For most of our lives, we have been surrounded by people who were our neighbors, letter carriers, doctors, dentists, nurses or even grandparents or parents. They were ordinary people who lived ordinary lives. We encountered them every day and were entirely oblivious to the extraordinary lives they lived decades before. They didn’t dwell upon the things of the past as they sought only to pursue careers and raise families and leave their world better than it was when it was handed down to them.
“The Greatest Generation” is a term that has fallen out of favor in the last decade. Often overused to describe the men and women who were born following the Great War and spent their adolescence immersed in the Great Depression, the term spoke to their experiences that were brought to bear following the end of the Second World War when the United States saw its largest economic (and generational) boom. Most Americans didn’t recognize these aging men’s and women’s resilience, determination, patriotism and service to their communities and families as anything outside of normalcy until the last decade of the twentieth century, when they began entering their eighth decade and their rate of passing started to rapidly increase.
The kind-hearted, soft-spoken, gray-bearded gentleman was a favorite teacher among the students, year after year. He taught eighth-grade science at your junior high school and his style was anything but boring as he walked you through the basics in chemistry, light waves, refraction and reflectivity among many elementary principles. In ninth grade, many of the scientific elements that he previously introduced you to were foundational in the course that he taught in which his artistic passion was transferred to you through the world of photography.
It was in ninth grade during that photography class that you noticed something different. As you worked through an assignment with your classmates, the gray-bearded man sat at his desk that was positioned at the head of the classroom and adjacent to the counter that contained the Bunsen burners and petri dishes. Upon his desk was a deformed metallic object, heavily oxidized with dirt caked into the recesses of the twists of what appeared to be aluminum. The shared curiosity among your classmates wasn’t enough to stir anyone to action; so you decided to approach the teacher, gesturing toward the object as you posed your simple question, unprepared for the emotion-filled story that he was about to bestow upon you.
In a matter of moments, you were transported from simple childhood ignorance to the 8th Air Force and B-17 Flying Fortresses on bombing missions over Third Reich targets, with a tale of bailing out over enemy-occupied territory after sustaining heavy enemy fire. The tears welling up in your teacher’s eyes provided a painfully obvious sense of loss as he described himself and one other crewmen as the only survivors from that flight as the others were too badly wounded and incapable of bailing out before the aircraft crashed. He told you that the pilot ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft as he kept it at altitude long enough for the two survivors to make a safe exit. That harrowing story of survival decades earlier transitioned to the present day as your teacher shared with you his summer vacation of traveling to Europe and visiting the newly discovered crash site of his Flying Fortress. The remains of the crew who had been unable to escape the crash were among the wreckage when the site was discovered. Of course they had been removed before he visited. The piece that sat upon the teacher’s desk served as a reminder of the sacrifices made so that he could live his life in peace and share the stories of what made his generation truly great.
Seventy miles northeast of Detroit, Michigan, lies a small city on the shores of Lake Huron where the St. Clair River empties into the lake. Port Huron lies on the western bank of the river opposite Sarnia, Ontario. The two cities are connected by the Bluewater Bridge on Interstate 94. Three miles southwest of the bridge on 24th and Court Streets lies Port Huron High School, which today looks nothing like it did in January of 1943 when Jack Dobratz, a multi-sport star athlete, graduated.
Born to Charles G. and Minnie C. Dobratz, Jack was the third of five children and the third son born to first generation German-American parents. Jack was a stellar athlete in football, basketball and baseball, earning 10 letters with the Port Huron High School Reds, the first student to do so in twelve years. His departure from the school in the middle of winter left a gaping hole in two of the school’s sports rosters. The starting center for the basketball team graduated in the middle of the season and weeks later was wearing a different uniform.
Seeking Jack’s inspiration for participation in athletics, one need look no further than his father Charles, who clearly had a passion for sports. His August 6, 1951 Port Huron Times Herald obituary said that Charles’ love of sports was widely known. “Mr. Dobratz’ interest in every type of sporting event was carried over to the athletes who participated in them.” Charles left his imprint on the following generations with his involvement in Port Huron’s sports community. “Youngsters particularly, beginning to play softball, basketball and baseball, received invaluable counsel and encouragement from him.” The elder Dobratz was a member of the Port Huron Old Timers Association, whose members included notable baseball men such as Fred Lamlein, Frank Secory and Bill Watkins. Charles Dobratz also served as an umpire in industrial, city and church basketball leagues, no doubt influencing his son Jack.
There were no doubts about Jack’s post-graduation destination as he registered for the wartime draft on June 30, 1942, leading him to enlist in the U.S. Army on February 16, 1943. At that time in the Pacific theater, the ground offensive on Guadalcanal was pushing the Japanese off the island. With the Axis stranglehold across Europe, Operation Torch, the Allied offensive in French North Africa against German and Vichy units, was in its third month as the planning was well underway for what would be known as Operation Overlord – the Normandy Invasion. Camp Wheeler served as an infantry replacement center and Dobratz was trained for future assignment to replace a combat casualty as the need arose.
Once his training was completed at Camp Wheeler, the six-foot-three, 182-pound private pitched for his unit’s baseball team before he was transferred to England in July, 1943. His athletic abilities were apparent to his unit upon his arrival overseas and he found himself continuing his mound duties on foreign soil through for the remainder of 1943 and into the following year.
Private First Class Dobratz reported to the 115th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division on July 18, 1944 and was assigned to Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion. He was promptly appointed to the rank of sergeant. His arrival at the 115th was as a replacement. The regiment was in need of personnel, having sustained 3,700 casualties in the The Battle of Saint-Lo. Sergeant Dobratz’ military occupation specialty was 729 Pioneer (construction and engineering); so he was more than likely assigned to the support platoon.
The 115th Infantry Regiment saw action in the August-September battle for Brest during which Dobratz spent three days hospitalized for a non-battle injury. On September 30, the regiment crossed into Germany during the Rhineland Campaign, which saw the 115th along the Roer River. Due to the region’s heaviest rainfalls in more than three decades combined with heavy enemy resistance, the men of the 115th got bogged down in the very harsh conditions. The troops lacked personal foul weather gear to protect them from the wet conditions, resulting in an increase in non-battle casualties (NBC) for issues such as trench foot. In early December, Sgt. Dobratz came off the line and reported to the hospital for an NBC that ultimately saw him dropped from the 115th Infantry’s muster rolls. By February 10, 1945 he had been released and reported back to his unit. Two weeks later, the 29th Division launched their offensive on February 23, attacking the enemy across the Roer River towards their objective, the German town of Jülich, which fell on the first day of the assault. The Division pressed onward toward the Rhine, linking up with the British 21st Army Group, led my General Montgomery. Having seized München-Gladbach, just 32 kilometers west of Dusseldorf and the Rhine River, the 29th was relieved on March 1 for a much needed period of rest and recuperation as well as resupply and refit.
The 29th Division’s Central European Campaign continued for several more weeks of mopping up pockets of German resistance, leading up to the May 2 surrender of Third Reich forces. The 115th Infantry Regiment began transitioning from combat to occupation duties. In the weeks that followed, idle troops across the European Theater began to form baseball leagues with more than 100,000 participants. Dobratz was an obvious choice for the 29th Division’s team as the search for the most talented players netted a mix of former professionals, semi-pros and star high school players in order to field a highly competitive roster.
The 29th Division’s Blue and Grays worked their way through the season and captured the Seventh Army Championship (details of the games and opponents have yet to surface) and gained entrance into the ETO (European Theater of Operations) World Series semifinal games against the 71st Infantry Division Red Circlers. The Red Circlers were well rested following their early August five-game series in which they captured the Third Army championship by defeating the 76th Infantry Division’s Onaways. Former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Ewell Blackwell had tossed a 7-0 no-hitter in the second game and 5-0 two-hitter in the fifth and deciding game.
40,000 GIs and WACS witnessed the 71st Division defeat the 29th at Nuremberg Stadium on August 26, 1945. “This was baseball’s biggest spectacle to date as pennants of all major league teams flew from the rim of the stadium and Red Cross vendors climbed up and down, peddling beer, soft drinks and peanuts. Two thousand cases of beer, mostly American brands, were sold during the day as shirt-sleeved soldiers reveled.” (Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, New York, August 29, 1945.)
The 71st carried their momentum forward as they faced the Blue and Grays of the 29th Infantry. Ewell Blackwell’s pitching was dominant in the first game as he captured the 2-1 win. Bill Ayers, victorious pitcher from the 12-innnng, 2-1 Game Three in the Third Army Championships, followed Blackwell with a two-hit, 3-1 win that put the 29th on their heels for the make-or-break Game Three. Ken Heintzelman, former Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher, entered the game with the score knotted at 3-3 in the top of the eighth inning and held the 29th hitless. In the bottom of the frame, Heintzelman’s bat ignited a three-run rally that broke the game open. In the top of the ninth, the ex-Pirate set the side down in order to seal the three-game sweep of the Blue and Grays. Dobratz and his teammates were eliminated from the series, falling three wins short of the ETO World Series and being forced to settle for the Seventh Army Crown. The 29th Infantry Division members were presented with engraved German-made medals that commemorated the Seventh Army title at Mannheim, Germany in August of 1945.
After acquiring the medal awarded to his teammate, Earl Ghelf, a year earlier (see: European Theater Baseball (the 29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays at Nurnberg)), we were keenly aware of the significance of the piece when a second medal appeared in an online auction listing. The engraving on the medal’s reverse was an identical match to our medal, prompting us to place a bid and hope for the best. When the auction closed, we were astounded at the minimal competition as our bid closed the deal. Upon its arrival, we were already challenged in researching the inscribed name as our attempts continued to reveal nothing. “J. DEBRATZ” was an absolute mystery and we were resigned to waiting and hoping for a research breakthrough.
Days after publishing our article regarding “Debratz’s” medal (Metal Championship: Two 7th Army Victors of the 29th Division), we were contacted by a board member of the Maryland Museum of Military History who was an actively serving U.S. Army colonel. Col. Drew Sullins, along with historian Joseph Balkoski, author of several 29th Infantry Division books (see below), had been researching the 29th Division’s 1945 Blue and Gray baseball team and had uncovered significant details. Sullins researched the Division’s archive within the museum on our behalf for “DeBratz” among the morning reports. He soon discovered that the name as it appeared on our medal was misspelled, “Those Army clerks weren’t always perfect.” Colonel Sullins said. The colonel’s research yielded significant details, opening the doors for us to pursue other directions into Jack Dobratz’ military life.
“Jack Dobratz is having a good time ‘abroad’ in spite of being in the service of his country,” the September 23, 1945 Port Huron Times Herald read. “He does some pitching on a team that lists former major league players like Whitey Moore, former Cincinnati pitcher, and Jack Calloway [Don Kolloway] of the Chicago White Sox.” The article made mention of the team’s championship. “The 29th claims the Seventh Army baseball title, winning it on a field built by German labor.” Uncertain about his return home, Dobratz made plans for the winter athletic season in Germany, as he “sent for his basketball togs,” the article concluded.
By early December, Dobratz was back home in Port Huron and resumed his athletic competitiveness. He signed onto semi-professional basketball teams, first with the Mueller Brass club followed by Chrysler, and dominated his teams’ offensive statistical categories. By the spring, Dobratz was back in flannels, pitching for the Marine City semi-pro club and leading the team into the Blue Water District League finals.
During his World War II service, Sergeant Jack Dobratz was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, two Bronze Star medals, the Army Presidential Unit Citation ribbon and the Army Good Conduct, Europe-Africa-Middle East (EAME) Campaign (with three bronze star devices), American Campaign and World War II Victory medals.
Nearly two years after returning from Germany, Jack Dobratz married Ruth (Jensen) Smith, who was widowed when her husband’s C-109 Liberator Express was lost on December 16, 1944 in the China-Burma-India theater of operations. First Lieutenant Walter J. Smith was serving as the converted B-24’s navigator at the time of the aircraft’s loss.
The Dobratz couple later moved to Kalamazoo, where Jack worked as a floral designer until he passed away at age sixty-six on September 29, 1989. Almost three years later, his wife joined him in death. The couple had no children. Throughout the 44 years following his return from Europe, how many people who encountered Sgt. Dobratz had any concept of his actions during the war? Did he ever speak of the horrors of battle or did he fondly recollect his four months on the diamond with the 29th Division Blue and Grays? Perhaps our medal with Dobratz’ misspelled name served as a pleasant reminder of the months following V-E Day while the rest of his war artifacts were pushed aside, never to be seen again. While we are grateful for the opportunity to preserve Sgt. Dobratz’ 1945 Seventh Army Championship medal, we are left wondering what became of his service decorations.
Related Chevrons and Diamonds Stories:
- Metal Championship: Two 7th Army Victors of the 29th Division
- European Theater Baseball (the 29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays at Nurnberg)
- Third Army – Baseball Championship Series
29th Infantry Division History (by Joseph Balkoski)
- From Beachhead to Brittany: The 29th Infantry Division at Brest, August-September 1944
- From Brittany to the Reich: The 29th Infantry Division in Germany, September – November 1944
- Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy
- Last Roll Call, The: The 29th Infantry Division Victorious, 1945
Taking stock of the past three months’ worth of Chevrons and Diamonds articles, it is easy to discern a few emerging content trends that reflect the types of artifacts that are continually being added to our collection. In that span of time, three separate Chevrons and Diamonds articles have documented some of our recent acquisitions of noteworthy scorecards or programs originating from rather historic service team games that were played during World War II. Just as most parents can’t choose a favorite among their own children, none of the scorecards, programs or scorebooks within our collection receives such prized status, though there are some genuine stand-outs among the pack.
Collecting historic baseball military ephemera is far more rewarding than similar pieces from the professional game (or, at least that is our admittedly biased opinion). In terms of scarcity or rarity of items, those that were distributed at a major league game are of the most common by comparison to items distributed at a wartime service league or exhibition game. During the 1940s major league ballparks had seating capacities that ranged from the mid-30,000s in the smaller markets to 57,000 for the crown jewel of the big leagues, Yankee Stadium. One would have to assume that scorecards and programs printed for each game numbered in the range 30-50% of the capacity for each game, if not more. By WWII, teams employed the practice of limiting printing runs to a handful of editions throughout the season (changing only the actual scoresheets and specific rosters pages inside the booklets to reflect the current visitors and lineups). Despite these production factors, the sheer numbers of those individual-game scorecards that were printed increase the odds of having more surviving pieces to collect. In contrast, the pieces printed for a military game would number in the hundreds at best, resulting in far fewer surviving examples.
Survivability of military baseball ephemera (just as with those from the professional game) can vary dependent upon a few factors such as paper quality, modes of transporting the pieces home or just general handling (folding or being stuffed into a pocket). There is a notable difference in the quality of paper used by professional teams and the very rudimentary medium used to produce the service team pieces, especially for those printed in the overseas theaters. Due to these factors, the surviving military items are far outnumbered by their wartime major and minor league counterparts. Locating and acquiring a military scorecard, scorebook or program in excellent or better condition is next to impossible solely based on the the aforementioned factors.
Scarcity due to production, handling, transportation and storage are only part of the story to consider. Recognizing that as the last of the World War II veterans are passing, their heirs are often saddled with determining the disposition of the accumulation more than 70 years since their family member returned from the war. To the untrained eye, a piece of military baseball ephemera might appear to be nothing more than smelly old paper falling victim to a quick purge during a home clean-out and subsequently ending up in the trash. Those pieces that escape all of these situations and make their way into collections (such as ours) or to a museum are exceedingly scarce.
For the select few collectors of baseball militaria, items from notable games don’t typically slip past our watchful eyes undetected very often which is not to suggest that it never happens. However, when it does occur, the sheer joy of being the one to land such a piece with minimal (or without) competition from other collectors means that the acquisition costs are minimized. What determines the notability of a service team game and subsequently impacts the rarity (and collector-value) of military baseball scorecards?
During World War II, many significant service team games (or series) were played and were well-documented in the press by sportswriters (for domestic games) and war correspondents (for overseas games). Contests such as the 1943 exhibition game played between a combined team of Yankees and Indians (coached by Babe Ruth) versus the Navy Pre-Flight (UNC Chapel Hill) “Cloudbusters” or the 1944 Army versus Navy Championship series in the Hawaiian Islands have garnered significant attention both at the time of the games and, more recently, over the last decade. Scorecards from these games tend to surface on occasion though not nearly as much as their major league counterparts.
In more than a decade of researching, collecting and observing the baseball militaria market, we have been diligent in documenting and tracking artifacts (such as scorecards) that are listed for sale (or at auction) along with monitoring the corresponding pricing trends. During that period of observation, we have seen only three examples (two of which we acqired) of the scorecard (shown at right) originating from the 1945 Third Army Championship series played in Nuremberg, Germany. The August 11-13, 1945 (originally scheduled from August 7-9) series amounted to a preliminary play-off round in the run up to the overall championship of the European Theater of Operations (ETO) and pitted the “Onaways” of the 76th Infantry Division against the “Red Circlers” of the 71st Infantry Division (see: Authenticating a Military Championship Baseball and Third Army – Baseball Championship Series). Led by the dominant pitching performance of former Cincinnati Reds phenom Ewell Blackwell, the Red Circlers eliminated the Onaways in five games.
Next up for the Third Army Champion-71st Infantry Division “Red Circlers” was the US Army Ground Forces Championship Series against the 7th Army Champion “Blue and Grays” of the 29th Infantry Division. This best of five games-series was played in both Nuremberg and Manheim, Germany with the ‘Circlers’ starting pitchers Ewell Blackwell and Bill Ayres dominating the opposing batters. The 71st swept the 29th in three straight to advance to the ETO World Series. While we have yet to uncover a scorecard or program, a significant group of photographs and other associated documents (along with a 7th Army Championship medal) originating from one of the 29th’s pitchers, former minor league pitcher, Earl Ghelf surfaced in early 2018 (see: Metal Championship: Two 7th Army Victors of the 29th Division and European Theater Baseball: the 29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays at Nurnberg for more details) which we were able to secure.
Baseball in Occupied Europe
In the weeks following the collapse and unconditional surrender of the Third Reich, U.S. Army leadership was successful in assembling one of the largest known baseball leagues featuring more than 200,000 soldiers and airmen filling rosters of bases and units stationed throughout the occupied European Theater. The autumn-1945 GI World Series was the culmination of the season-long competition throughout the continent with teams that consisted of regular soldiers playing alongside former minor and major leaguers, all of whom fought and served in the war in theater. By season’s end, some of the teams who made it to the lower level championships (such as the Seventh and Third Army series) had morphed, absorbing the top talent from their vanquished opponents within their leagues (for example, former Chicago White Sox infielder-turned-combat-medic Don Kolloway served in the 69th Infantry during the war and played for unit’s team before being tapped to join the 29th’s team after being defeated in the 7th Army Championships) as their commanders attempted to improve the odds of winning the championship for their unit.
Having eliminated the 76th ID’s Onaways and Blue and Grays of the 29th ID, the Red Circlers found themselves facing off against the The Advance Section, Communications Zone (ADSEC/COMZ) All-Stars based at Oise, France. This formidable opponent was led by a non-commissioned officer (who was a former major league pitcher), was unconventional with their roster. Named the Oise All-Stars, this group fought their way into the semi-final series that pitted them against the 66th Infantry Division and the 71st Infantry Division; three teams fighting for the two spots in the ETO World Series. This semi-final was a double-elimination contest of three games; the first of which was played on August 30 (71st Infantry Division versus Oise All-Stars) and a double-header on September 1 (71st Infantry Division versus 66th Infantry Division and Oise All-Stars versus 66th infantry Division). The 66th division was eliminated after sustaining losses to the 71st and Oise leaving the victors to advance to the GI World Series.
According to Gary Bedingfield, a military baseball historian and founder of Baseball In Wartime, there are a few questions surrounding the name of the Oise team. Bedingfield wrote in his Baseball in Wartime Newsletter Vol 7 No 39 September/October 2015, “Reims became the site of the U.S. Army’s redeployment camps, all of which were named after American cities. There were 18 of these “tented cities” scattered throughout the Reims area. This area was designated the Oise (pronounced “waz”) Intermediate Section by the U.S. Army, named after the local river and the Oise département, a French administrative division that covered much of the area.”
The OISE All Stars baseball team was assembled by former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher, Sergeant Sam Nahem and featured a roster populated predominantly with former semi-pro, collegiate and minor leaguers. Only one Oise player, other than Nahem, played at the major league level. Going against unwritten rules (both in professional baseball and in the armed forces), Nahem insisted on adding two former Negro Leaguers to his roster. Willard Brown and Leon Day, undoubtedly ruffling some feathers in the Army establishment. Aside from the unique composition of Nahem’s roster, the team’s name has been the source of confusion. As Bedingfield wrote, “A strange myth has appeared over the years – that I, myself, have used at one time or another – that Oise stood for Overseas Invasion Service Expedition. I can find absolutely no evidence to support this and maintain that the Oise All-Stars were named for the Oise Intermediate Section. Other Sections in France included the Loire Base Section and the Seine Base Section, home of the formidable Seine Base Clowns, a ball team operated by Pacific Coast Leaguer pitcher Chuck Eisenmann.”
The GI World Series was a five-game affair with games one, two and five being played in Soldiers Field at Nuremberg Stadium and the “road” games (three and four) being played at the (long-ago demolished) Headquarters Command (HQ) Athletic Field in Reims. Nahem’s Oise All-Stars were evenly matched with the “Red Circlers” of the 71st which resulted in a great series for the fans to witness.
- Game 1 (September 2, 1945 | Soldiers’ Field): Oise All-Stars 2 – 71st Infantry Division 9
- Game 2 (September 3, 1945 | Soldiers’ Field): Oise 2 – 71st ID 1
- Game 3 (September 6, 1945 | HQ Command Athletic Field): 71st ID 1 – Oise 2
- Game 4 (September 7, 1945 | HQ Command Athletic Field): 71st ID 5 – Oise 0
- Game 5 (September 8, 1945 | Soldiers’ Field): Oise 2 – 71st ID 1
The specifics of each game and the men who filled the rosters are laid out in great detail in Bedingfield’s September/October 2015 newsletter.
Until just a few months ago, the only scorecard that we have seen is one that was used for the two games played at the Oise All-Stars home field, Headquarters Command Athletic Field in Reims. Unfortunately, no copies of this piece have surfaced to the collector market in more than a decade of our searching. The piece (shown above) bears similarities to the hand-illustrated piece used at the 1945 Navy World Series in Hawaii. Regardless of any and all searching and maintaining watchful eyes on the market, nothing from the GI World Series has become available; not even the HQ Command Athletic Field scorecard.
A few months ago, one of our online auction searches that seldom produces results that are worthy of deeper investigation, finally listed an item that caught our attention. A strange title that read, “WWII GI Scorebook Nurnberg Field USFET W1945 Unused Baseball,” with an accompanying-yet-tiny image (that was barely discernible) was enough to prevent me from performing my routine action of deleting the results. Upon opening the link and viewing the photos of the item, we were still unsure of what was listed. Very clearly, the piece shown was a service team baseball scorecard that was printed on the typical low-grade paper that was commonly employed for this purpose in all wartime theaters but the printed information wasn’t registering as we inspected each associated image. For some reason (perhaps due the lack of documented examples), the most obvious information printed across the cover didn’t immediately stand out. The interior pages featured blank scoresheets that were devoid of commonly seen team rosters or game line-ups which offered no further clues. Returning to view the lead image in the auction listing, something finally clicked and the reality surrounding this piece suddenly materialized. For the first time in more than ten years, a scorecard from the GI World Series had finally come to market.
With only two days remaining until the auction’s close, there was a lone bid which was incredibly low for such an important piece of baseball history.The seller’s starting price was merely $7.00. Not knowing the experience level of the bidder that I was hoping to wrest the scorecard away from left me wondering if his maximum price was in the sphere of reality as to the value of the scorecard. Noting the other bidder had a feedback count of less than two hundred, we coupled that with the behavior of early bidding (perhaps one of the most common mistakes made by inexperienced bidders) and decided that we would prepare a sniped bid and hope that it was enough to supplant the competition. Anxiously awaiting the auction’s close and the bad news that we were going to miss out on this piece due to its rarity and collector value, the congratulatory email regarding our bid arrived along with the invoice for payment. Our surprise at winning the auction was immediately surpassed by the sale price: $10.50 which was just $3.50 above the listed price and, $0.50 greater than the competing bid (maximum)! The seller listed the shipping price as $4.06 which was a bit lower than what we typically encounter with these items but it wasn’t so low to cause any sort of concern…until it actually became a concern.
Note: In prefacing the next sequence of events, please understand that this article was not written admonish or to chastise the seller. Sharing details regarding all aspects of the transaction is done so with the hope that our readers consider what transpired as they engage in their own selling activities (we have omitted the seller’s name and altered the listing title to preserve their anonymity).
After more than two weeks since submitting payment for the scorecard, the seller still hadn’t updated the listing with any shipping details (it was still marked as not being shipped) and was completely silent with regards to communication, an inquiry was dispatched through the auction provider’s messaging system. The brief response from the seller, “No tracking number. Mailed with a stamp which is why I gave you a partial refund,” was a little strange since I hadn’t asked for anything more than a status and a tracking number. The partial refund from the seller was $0.50 causing further confusion for us.
A few days following the seller’s strange message and partial refund, the letter carrier delivered the package containing the scorecard with $0.45 postage due. True to his message, the seller did exactly as was stated; the piece was stuffed into a thin and appropriately-sized paper envelope with a $0.55 Forever stamp affixed. There was no padding, backing boards or anything to protect the piece from moisture damage, inadvertent folding or from harm inflicted by postal sorting machinery which left this priceless artifact almost entirely exposed. Without purchasing postal insurance, there was no tracking. The envelope did receive damage (possibly from the sorting equipment) that tore and creased the envelope. Concern for the scorecard itself was put to rest once it was determined that the piece suffered only curling without being creased. In desiring to pass along the information regarding the arrival of the package, the condition and the additional postage that was paid to receive the envelope, we reached out to the seller. Rather than to address the concerns, the seller responded, “I will give you a full refund instead of the partial refund already provided,” closing out this intriguing saga (which included a fantastic result).
Our intention was to merely point out the issue and hope that subsequent shipments are better protected and postage is properly funded rather than to receive a refund. In the end, we received this incredible artifact without cost. Perhaps we should consider this a gift? Moving on, we were able to press the curl out of the scorecard and add it to the growing collection of baseball militaria paper.
The significance of the GI World Series scorecard (from the Nuremberg-hosted games) lies within the covers. The artwork and the two-color (red and blue) printing (the silver date appears to be applied subsequent to the initial printing) makes for stunning visual imagery on the front cover. The back was printed in three-color (adding black to the mix) and includes an advertisement for the Armed Forces Network (AFN) for radio coverage of the games. Beneath the AFN ad is a colorful advert for the Stars and Stripes newspaper (Southern Germany Edition).
One aspect of the scorecard and the GI World Series games was that it was hosted (at Nuremberg) by USFET (U.S. Forces, European Theater) which was known, during wartime combat operations, as ETOUSA (European Theater of Operations, United States Army). It makes sense that the GI World Series would be hosted at Nuremberg Stadium by the overall theater command, however prior to discovering this scorecard, this aspect was not known.
Confirmation of our assessment regarding the the game date being applied during a secondary printing is located at the bottom edge of the back cover. The date, 30 / Aug. 45, indicates that the scorecard was being printed as the first game of the semi-finals was being played. The date on the cover, September 2, 1945 also indicates that this scorecard was printed for Game One of the GI World Series.
The Chevrons and Diamonds trend has continued with yet another article detailing a service team scorecard however, with the acquisition of this incredible find, we are certain that our readers will be just as fascinated by the discovery if this historic piece. In shining a spotlight upon scorecards that were previously undocumented, we are perhaps effectively increasing our competition for the still-needed HQ Command Athletic Field piece. However with the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of e the Nuremberg piece, we aren’t too concerned about our chances.
- Three Reichs, You’re Out: The amazing story of the U.S. military’s integrated “World Series” in Hitler Youth Stadium in 1945 – by Robert Weintraub
- 70th Anniversary of the 1945 ETO World Series (PDF) – Sep/Oct 2015 Baseball in Wartime newsletter by Gary Bedingfield
- Leon Day: The 1945 G.I. World Series – by Gary Cieradkowski
- When Baseball Went to War – Edited by Todd Anton and Bill Nowlin, 2008 Triumph Books
To most collectors of American militaria, vintage medals and decorations are easily recognizable with distinctive patterns stamped into each face as well as the ribbons that they are suspended from. In our militaria collection, we have focused on people (family members), a handful of U.S. Navy warships and other places that my relatives and ancestors served. In terms of collecting, medals and decorations are of tertiary importance, though I have acquired several pieces that otherwise captured my interest.
In 2017, a group of photos, game programs (basketball), correspondence and a medal were listed in an online auction. All of the items originated from a veteran who served in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) during World War II with the 69th Infantry Division and played baseball for the unit’s team on his way to pitching in the ETO World Series in 1945 for the 29th Infantry Division team, the Blue and the Grays. After winning the 7th Army Championship, a semi-final elimination tournament, the 29th team faced (and was defeated by) the Red Circlers of the 71st Division.
Focusing primarily upon the photographs, European Theater Baseball (the 29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays at Nurnberg) also addressed the historic and rare imagery in the group (the Earl Ghelf Collection) – how Mr. Ghelf photo-documented the baseball park that was constructed on the grounds of Soldiers Field (formerly known as Nuremberg Stadium). What was not covered in the article was the medal that was central to the group; a German-made piece with a diminutive red and white ribbon with engraving on the reverse. The obverse features a relief bust of an athletically-built man with the words “Dem Sieger” (which translates to, “The Winner”) above the figure’s right shoulder. The engraving on the reverse reads:
7th Army Baseball Champions
E. R. Ghelf
It is apparent that the 7th Army leadership locally sourced the medal and had it engraved and presented to Mr. Ghelf. It was assumed that the entire 29th Division Blue and Greys team was presented with the same personalized medal to commemorate their victory en route to the ETO Championship series. Not having seen another copy previously, the assumption about the entire team receiving them was untested and unproven…Until today.
Some of the best finds that arrive to the Chevrons and Diamonds collection come by way of accidental discovery. When I was researching a ball player in an attempt to find any correlation or connection to military service, an unintentional Google image search yielded a photo of a familiar medal – one that featured the same obverse design as the Ghelf medal (above) along with the same ribbon and suspension.
Recognizing that the image was from an online auction listing, I clicked on the image, opening a current auction listing for another engraved copy of the 7th Army Championship medal. The engraving on the reverse is exactly the same as my copy (save for the name):
7th Army Baseball Champions
29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays (Seventh Army Champions) 1945:
|Pvt.||Earl A. Dothager||P||Springfield (WA)|
|Sgt.||Wallace W. Kale|
|Pvt.||Kazimer J. Waiter|
|Pvt.||Robert W. Lansinger||P||Lancaster (ISLG)|
|1st Lt.||Erwin Prasse||LF/Mgr.||University of Iowa|
|Wesley “Lefty” Howard||P|
|William A. “Bill” Seal, Jr.||IF||Vicksburg (CSTL)|
|Don Kolloway||IF||White Sox|
|Sgt.||Jack Dobratz||P||High School|
|Lloyd “Whitey” Moore||P||Cardinals|
Without any hesitating, a sniped bid was set ahead of the due diligence in researching the name. The only instance of a roster for the 7th Army (29th Infantry Division) Championship team is located on Baseball in Wartime.com and a quick check revealed no player with that name. Searching through other sources yielded similar results. Who was J. Debratz? Was his name misspelled on the medal? Was he a coach or a manager? The decision was made to proceed despite the auction with the hope that should our bid prove successful, in time, the research could pan out.
Upon auction close, our bid was the only one and the Debratz medal arrived a few days later (a few days before publishing this article). One of the most rewarding aspects of collecting named pieces such as this medal is the satisfaction that follows a research or discovery breakthrough. For the present-time, this medal will be displayed along with the Ghelf copy.
With the assistance of Colonel Drew Sullins, board member of the Maryland Museum of Military History, J. Debratz was positively identified as Sergeant Jack Dobratz of Port Huron, Michigan. Sgt. Dobratz entered the United States Army on February 16, 1943 and was assigned to Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion in the 29th Infantry Division. He was promoted from private first class to the rank of sergeant on July 18, 1944. Dobratz graduated in January, 1943 from Port Huron High School where he excelled in athletics earning 10 letters in football, basketball and baseball. He was the school’s quarterback and punter on the gridiron and toed the mound as their star pitcher. Leading up to D-Day, Jack “Dobie” Dobratz pitched for his company’s team domestically and after arrival in England.
Following a considerable run of authoring and publishing weekly articles with a measure of consistency for most of 2018, I have encountered a new, and quite beneficial hurdle in order to continue with my passion with Chevrons and Diamonds. Over the course of the last 17 months, I have endured a significant amount of change to my professional and personal life which, for much of the time, has contributed to my ability to sustain a normal publishing cycle. With the latest round of changes in the last two weeks, the most precious resource – time – needed to author and publish, has been severely and negatively impacted.
Most authors, especially those who find themselves tasked with creating content for a periodical venture, struggle with story ideas and the lack of topics to cover. Oddly, I have a plethora of story ideas and material that I desperately want to cover and because of the audience growth of Chevrons and Diamonds over the last two years, each story that does get published, seemingly opens a door to either greater detail for a particular topic or leads to a tangential discovery. To that point, my article, My First Military Baseball: the “Rammers” of the 36th Field Artillery Group, published in early 2018 led to me being contacted by the grandson of one of the players who signed the ball and the flurry of ensuing conversation and exploration of the player resulted in a follow-up story, Countless Hours of Research and Writing; Why Do I Do This? This is Why. The story of the 36th Field Artillery baseball and Chuck Emerick is just one example of the rewards of publicly sharing these artifacts.
One of my most favorite additions to my collection surrounded the acquisition of former minor leaguer, Earl Ghelf’s grouping of photos, letters, programs and other artifacts from his time with the 29th Infantry Division. The subsequent article that I published (European Theater Baseball (the 29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays at Nurnberg)) was just an overview of the contents, predominantly focusing on the team history, Nuremburg Stadium and a cursory focus on Ghelf. In the months since I published, I have been contacted a few times: the first was another collector seeking to purchase the Ghelf group as he managed to land one of his other auction groupings; the second contact was far more substantive and provided me with a wealth of information regarding the unit and team, a few of the players and additional details regarding the 29th Infantry Division’s leadership and, perhaps the reason why the team was assembled with the talent that they had.
What better source is there for research assistance and authoritative insight than from folks in leadership with the Maryland Museum of Military History who are passionate about documenting the storied past of one of their state’s units? For the folks at the Maryland Museum, my collection of Ghelf’s photos were the first images that they had seen that showed any depictions of the 29th‘s post-VE Day baseball competition. The museum’s collection is quite extensive, including the wartime morning reports, division newsletters, etc. And yet contains no photographs of the baseball team. Upon discovery of this site, one of the board members reached out to me and we began to discuss the baseball team’s history and how best to transfer high resolution scans of the photographs to provide the museum with the imagery.
In a recent conversation with a collector colleague whose interests have led him to venture into baseball militaria (vintage photographs, programs, scorecards and baseballs), we talked about the importance of preserving these artifacts. I mentioned that I not only collect and properly store ephemera and photographs, but I also scan, catalog and share the pieces in my collection. The purpose of sharing the artifacts along with the results of my research are to not only enlighten other collectors but more so to bring to light items that have not seen the light of day in more than a half-century or, in many cases, have never been seen by the interested public. Since I made much of the Ghelf grouping available for the public, folks are gaining visual insights into the games that were otherwise only captured in a few published articles, as told by those who were present.
In nearly a decade of pursuing military baseball artifacts (dominated by vintage photographs), the majority of pieces that have surfaced throughout that time have either been at domestic or Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) locations. Following VE-Day (May 8, 1945), the mission of the American and Allied forces in Europe changed from combat operations to occupation and reconstruction. War was still raging in the Pacific and would continue for four more months and many of the troops in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) would begin to either be sent home or, possibly sent to the Pacific as leaders were preparing for a full-scale invasion force for the Japanese home islands. My theory as to why we do not see photos of ETO baseball leagues and subsequent World Series is that the photographers had already been reassigned or discharge. Combat correspondents, prior to the German surrender, had been embedded within frontline units to document and provide coverage of the action, would have been sent to the PTO to cover the war against Japan.
The importance of the Earl Ghelf group was further underscored following a series of conversations with a professor and passionate baseball historian reached out seeking photographs of ETO World Series games ahead of his presentation regarding Sam Nahem (and his insistence in adding black baseball players to his OISE All Stars roster, leading to the team’s eventual championship in the ETO) at the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Symposium this past May. Sadly, Mr. Ghelf’s personal photographs did not contain any images of the OISE team as he only focused on the unit teams that he was playing for.
It is painfully obvious that I have so many more stories to share in future published articles and so little time with which to give them the proper attention (research, writing, etc.). I am not without motivation to press on with this work – the rewards are substantial for me as more people discover Chevrons and Diamonds.
It seems as though it has been ages since I had the opportunity to write about baseball outside of the Pacific Theater (PTO), especially considering the continuous run of acquisitions (and missed opportunities) that have been associated with the game in this expansive area of World War II operations. Judging by what is sitting in my office that still requires research, photographing (and scanning), I still have more PTO artifacts-bases stories looming on the horizon.
Following the surrender of Germany on May 7th, 1945,at Reims, in northwestern France, the work of of fighting and waging war ended. With so many thousands of servicemen in Europe at that time, the role transition from fighting to that of an occupation force was not something that could be done overnight. From dealing with displaced persons, severely impacted by the Third Reich’s harsh occupation in not only the surrounding countries but also within their homeland and how the victorious occupying forces had to deal with the thousands of (hopefully) disarmed German troops (still in uniform) heading back to their homes along the same routes now traveled by the Allies. The interactions, for the most part were amenable. However, one could see how an allied soldier, still reeling from the loss of a comrade could view the vanquished enemy with a vengeful mindset. The horrors of the Third Reich were continually surfacing with the discovery of each POW, slave-labor and death camp; the emotional impact on the occupation forces were substantial and leadership recognized the need for positive outlets and distracting these men away from the realities as they awaited word on their own disposition (whether they would be discharged or sent to the Pacific Theater).
Baseball leading into and during World War II was truly America’s pastime. Though the game was a few years away from being integrated, Americans (of all ethnicity) had a passion for the game being within the major, negro or the countless levels of minor leagues. Baseball was used to build camaraderie, competitiveness, agility and improve physical conditioning as part of the athletic program in military aviation training programs (such as within the Navy Pre-flight schools) as the need for pilots dramatically increased early in the war. The popularity of the game coupled with the fact that the armed forces were inundated with professional ball players from all levels served, in part, as motivation for creating competitive teams. As with the teams fielded by the US Army Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps in the Pacific, the European Theater (ETO) saw many professional and semi-pro ball players (and some very good non-pros) filling out their unit rosters.
Prior to the German-surrender, Baseball had already been imported into Europe in 1942 and played on the Emerald Isle (Belfast, Northern Ireland). Games played between unit teams from the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 133rd Infantry Regiment as well as pitting the 34th Infantry and 1st Armored Division clubs. As American forces were located throughout Great Britain, baseball proliferated England as teams from the various units competed throughout the War.
A few years ago, I published an article (Authenticating a Military Championship Baseball) where I discussed, in addition to the team-signed baseball, the details surrounding this program for the Third Army Championship series played between the 71st and 76th Infantry Division baseball teams in early August of 1945 (three months following VE Day).
The Third Army Championship was a five-game series played in Ausburg, Germany between the 76th Div “Onaways” and the 71st Div “Red Circlers” in August of 1945, having originally been scheduled to commence on the 7th (it was rescheduled due to bad weather – as noted by the hand-written inscription on the cover of the above program). The series wrapped up with the Red Circlers defeating the Onaways as they secured the championship in Game Five with a dominant, 2-hit shutout performance by Ewell Blackwell (who tossed a no-hitter in game two, evening the series with one win a piece).
A few months ago, I spotted an auction listing that was a group containing military sports-related artifacts consisting of photos (both in an album and loose), ephemera and a medal from the ETO in 1945-46. The listing’s images showed glimpses of the photos and spotlighted the (named) engraved medal. Since the auction was hours away from closing when I discovered the listing, I set my bid and planned on researching the group when (if) I won it. A few days after auction close, the package arrived. While the bulk of the photos were merely snapshots, they provided a visual narrative of the veteran’s experiences in the months following the German-surrender as a part of the occupation forces. Images can be seen of baseball players in their flannels (in team poses, warming up or just preparing for games) and the same faces in their Army uniforms in the surrounding areas. Also seen are photos of heavily damaged buildings (from aerial bombardment), artillery emplacements and the Zeppelinfeld (often referred to as Nürnberg Stadium (note: that Nürnberg and Nuremberg are synonymous and interchangeable. The origins of one spelling and pronunciation over the other is unknown and can be the subject of debate), but better known by American forces as Soldiers’ Field) converted for use as a baseball stadium.
The Zeppelinfeld or “Zeppelin Field” was designed by Albert Speer and would be used by the Nazi socialists for massive rallies to bask in their self-promotion of superiority. With nearly 200,000 (spectators and uniformed military and party and government participants lock-stepped with each other, photos and films from the gatherings began turning the stomachs of people from all over the free world. However, due to the efforts of the Allies, the “Thousand-Year Reich” was abbreviated to slightly longer than a decade and the party symbols were unceremoniously demolished from the structures as the facility would be put to good use by the American occupation forces.
Contained within this group is a veritable walking tour of the newly-named, Soldier’s Field with the Third Army insignia placed not too far from where the emblem of hate was once displayed. Stadium seating, rather than having chairs as within American ballparks, were steps covered with grass to provide natural, comfortable (with the exception of during inclement weather) places to sit and watch the games. An outfield fence with foul poles and a center-field scoreboard situated 400 feet from home plate
Following their hard-fought victory, the Red Circlers prepared for their next opponent, the Blue and Grays of the 29th Infantry Division who had recently secured the 7th Army Championship heading into the best-of-five series. One of the Blue and Grays pitchers was a nineteen-year-old out of the Midwest, Earl Ralph Ghelf.
A cursory search shows Ghelf listed on the 29th Infantry Division’s team roster (on Gary Bedingfield’s Baseball in Wartime service teams listing):
|29th Infantry Division Blue and Grays (Seventh Army Champions) 1945|
|Nicholas “Lefty” Andrews||P|
|Earl Ghelf||P/INF||Post-war Minor Leaguer|
|Don Kolloway||2B||Pre and Post-war Major Leaguer|
|Whitey Moore||P||Pre-war Major Leaguer|
|Erwin Prasse||LF/MGR||Pre-war minors and 2nd Team All-American Iowa Hawkeyes End|
|Bill Seal||Pre and Post-war Minor Leaguer|
|Robert Lansinger||P||Pre-war minor leaguer|
Judging by the scant details (such as first names for many of the players) on the roster, the vintage military newspaper articles were short on information.
The 29th Infantry team, while not as loaded with talent as other Army ball clubs, this roster did have a measure of professional ball player talent. Thirteen of the of the nineteen members of this squad are unidentified requiring research to be conducted just to determine who the men were. Ghelf, one of those identified still requires more in-depth exploration in an effort to determine why his professional baseball career ended before it got started. My goal Ghelf’s photo album is to, at the very least, put the known names to the faces in each of the images and work from there.
Two faces that I have positively identified are Don Kolloway and Erwin Prasse (the latter was unconfirmed on the roster until he was positively IDd in Ghelf’s photographs). Kolloway had a 15 year professional baseball career (12 in the major leagues) while giving part of his 1943 year and two additional seasons to his service in the army and was awarded the Bronze Star after seeing combat with the 29th ID. Erwin Prasse was an all-around athlete who was drafted by the Detroit Lions (following his University of Iowa career where he earned nine letters in three sports) and, instead pursued professional baseball and basketball (playing for the NBL Oshkosh All-stars) careers. According to his obituary, Prasse landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day (the 29th ID supported the 116th Infantry) and was later shot in the arm while on reconnaissance in Germany. Following his time in occupied Germany competing on the diamond and the hardwood, Captain Erin Prasse was discharged from the Army in 1946,
My to-be-researched project stack is increasing as I continue to uncover amazing finds and this group will be one that takes a bit of time to work through to completion. In the interim, I still find it rather gratifying to share seldom-seen images of the infamous stadium having been transformed to field suitable for playing the American pastime and photos of one of the successful WWII military baseball teams that is rarely, if at all, mentioned among baseball history aficionados.
For further reading on baseball in the Eastern Theater of Operations see:
- The Amazing Story of the U.S. Military’s Integrated “World Series” in Hitler Youth Stadium in 1945
- Baseball in Europe: A Country by Country History – by Josh Chetwynd
- Baseball in World War II Europe (Images of Sports) – by Gary Bedingfield
With the United States armed forces’ reduction and consolidation of military bases domestically and abroad, the Department of Defense Dependents Schools closed the Nuremberg American High School (that had been using the stadium for sports practices since 1947, ceased in 1995 when the school was closed. The stadium and grounds have been in neglect in the years following. The Norisring auto racing use the surrounding roads including the surface that passes in front of the principal grandstands beneath Nuremberg Stadium’s dais. There is much debate and discussion ongoing regarding the disposition (and proposed preservation) of the grounds and structures (see: Nuremberg: Germany’s dilemma over the Nazis’ field of dreams).