbane, Australia, summer 1944. Shown are: Back Row (L-R): Charlie Wagner, Don Padgett, Benny McCoy. Front Row: Dom DiMaggio, Rocco English, Phil Rizzuto (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

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

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

The second of our vintage photos taken in Brisbane. Rizzuto is kneeling second from the right (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

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

At Furlong Field for the Service World Series in the fall of 1944. Left to right are: Ken Sears, Joe Rose, Phil Rizzuto, Marv Felderman. (Mark Southerland Collection).

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

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

1944 Hawaii Service World Series Results: 

  • September 22 – Furlong Field, Hickam (Navy, 5-0) 
  • September 23 – Furlong Field (Navy, 8-0) 
  • September 25 – Schofield Barracks (Navy, 4-3) 
  • September 26 – Kaneohe Bay NAS (Navy, 10-5) 
  • September 28 – Furlong Field (Navy, 12-2) 
  • September 30 – Furlong Field (Navy, 6-4) 
  • October 1 – Furlong Field (Army, 5-3) 
  • October 4 – Maui (Navy 11-0) 
  • October 5 – Maui (Army 6-5) 
  • October 6 – Hoolulu Park, Hilo (Tie, 6-6) 
  • October 15 – Kukuiolono Park (Navy, 6-5) 

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

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

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

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

See also:

Colonel R. D. Johnson: On the Mound and In Command at 59

While baseball history is a central aspect of our on-going project (uncovering and sharing the history of baseball within the armed forces), it is in the dovetailing with the history of the armed forces that is of the utmost importance in our work. When we acquire historical pieces, the research efforts can be rather lengthy or stalled depending upon the availability of resources and the information that can be extracted from a piece. Often, our projects are stalled and subsequently relegated to the back-burner to keep warm as we await a key piece of information to unblock our efforts.

Acquiring and researching this 1943 Fort Lewis Warriors team photo was an eye-opening endeavor that allowed us to shine light on baseball and military history that has long been forgotten. The identifications of the team are as follows:
Back Row: Bill Brown, Bob Kubicek, Hal Lee, Wynn Pintarell, McGale
Middle Row: Unknown, Paul Dugan, John Stepich, Morris Arnovich, Colonel Robert Johnson, Herm Reich, Unknown
Front Row: Ed Erautt, Joe Brizer, George “Pewee” Handy, Steve Sackus, Unknown
(Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Acquiring the vintage photo of the 1943 Fort Lewis Warriors team was certainly a cause celebration in how the door was opened for a truly rewarding research project that culminated in last week’s story (see: Morrie Arnovich: Breaking Ground for Branch Rickey’s Bold Move). Diving into the team’s coach, former Philadelphia Phillies and New York Giants’ outfielder, Morrie Arnovich along with shining a spotlight on the team’s early integration in 1942 (five years ahead of the Brooklyn Dodgers with Jackie Robinson and six years before the armed forces were desegregated) with ace hurler Ford Smith (1942) and middle infielder, George Handy, was certainly a lot of information to consume. In focusing on the aforementioned three men, we left little room to talk about the other men who played on the ground-breaking squad. The 1943 image of the Warriors was not our first Fort Lewis baseball photograph.

For nearly a decade, our searches for baseball-related artifacts from our local region have been unproductive. Regardless of the search terms we used or the areas in which we focused our efforts, the results were the same. When breakthroughs have occurred in previous expeditions, what would surface seemed to meet a consistent standard. Whether the artifacts were equipment, uniform or photography-related, the item would generally be something impressive (at least to us).  Admittedly, the first Pacific Northwest-centric baseball item we were able to locate, if taken at face-value, would underwhelm nearly any collector.

At the time, it didn’t seem to be a significant piece of military baseball history but we acquired it, regardless. The caption affixed to the reverse reads: “FORT LEWIS, WASH. – Completing a colorful 34-year career as U.S. Army Officer and active participant in Army athletics, Col. Ronald D. Johnson, executive officer, Fort Lewis, Washington, and star moundsman on the Fort’s ball club, now turns in his baseball uniform and cleats. War Department retires Col. Johnson under edict retiring officers up to colonels of statutory age limit.” (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

The otherwise innocuous, and apparently staged photograph showed an older man, a coach perhaps, hanging a flannel jersey with bearing the number “8” on the back, on a bar inside the locker.  Wearing Army dress uniform trousers, a sleeveless tee shirt and a ball cap., the older gentleman is holding a fielder’s love in his opposite hand. On the photo’s reverse, a brown-paper caption slug is affixed. Rather than a photo of a posed team or one that spotlights a former professional ballplayer (now serving), this image is one of an aged warrior hanging up his flannels for the last time.

Retiring Army Athlete: LTCOL Ronald D. Johnson Retiring – October 2, 1943: FORT LEWIS, WASH. – Completing a colorful 34-year career as U.S. Army Officer and active participant in Army athletics, Col. Ronald D. Johnson, executive officer, Fort Lewis, Washington, and star moundsman on the Fort’s ball club, now turns in his baseball uniform and cleats. War Department retires Col. Johnson under edict retiring officers up to colonels of statutory age limit.”

A 59-year-old Colonel who was still pitching for a service baseball team? Who was this man and why was he being retired in the middle of an active war that was, at that time, still very much in question with nearly 250-days before D-Day? It was decided that there was enough interest in the subject, especially since this man was serving and playing baseball for the Fort Lewis team up until the moment that the photograph was captured.

Like we typically do with the arrival of vintage photographs, the image is scanned to obtain a workable digital copy that is then edited for exposure correction, surface repair and any enhancement that is needed to reveal the details of the subject. After completing the work on this photo and saving it to our cloud library, we moved onto preparations for a public showing of our artifacts (see: Always Prepared: Landing a WWII U.S. Coast Guard Baseball Uniform). Largely forgotten and entirely un-researched, the image of Colonel Johnson didn’t return to the forefront of our research until the arrival of the 1943 Fort Lewis Warriors team photo.

Cadet Ronald D. Johnson (source: The Howitzer, 1909)

As we began our research project for the ‘43 Warriors, one of the first players that was recognizable besides the team’s manager, Private Morrie Arnovich, was Colonel Ronald D. Johnson.

Ronald DeVore Johnson was born and raised on the banks of the Willamette River, south of Portland in Oregon City, Oregon on November 1, 1883. His father, W. Cary Johnson, an attorney who was born in Ohio while his mother, Josephine Johnson (nee DeVore) originated in Illinois, were married in 1868 in Multnomah, Oregon. Ronald was the youngest of five children and an athlete as a youth, playing football and baseball from an early age.  Ronald Played for the Portland Academy (starting in 1901) and for the Multnomah Amateur Athletic Club before taking his skills to Stanford University for a semester (where he also played baseball) before accepting his 1905 appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.

Cadet Ronald D. Johnson is standing in the front row, second from the right with the 1906 West Point team (source: The Howitzer, 1907)

From 1905 through 1909, Ronald D. Johnson excelled at West Point. He was the starting quarterback for the Cadets for three seasons (1906-08) as well as the starting catcher (he also pitched). In 1908, Johnson established himself as an end and earn recognition among college football’s nine best in the position among the 1908 Walter Camp All Americans.

Seated at the far left, cadet Ronald D. Johnson is shown with the 1907 West Point baseball team (source: The Howitzer, 1908)

In 1909, Johnson switched to the fullback position blocking and carrying the ball, moving to the backfield on the West Point gridiron. One of Johnson’s gridiron teammates (and fellow ‘09 classmates) was George Smith Patton, a stellar athlete in his own right (see: Military Veterans Aiming for Gold: Collecting Olympics Militaria).  On the diamond, Johnson set aside the tools of ignorance anchoring a spot in the outfield of the Cadet baseball team. With his athletic prominence, Johnson earned honors as a “Wearer of the ‘A’” in 1907, ‘08 and ‘09, lettering in football and baseball.  He was graduated on June 11, commissioned as a second lieutenant in the cavalry.

With crossed bats between his legs and his catcher’s mitt at his feet, Ronald D. Johnson is seated in the center of the front row (source: The Howitzer, 1909).

Following his commissioning, Johnson was stationed in various locations including Fort Hood and Fort Sam Houston (he played football for the Fort Sam Houston team)  in Texas as well as the Presidio and the Disciplinary Barracks (Alcatraz Island) in California as war broke out in Europe.  During his first assignment with the Third Cavalry Regiment, he was married to the former Mabelle F. Osborn (of Colorado) in 1909 (they had two children, Frances, born April 13, 1913 and Ronald D., Jr. born February 24, 1915).

In 1917, First Lieutenant Johnson transferred to field artillery and was promoted to the rank of captain as the United States entered World War I. Serving as part of the American Expeditionary Force in France, with the 18th Field Artillery (seeing action at The Second Battle of the Marne, Vesle and the Argonne, Johnson’s wartime promotions were rapid as he was advanced to the rank of major and again (temporarily) to lieutenant colonel. During his WWI service, Johnson was decorated with the Silver Star medal (his accompanying citation has not yet been uncovered).

After the war, Johnson returned to the San Francisco Bay Area, in January of 1920.  Months prior to Johnson’s arrival, the Army Department invested in the construction of athletic facilities to improve the morale of the soldier-prisoners who were incarcerated (numbering well over 1,500 during WWI). With Lt. Col. Johnson’s love for sports, it can be safely assumed that he had a hand in baseball activities on “The Rock.” After his brief tour at Alcatraz, Johnson was honorably discharged but rejoined the army with the rank of major and was assigned to the 16th Field Artillery Regiment at Camp Lewis near Tacoma, Washington, where he would make his home for many years.

During the 1920s, Johnson and his wife, Mabelle divorced.  The Army officer was not alone for long as he married Camille Justvig Branham and was reassigned to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Johnson’s new marriage increased the size of his family as Camille had a son and a daughter from her previous marriage and they added another son and daughter of their own to the mix  Not too long after his tour at Fort Sill, Lt. Colonel Johnson retired from the Army with nearly 25 years of service, on February 24, 1934, relocating back to Washington State to their home on the shores of Steilacoom Lake in the Interlaken neighborhood.

As Europe was once again gripped with war, leadership within the U.S. War Department was making what preparations they could as they were attempting to rebuild the depleted ranks and equipment while being handcuffed by the Neutrality Acts. With President Roosevelt’s signature on the Selective Service Act of 1940, the ranks began to swell in the late fall of that year. What the armed forces was greatly lacking was experienced officers. Though he had been retired for more than seven years, Lt. Colonel Ronald D. Johnson was recalled to active duty on March 5, 1941.

In 1943, Ronald D. Johnson, now a colonel, was assigned to Fort Lewis as the executive officer, the base’s second in command behind Colonel Ralph Rigby Glass, a veteran of the 1904-05 Philippine Insurrection and World War I. Throughout his army career, Johnson was an active athlete playing football since the days of his youth. When former New York Giants and Philadelphia Phillies leftfielder, Private Morrie Arnovich was tapped to manage the Fort Lewis baseball team in 1943 for his second season at the base, the major leaguer added Colonel Johnson to his pitching staff having lost hist two 1942-season pitching aces, Ford Smith and Cy Greenlaw after they were both transferred.

Was Johnson added to the team out of respect for his position on the base? Did the colonel use his position to force Private Arnovich to open a roster spot? The questions are certainly fair to ask and unfortunately, the people who could have responded to them have long since passed away. Turning to the available research resources, the answer to this inquiry began to emerge.

The Fort Lewis Warriors were a highly competitive baseball team that faced teams with rosters that were similarly stocked with former major and minor league talent intermixed among former semi-professionals, collegiate and scholastic stars. The Lewis Warriors’ season schedule included playing within multiple leagues such as the Northwest Service League (consisting of regional military teams) and an area semi-pro league. Arnovich’s men also faced challenges from Pacific Coast League clubs such as the local Seattle Rainiers on several occasions and the league’s visitors including the San Diego Padres, Hollywood Stars, Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Seals, Oakland Oaks and Portland Beavers. Manager Morrie Arnovich’s 1942 squad fell just shy of taking all of their championship crowns and he built a team in ‘43 to ensure victory.

As Colonel Johnson’s forced retirement was announced in the fall of 1943, his story was carried in newspapers across the United States spotlighting the 59-year-old’s career in the Army and as an athlete. Not only did the story tell of his early exploits on the gridiron and diamond, it spotlighted his final season performance. As the Warriors vied for their titles, Johnson was racking up victories as a starting pitcher. Facing tough competition, Johnson who was nearing his 60th birthday, strung together 12-consecutive victories. The great Satchel Paige made his final appearance in 1966 with the Peninsula Grays (class “A,” Carolina League) when he was 59 years old, pitching two innings of a no-decision game and surrendering two runs on five hits. When Paige was 51 in the 1958 season (the last in which he was an effective pitcher), he made 28 starts for a 10-10 record and an incredible 2.95 ERA with the Miami Marlins (class “AAA” International League), but he was still eight years younger than Johnson. Two of Johnson’s 1943 victories garnered the attention of the press including his August 11, 13-5 victory over the  Army Air Forces team at Paine Field (he also drove in two runs, collecting two base hits and scoring two runs). On September 27, Johnson faced an Army Quartermaster baseball club, the “Mighty D” securing an 8-4 victory, his final of his career. Twenty-seven days later, Colonel Johnson was a civilian.

Though our research cannot account for Colonel Johnson’s baseball career in the years between his 1934 retirement and 1941 recall to active duty, it is safe to assume, based upon his performance during the 1943 season that he maintained his baseball acumen and abilities actively on the diamond. In the years following his retirement from the Army, Johnson and his wife Camille relocated to the Washington D.C. area, settling in Falls Church, Virginia. Eighteen years after his last pitch for the Fort Lewis Warriors, Colonel Ronald DeVore Johnson passed away in 1961 at the age of 78.

Aside from his athletic legacy, Colonel Johnson demonstrated a life of service to his children. His adopted son Walter Johnson graduated from the Merchant Marine Academy and served a career in the United States Coast Guard serving in both the Korean and Vietnam wars, retiring at the rank of Commander. Colonel Johnson’s grandson, Charles Edward Brown, Jr., graduated from West Point in 1965 and was killed in a combat-related accident on November 2, 1966, the day after what would have been his grandfather’s 83rd birthday. 1st Lt. Brown’s father, was Colonel Charles Edward Brown, Sr., a highly decorated combat veteran who served in the 6th Armored Division.  Colonel Brown was married to Johnson’s adopted daughter, Lorraine Johnson. Colonel Johnson’s oldest son, Ronald DeVore Johnson, Jr., was a journalist working as a reporter for the Shanghai Evening Post and the Philadelphia Bulletin before moving back to his hometown where he served as the political editor of the San Francisco Examiner and for the American Broadcasting Company’s news department.

While researching Colonel Johnson and seeking consultation from a colleague, our discussion surrounding Johnson’s career progression, more specifically, the appearance of a slow ascension through the ranks following his World War I service suggested that his forte was not as a combat arms officer (like his aforementioned 1909 classmate) .  However, with 33 years of combined active duty service, it is apparent that Colonel Johnson had much to offer the Army, even as an administrator. His physical fitness and athletic abilities clearly sustained him in his career and indicating that he was an outstanding baseball player.

Morrie Arnovich: Breaking Ground for Branch Rickey’s Bold Move

In a time of great trial faced by all of the nations of the globe, there was considerable uncertainty and doubt as to whether freedom and democracy would survive the tyrannical shroud that was surrounding and pulling tight. Europe, North Africa, the Far East and South Pacific were under siege and embroiled in genocidal mania of madmen leading up to December 7, 1941. Though the American public was being reminded of the events around the globe in the months leading up the Pearl Harbor attack, the nation was operating with the mindset of business as usual.

Challenges to the Validity of Records
Within the major league baseball sphere, players, press and fans were gripped by the offensive records being broken by two young outfielders playing for New York and Boston; Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, respectively.  Throughout two first-half months of the 1941 season, all eyes were on “Joltin” Joe DiMaggio as he progressed through American League pitching, extending his hitting streak game-by-game until it concluded on July 17th when he grounded a pitch from Cleveland’s Jim Bagby Jr. into a an eighth-inning double-play (the Yankees won, 4-3).  Once “The Streak” concluded, the eyes of baseball stared at Ted Williams who was in the midst of an incredible season at the plate on his way to establishing the final single-season batting-average above the .400 mark (at .406).

Many arguments are contained within the discussion of the 56-game streak attempting to discredit it or perhaps relegate it to the realm of the asterisk as was applied to Roger Maris’ single-season home-run record in 1961 (he had 162 games while Ruth, the previous record-holder had only 144 games to reach the superseded record of 60) due to DiMaggio’s not hitting against the best pitchers in the game (he saw only American League hurlers). Others gravitate to one of the more challenging debates regarding baseball’s more upsetting pasts.

Joe DiMaggio once stated that the best pitcher he ever faced (though not in a major league game) was the great Satchel Paige. Due to the owners’ unwritten Jim Crow rules banning black players from the major and minor leagues, black baseball players such as Paige, flourished within the Negro National League that was established in 1920 at the direction of Rube Foster (though organized black baseball had existed off and on since the mid-1880s). With the absolute exclusion of some of the game’s greatest players, the argument against the merits of DiMaggio’s streak cannot be dismissed.

Legalized Discrimination
As the United States began gearing up for its newly declared war on the Axis powers, the sad reality of segregation and Jim Crow laws still plagued the nation yet few considered it an injustice. As baseball’s color barrier would be breached until 1947, first by Jackie Robinson (with the Dodgers) and later that season by Larry Doby (with the Cleveland Indians), the U.S. Armed Forces would not see an integration order until an executive order was signed by President Truman in the summer of 1948. It is a sad irony that both Robinson and Doby enlisted to serve and to fight and potentially die for their nation and yet they were not afforded the same freedoms as white troops.

Cleveland Indians’ pitching ace, Bob “Rapid Robert” Feller is credited as the first major leaguer to enlist following the Pearl Harbor attack (on December 9, 1941) and yet, it seems that the first negro-league player to enlist is unknown. Perhaps the first was Leroy Bridges a veteran of the Black and Tan club from 1938-1941 who left baseball and ultimately pursued a career in the Army having served at Fort Bragg and in the Pacific Theater? Further research is clearly required to give credit where it is due.

Nearly two years ago, we published an article about the color barrier that existed within the military game during World War II (see: Breaking the Color Barrier in the Ranks and on the Diamond) and how the game was used to pierce the segregation wall. Without question, the segregation rules applied in all facets of the armed forces though there are several examples of integrated baseball teams in the offshore theaters. One of our earliest pieces of evidence of the color barrier’s breakage is within the Hawaiian Territory service leagues in 1944.

The rivalry between the Army and Navy that exists at present and is on full display with each annual Army/Navy service academy football game also existed within the service baseball leagues domestically and in the war theaters. With the Navy dispersing talented former professional ballplayers throughout their base team rosters (at that time, dominated by regular sailors) in the Hawaiian Islands, the level of competition overshadowed the Army teams prompting several generals to be more competitive. In 1944, major and top minor league talent was assembled from domestic Army teams with the nucleus of the highly successful McClellan Field (California) team was combined with a handful of Army players in the islands from the previous season along with Joe DiMaggio (pulled from the Santa Ana Air Base team) to form Hickam Field’s 7th Army Air Force squad. The 7th AAF team dominated the field and easily secured all of the Island’s league championships, sending the Navy to defeat.

As plans were drawn for the 1944 Service World Series, the Navy outdid the Army and gathered some of the best major leaguers who happened to be serving in Navy uniforms, dispersed around the world. Army leadership assembled their squad from players in the islands – the bulk of their squad came from the 7th AAF team – and added one player whose presence on the roster was in violation of existing segregation rules. Right-handed, pitcher, Hal Hairston was added to the Army roster having been a 1944-season pitching force for several Hawaiian League teams including the Athletics (a city league squad) and two Air Forces units; Wheeler Field and the 7th AAF. At present, there are no details surrounding the decision to add Hairston to any of the Army rosters (including that of the Service World Series).

Right-handed Sam Nahem, was born in Brooklyn accumulated a 10-8 record in his four big league seasons. Name was with the St. Louis Cardinals during the 1941 season (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

In his very detailed and well-sourced baseball player profile for Sam Nahem, scholar Peter Dreier wrote, “A few African Americans played on racially integrated military teams in the South Pacific,” his piece prominently states, referring, no doubt to Hal Hairston, “but not in other military installations.” Dreier concluded.  One of the most significant aspects of Nahem’s baseball career and life as an activist was the ballplayer’s sense of justice. Serving in the U.S. Army in the European Theater during World War II, “Subway Sam” assembled a post-VE Day team, the Oise All-Stars, which fought their way through a competitive field of teams that were made up of former major and minor leaguers. Perhaps Nahem was motivated by his altruism and quest for justice, Sam’s squad was rich in talent that included Willard Brown and Leon Day (two Negro Leaguers who would wind up enshrined in Cooperstown) defeating the best Army teams in Europe. Perhaps Nahem was equally motivated by his drive to win as he was at upsetting the racial status quo?

With the Armed Forces color barriers being perforated in the Pacific and Europe, it wouldn’t be until after President Truman’s 1948 desegregation order when the armed forces and, consequently service athletic teams, would finally be unified. That was the last word on the subject until we secured a fantastic piece of evidence that countered what previous evidence and Dreier’s Sam Nahem biography seemed to indicate. Through our process of curating vintage military baseball photography, we located a photo that depicted not only a wartime domestic Army base team but one that is local to us. The one area that we have been unable to source photographs was of those teams that played in our own backyard. As exciting as the discovery was, the make-up of the team proved to be an important discovery both in U.S. Military and baseball history.

The photo, clearly marked with the base, the team name and the date; “Fort Lewis Warriors, 1943 Champions” along with the (mostly legible) hand inscribed names of the personnel shown, prominently featured two African American ball players lined up with their teammates, proudly wearing their Warriors flannels. The photo of the 15 men flanked by two officers includes two African American players though only one of the men’s inscribed names was discernible (most of the players have been subsequently identified).

Acquiring and researching this 1943 Fort Lewis Warriors team photo was an eye-opening endeavor that allowed us to shine light on baseball and military history that has long been forgotten. The identifications of the team are as follows: (Back Row) Bill Brown, Bob Kubicek, Hal Lee, Wynn Pintarell, McGale. Middle Row: Unknown, Paul Dugan, John Stepich, Morris Arnovich, Colonel Robert Johnson, Herm Reich, Unknown.  Front Row: Ed Erautt, Joe Brizer, George “Pewee” Handy, Steve Sackus, Unknown (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)

Since the spring of 1942, the Fort Lewis Warriors had been managed by a six-year veteran major league outfielder who last played for the 1941 New York Giants. Born and raised on the shores of Lake Superior, 150 miles north of Minneapolis in a small city named for the large lake, Superior, Wisconsin, Morris “Morrie” Arnovich was the son of hard-working orthodox Jewish parents. By 1935, Arnovich’s baseball prowess in the class “D” Northern League with the Superior Blues captured the attention of major league scouts from the Philadelphia Phillies resulting in a contract and promotion to the club’s class “A” Hazelton (Pennsylvania) Mountaineers of the New York – Pennsylvania League. In the mid-1930s, Jewish major leaguers were still relatively few in numbers and anti-Semitism made life for these players a considerable challenge.

The Pioneer from Superior
Only a decade and-a-half had elapsed since the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal with Abe Attel  and Arnold Rothstein, two well-known members of the organized crime underworld, at the epicenter. The backlash against Jewish Americans was continual for the ensuing as the glowing embers of anti-Semitism were being fanned by baseball players, fans and even the media as a result of the dark cloud surrounding the 1919 World Series. Arnovich, no doubt, saw first-hand the glares and heard the grumblings and outright discriminatory epithets sent in his direction. Hank Greenberg, the most notable Jewish ballplayer of that era, faced a torrent of hatred and bigotry in virtually every ballpark that he played in.  Michael Beschloss wrote of Greenberg’s experiences in, Hank Greenberg’s Triumph Over Hate Speech (NY Times, July 25, 2014) though it did not compare to what black Americans faced, “Greenberg had to know that there was always the lurking danger that one of those fevered anti-Semites in the stands might someday turn to violence against him.” No doubt that Arnovich had to contend with the same concerns during his time in the game.

In the 1941-42 off-season, Morrie Arnovich’s contract was sold to the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association and on February 17, reported for his induction physical despite his previous deferment due to a minor physical disability. Almost three months to the day following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Morrie Arnovich was inducted into the U.S. Army at the rank of private despite having a year of college and several seasons of professional baseball under his belt. Upon completion of basic training at Fort Sheridan (just 10 miles south of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station), Private Arnovich was assigned to Fort Lewis, a massive 87,000-acre based cut into land covered in tall Douglas Fir forests and glacial-cut prairie near Tacoma, Washington. Upon his late-March arrival, Arnovich was named manager of the base’s baseball team.

Fort Lewis’ Secret
The addition of the 1943 Fort Lewis Warriors team photo to the Chevrons and Diamonds library generated significant excitement as it demonstrated that not only was there an example of an integrated service baseball team preceding those in the Pacific and European Theaters but also that it was within the Continental United States. The fact that this took place in our own backyard gave us a sense of pride knowing that the integrated Fort Lewis Warriors not solely competing against other service teams but they also faced professional minor league squads as well (Tacoma, Victoria, Spokane from the Western International League and Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Hollywood from the Pacific Coast League) which, no doubt help to pave a pathway for black players to the major leagues.

1943 Fort Lewis Warriors:

Rank Player Position Previous
PVT Morrie Arnovich MGR/OF Phillies/Giants
Lt. Bill Beard C Seattle Rainiers
Joe Brizer OF Northern League
Bill Brown P
SGT Charles “Chuck” Cronin
CORP Bill Diehl
SGT Paul Dugan
Eddie Erautt P Hollywood Stars
“Pee Wee” Handy NY Blank Yankees/Harlem Giants
Jack Knott P As, White Sox, Browns
Bob Kubicek C Cincinnati Org.
Sig Langsam P Kingsport (APPY)
Hal Lee OF Texas League
John Mauer SS III League
 McGale
Oscar “Red” Miller P San Francisco/Seattle
 Moore 2B
 Mrowczynski RF
SGT Wynn Joseph Pinterell IF Lincoln (Neb. State League
Herm Reich 1B WIL/Portland (PCL)
 Rodriguez OF
Steve Sakas P AA
SGT John Stepich Coach
Earl Torgeson 1B Seattle/Spokane
Aldon Wilkie P Pirates

In performing due diligence, we reached out to Gary Bedingfield (baseballinwartime.com) to share our findings and the photo. Gary’s reply was simple and seemingly nonchalant as he attached an image of the 1943 Salt Lake Army Air Base “Wings” team featuring three black players.  Our revelation of integrated service team baseball in the continental U.S. was a fact that he was well aware of.  Due to the limited legibility of the hand-inscriptions on each of the men in our photo, we pressed onward in our research in an attempt to positively identify each of the men.

George Handy
Aside from the very obvious names and faces such as major leaguers Arnovich and Eddie Erautt, a few minor league names were distinguishable such as Herm Reich, Hal Lee, Joe Brizer and Steve Sakas.  Of the two black team members names, only the name of the man seated in the front row was fully discernible; “Pee Wee” Handy.  Of the remaining names that were legible, “Col. Johnson” and Bill Brown stood out but required research to determine their prewar status.  The undetermined names that remained were going to require a greater effort in order to fully identify each of the men shown in the photo.

In order to obtain a “clean” copy of the 1943 Warriors team photo, we spent significant time removing the inscriptions, adjusting the exposure and repairing the surface damage (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).

Searching through archives of newspapers and the Sporting News from 1943 yielded fantastic results in terms of uncovering significant games from the Warriors’ season and the level of competition was significant. Bringing to bear online baseball almanacs helped to nail down a roster of players that were not shown in our 1943 photograph (perhaps due to the personnel turnover of players being reassigned or deployed to combat theaters).  To date, we have compiled a roster of 21 players from box scores, game recaps and articles that either provide great detail or at least mention the names of Warriors during the season and yet, three of the men (wearing their flannels) remain unidentified (and the partially-discernible names don’t match those found in our research) which raises the total to 23. In addition, there are two officers (again, with nearly illegible inscribed names) who can’t be aligned to what we have sourced. As with many of our photo-identity projects, time and perseverance will deliver success in this endeavor

George William Handy Jr. is listed as George Junior Handy on his WWII draft card.

Our 1943 Fort Lewis Warriors photo shows “Pee Wee Handy” and the player (“McGale”) in the back row (far right), both in their tam flannels among a team of Caucasian men.  Though there is some mention of Handy’s pre-war Negro League play in newspaper archives, his documented career commences after the war with the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League.  Handy was not the most challenging person we have researched, however there were multiple challenges that left us to make both informed decisions and best estimations in our attempt to document his baseball and army pathway.  We sourced several documents and news articles that, without a visual reference, lacked definitive proof. The first step (and perhaps what amounted to the catapult into the right direction) was Handy’s page on the Negro Leagues Database (Seamheads.com) which included an image (taken from a newspaper article) that clearly matched the man in the Warriors photo and he was wearing a Memphis Red Sox ball cap. That Seamheads.com site provided data that cross-referenced what was listed for Handy on Baseball Reference as well as additional detail. We were on our way for further sleuthing.

George William Handy Jr. (also listed as George Junior Handy) was born on December 5, 1924 in Wilson County, North Carolina. Soon after his 17th (or 22nd or 14th, depending on the source) birthday, Handy registered for the Selective Service (on December 28, 1942).  On June 13, 1942, George William Handy enlisted into the U.S. Army. According to the William J. Weiss baseball questionnaire (completed by the player), Handy, perhaps stretching the truth, listed his birth date as December 26, 1927 however precisely detailing his dates of Army service (June 13, 1942 – January 1, 1946). On the same questionnaire, Handy listed his previous professional baseball experience with the Knoxville Giants and Kansas Stars (most likely, the St. Louis Stars).

Providing the media with biographical information, questionnaires such as this one from William J. Wiess shed personal light on the lives of individual ball players. Some of the details provided by Handy are in conflict with official Army records.

The documentation also provides conflicting details surrounding his place of birth (either North Carolina or Tennessee) and yet there is (almost) no doubt that all of the research points to the same man and yet there were far more aligning data points that allowed us to correlate the information.

In the fall of 1949, Handy was featured as part of the Satchel Page All-Stars in this advert Jackson, Tennessee “Sun” Newspaper.

After his wartime service, George Handy was signed to and played two seasons with the Memphis Red Sox in 1947 and ’48. With the color barrier in the major leagues finally broken with Jackie Robinson’s ascension from the Montreal Royals to the Brooklyn Dodgers and his major league debut on April 15, 1947, other major league clubs began to follow suit. Handy made his professional debut with the Bridgeport Bees (Class “B” Colonial League) on April 8, 1949 (the league’s first black player) and elevating his level of play to the upper echelons of the league’s batting categories (batting average, slugging percentage, home-runs), attracting the attention of major league scouts.

As the Colonial League’s season wound to a close, Handy’s contract was purchased by the National League Boston Braves on September 27, seemingly Boston’s first move to integrate the Braves. Three days after Boston singed Handy, the club purchased another former Negro Leaguer, Sam Jethroe from the Dodgers organization. Both Handy and Jethroe were at the Braves’ spring training camp in February of 1950. Jethroe, having spent 1948-49 with Montreal, was seasoned and ready for a call up to the big leagues in 1950 and would go on to secure the National League Rookie of the Year award. Meanwhile, Handy continued in the minor leagues until 1955, his last season in organized ball with Winston-Salem (class “B” Carolina League) when he was released on July 31.

Though he never attained his goal of playing in the major leagues, Handy was a pioneer in the Army and in organized baseball. Before the great Satchel Paige was signed and brought up to the Cleveland Indian’s roster, he tapped George Handy to play on his barnstorming squad where he hit .326 and crushed 23 homeruns in just 60 games. Beside Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige serving as his manager on the barnstorming squad, Handy played for Jimmie Foxx (at Bridgeport), Pepper Martin (Miami Beach) and Ken Silvestri (Winston-Salem). Throughout his career, he played alongside several major leaguers including Dan Bankhead, Ed Erautt and Arnovich.  To my surprise, Handy was not the first black baseball player at Fort Lewis.

Assembling the Fort Lewis Warriors
With our attempt to properly document the Fort Lewis Warriors baseball team, our research had to encompass the entirety of the War, especially considering  his arrival at the base in late-March, 1942 and his immediate assignment to take the helm of the base’ team. Along with our attempts to fully-document the Warriors, one of our objectives was to determine who may have played a role in assigning players and building the roster and who had the final decision-making authority.  As we waded through the information regarding the team, it became apparent that we were far away from answers to our questions. Instead, we have to make our best determination and hope that such an answer will surface in the future.

With our attempt to properly document the Fort Lewis Warriors baseball team, our research had to encompass the entirety of the War, especially considering  his arrival at the base in late-March, 1942 and his immediate assignment to take the helm of the base’ team. Along with our attempts to fully-document the Warriors, one of our objectives was to determine who may have played a role in assigning players and building the roster and who had the final decision-making authority.  As we waded through the information regarding the team, it became apparent that we were far away from answers to our questions. Instead, we have to make our best determination and hope that such an answer will surface in the future.

Baseball competition existed at Fort Lewis prior to Arnovich’s arrival however, rather than the existence  of a top-level base team such as the Warriors, the tenant commands fielded their own unit-based teams (such as the squad from Company “L” of the 161st Infantry or the 41st Division All-Star, both of which played their way into championship tournaments in 1941), competing within regional semi-professional leagues. We have concluded that the appointed manager, Private Morris Arnovich was charged with assembling the Warriors from the ranks of soldiers assigned to the base.

For the 1942 season between the months of March and July, little documentation exists regarding the Warriors on-field performance. On June 6, 1942, Fort Lewis’ new stadium was dedicated and christened soon after with a three-run Arnovich homerun against the Western International League team, the Tacoma Tigers. By late July, news of Arnovich’s squad’s success is considerable as the team was dominant in both the regional semi-pro and budding service baseball leagues. For a few weeks spanning from late June until early July, Arnovich was pulled from Fort Lewis by Lieutenant Mickey Cochrane to serve on the 1942 Service All-Star team (which faced the 1942 American League All-Stars at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium) on July 7th and were on the losing end of the fund-raiser event, 5-0.

Arnovich worked out with the other former major leaguers in preparation for the the upcoming All-Star game. This vintage photo shows the men in an array of various uniforms. The original caption reads, “July 3, 1942 – Service All-Stars at Great Lakes Training Station – Here are stars whose names appear on the roster pf the Service All-Stars at Great Lakes Training Station. Left to right: Emmett Mueller, Philadelphia-infielder; Morrie Arnovich, N.Y. Giants-outfielder; Mickey Harris, Boston Red Sox-pitcher; John Sturm, Yankees-infielder; John Grodzicki, St. Louis Cardinals-Pitcher; Cecil Travis, Washington-outfielder; Ken Silvestri, Yankees-catcher; Pat Mullin, Detroit-outfielder; Lieutenant George Earnshaw, coach; Fred Hutchinson, Detroit-pitcher; Vincent Smith, Pittsburgh-catcher; Bob Feller, Cleveland-pitcher; Sam Chapman, Athletics-infielder (Chevrons and Diamonds Collection).”

A Second Discovery: Ford Smith
Aside from the success of Arnovich’s 1943 campaign and the diverse team make-up with Handy and McGale on the roster, we were even more astounded to find that 1943 was built upon a desegregated foundation that was laid in 1942 at Fort Lewis.  Aside from the well-stocked roster of former minor leaguers (many of whom were stars of the local Western International League), Arnovich’s pitching rotation included a tall, young and untested right-handed pitcher who previously occupied roster spots on the Chicago American Giants (1939), Indianapolis Crawfords (1940, the team’s only season) and the Kansas City Monarchs (1941). John Ford Smith was used sparingly with the Monarchs but shared the roster with greats such as Satchel Paige, Willard Brown (a key player on Sam Nahem’s Oise All-Stars in Germany in 1945) and Hilton Smith (all Cooperstown enshrinees).

1942 Fort Lewis Warriors:

Rank Player Position Previous
CORP Joe Albanese P Tacoma
PVT Morrie Arnovich MGR/OF  Phillies/Giants
Lt. Bill Beard C Seattle /Spokane
 Bellows SS
PFC Harv Clutter IF Stockton
PVT John DeGrazio IF Sheboygan
PVT Al Eull RF
PVT Cy Greenlaw P Vancouver
Lt. Val M. Kirk Athletic Officer
SGT Ruben Litzenburger C Amateur (Portland)
Joe McNamee C Spokane
PVT Lewis Moses Trainer
CORP Ray Nordell OF Albuquerque
Charlie Norton P
SGT Wynn Joseph Pinterell IF Lincoln (Nebraska State League
CORP Herm Reich 1B/Capt Portland/Tacoma
PFC Billy Scheske IF Fon Du Lac
PFC Billy Sewell WSC (WSU)
CORP Hank Shuback
PFC Al Shultz OF WISSL
SSGT Ford Smith P KC Monarchs
SGT John Stepich Coach
CORP Don Wymer P Cal League

As was the case for George Handy, Ford Smith broke down barriers when he became the New York Giants first pitcher signed from the Negro Leagues. Signed on January 28, 1949 together with former Newark Eagles outfielder and first baseman (and future Hall of Famer), Monte Irvin (who served in the Army’s  all-black 1313th General Services Engineer Regiment in the European Theater during WWII, including the Battle of the Bulge), Smith was assigned to the New Jersey Giants for the 1950 season

A brief bio and assembly of George Handy images the underscore the impact that he had in Bridgeport, Connecticut baseball history (source: MikeRoer.com).

Fort Lewis hosted the Portland Beavers on 20 July 1942, a day after taking on the Seattle City League leading squad from Universal Printing. The Printers were a force to be reckoned with having taken down the Naval Air Station Sand Point Fliers. In the tune-up against Universal, Fort Lewis’ bats tallied 18 hits against three different pitchers racking up 11 runs in the second inning.

The Warriors team attracted a lot of attention drawing more than 4,500 in a game against the Tacoma Tigers at their ballpark. The Warriors defeated the Tigers 5-1 in the 14-inning contest. In the August 9, 1942 Spokesman Review, Ford Smith was billed as Fort Lewis’ star hurler,” mentioned with other stars such as Arnovich, Herm Reich, Billy Sewell and Cy Greenlaw.

On Sunday, August 30, the Warriors traveled to Oregon to face the Portland Air Base All-Stars to in a Bat and Ball Fund benefit game at George E. Waters Park. In the Capital Journal (Salem, Oregon), the game was in high demand as there was an “incessant demand by fans to see the famous colored pitcher, Smith, in action.” The Portland fans were disappointed as Smith pitched a four-hit shutout on the previous day as he faced an Oregon state all-star team. In the August 30 game, Arnovich assuaged the fans with a ninth inning home run in the 2-0 victory over the Portland Air Base nine.

By September 12, the Warriors’ record was 30-6 heading into a decisive three-game championship series against Edo Vanni’s Naval Air Station Pasco’s “Fliers” at Ferris Field in Spokane having lost the first game in Tacoma, 11-8. Arnovich made the decision to start Cy Greenlaw over Ford Smith (perhaps saving his ace for the third game) in game two of the Northwest Service League championship series. Unfortunately for the Warriors, Greenlaw lost his effectiveness in the third inning and the offense was stymied by Pasco. Vanni’s Fliers captured the series and the league championship with an 8-0 shutout.

Fort Lewis’ All-Around Athletes
With the conclusion of the 1942 baseball season, changes were afoot for the Warriors. Arnovich took a bad fall sending his throwing arm through a window resulting in serious lacerations. The damage was so severe that his professional baseball career was in question awaiting the outcome of his recover. During baseball off-season, several of the ballplayers were tapped to play for the Fort Lewis basketball team including Bill Diehl, Paul Dugan and Herm Reich with Morrie Arnovich taking the reins. Arnovich guided the Fort Lewis Warriors to the top of the Northwest Service Basketball taking on service, college and industrial league teams. The Warriors matched up against the Harlem Globetrotters on three separate occasions with at least two wins (the results of the third game are yet to be uncovered). Ahead of the 1943 season, Arnovich lost his top starting pitchers as Cy Greenlaw was reassigned and Ford Smith entered an officer training program on his way to earning his commission. With the loss of several players in addition to the two aces of his pitching staff, Arnovich pulled together another competitive roster.

A recent arrival to the Chevrons and Diamonds Collection is this 8×10 capture of Morrie Arnovich’s Fort Lewis Warriors basketball team. The original photo caption for this image reads, “February 28, 1943: The Fort Lewis Warriors, one of the strongest service basketball teams on the Coast, have tossed their hat into the ring for the Pacific Northwest service hoop championships to be held in the Civic Auditorium, tomorrow, Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Here is the Fort Lewis hoop personnel: Back row, left to right: Lieutenant Colonel Alvie L. Merrill, post special officer; Sergeant Paul Dugan; Corporal Bill Diehl; Sgt. Herman Reich; Pvt. Lewis Amory; Capt. Val Kirk, assistant special officer and director of athletics. Front row: Lou Moses, trainer; Pvt. Jack Coombs; Pvt. Kenneth Oberbruner; Sgt. Stanley Groml; Sgt. Paul Gill; Sgt. Ralph Kelly; Pvt. Morris Arnovich, coach. Not in the picture are Sgt. John Stepich, assistant coach and Bill Kirk, mascot.”
(Chevrons and Diamonds Collection)”

For two years, Private Morrie Arnovich fielded two baseball clubs that dominated the competition and secured championships while attracting large crowds. Arnovich’s clubs energized baseball fans of the Pacific Northwest who, no doubt, understood that history was being made with the integrated team club from Fort Lewis, Washington. It is unknown what Morrie Arnovich’s motivations were but his decision to field an integrated team underscored what having the best players, regardless of their ancestral heritage, provides the best opportunity to win. Perhaps it was this example that the future commissioner of major league baseball witnessed during a January 1943 visit to Fort Lewis. Kentucky Senator, A. B. “Happy” Chandler, while visiting Fort Lewis’s Commanding Officer, Colonel Ralph R. Glass, requested a meeting with the former Phillies and Giants outfielder, describing Arnovich as, “One of my favorite ballplayers.” Not only did Chandler take the opportunity to enjoy the company of a major leaguer but, no doubt, Arnovich shared the success of his club and the make-up of the team and praising the talents of his players such as Ford Smith.

Following the 1943 season, Arnovich was reassigned for duties overseas, landing in the South Pacific, serving as an Army postal clerk in New Guinea where he connected with Hugh Mulcahy and Ken Silvestri. In 1945, his assignment took him to the Philippines where he was with the Army Replacement Depot and played baseball in Manila. Lacking in the points to rotate home following Japan’s surrender, Tech Arnovich remained in the Philippines until returning to the U.S. for discharge in December. With nearly four years of Army service, Morrie Arnovich was discharged as a Technician fifth grade, better known as a “Tech Corporal” (T/5).

Resuming Careers After the War
After the war both Handy and Smith both continued their baseball careers back in the Negro Leagues.  Even  before the war’s end, changes were afoot in major league baseball with Kansas City Monarchs infielder and former Army officer, Jack Roosevelt Robinson met with Dodgers President Branch Rickey met to discuss the torrent of anger and hatred the first black major leaguer would surely face. The outcome of that August 28, 1945 meeting was an agreement between Robinson and the Dodgers setting in motion the integration of what, until that moment, was known as “white” baseball.  At the time of the October 23, 1945 signing of Robinson to a contract with the Montreal Royals (for the 1946 season), most of the United States’ wartime overseas forces were awaiting their return trip home for discharge including Morrie Arnovich who was in the Philippines.

Ford Smith returned to the Monarchs for the 1946 season and launched into the best years of his baseball career. George Handy resumed his career with the Memphis Red Sox in 1947. As both players’ careers were on upward trajectories, Arnovich’s baseball career was heading in a different direction. Instead of resuming where he left off, Morrie Arnovich played in his only and final major league game on April 21, 1946 as his Giants were hosted by Brooklyn. Arnovich’s last game saw him start and finish the game with the same batting average as he managed three infield groundouts for his three plate appearances. Arnovich spent the rest of ’46 with the Jersey City Giants (class “AA” International League).

Morrie Arnovich continued to participate with history-making integration of baseball his club faced Robinson’s Montreal Royals early in the 1946 season. As Jersey City faced the Royals on May 2, 1946, Arnovich had quite an offensive showing as he went 2 for 6 with a homerun, two runs scored and three RBI. Meanwhile, Jackie Robinson was 1-3 in the 12-inning, 9-9 tie as the game called due to darkness. The following day, May 3, 1946, Arnovich was 1-2 with an RBI in the top of the fourth which was the final tally for the Giants. Though he was listed as injured and did not start the game, Robinson batted in the pinch-hit in the seventh inning for the pitcher but was hitless as Jersey City secured the victory, 4-3 over the hometown team.

When Robinson was called up to the Dodgers for the 1947 season, breaking the game’s long-standing exclusionary barrier, Arnovich could have taken pride knowing that his efforts at Fort Lewis during 1943 and ’43 played a foundational role in righting a wrong in the game that he loved.

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