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Klipper Day: Marking the End of a Season

Joe DiMaggio’s namesake, Pan Am’s “Yankee Clipper” as seen near Long Island, New York’s Manhasset Bay.

Clip•per
3: something that moves swiftly: such as
a: a fast sailing ship
especially: one with long slender lines, an overhanging bow, tall masts, and a large sail area

During the industrialization in the United States’ infancy, the expansion of trade along with the need for more rapid commerce pushed sailing and ship design technology leading to the development of swift merchant sailing ships.  Predominantly built in British and American shipyards, the wooden clipper ships featured a sleek hull with a narrow beam with three large masts (with square sails and rigging). These ships were built for speedy trans-ocean transits with reduced cargo capacities (from their predecessors) with the intention taking goods to market faster.  Clipper ships’ heyday spanned from the decade preceding the American Civil War and waned as the 1860s came to a close.

Six decades after the Clipper ships were outmoded by steel-hulls and the emergence of steam power, technology and innovation again were brought to bear for rapid trans-Pacific transit of people and cargo. Pan American Airlines sent their requirements for a flying boat out for bid in the mid-1930s with the Boeing Aircraft Company’s proposal being selected in July of 1936. In less than two years, the first Boeing 314 Clipper was test-flown from Seattle’s Elliot Bay in June of 1939. In the previous century, the clipper ships featured massive sail –area to give the vessels incredibly large surface areas to harness the wind to propel them through the water fast. The Boeing 314 Clipper’s design incorporated the enormous wing from the XB-15 that provided the ship with the lift and efficiency required for the ranges the aircraft would be routinely flying.  The first commercial flight of the Boeing Clipper took place in February of 1939 with a six-day flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong.

When an ocean voyage to Hawaii took several days from the U.S. mainland, Pan Am’s Boeing 314 Clipper made the Islands accessible in hours for the more-affluent travelers.

The Boeing 314 Clippers were a sleek and aesthetically pleasing design that looked at home in a tropical paradise on the Pan Am advertising posters.

The Clipper flying boats became an iconic, luxurious mode of travel between the continent and the Hawaiian Islands in their brief, three-year career in commercial air transportation until the Japanese attack on the island of Oahu.  Naval aviation was rapidly evolving and developing in the decade leading up to WWII with the expansion of seaplane and flying boat fleets. One of the largest air bases in the Navy was Naval Air Station (NAS) Kaneohe Bay, located at the foot of the Mokapu Peninsula.

By December 7, 1941, NAS Kaneohe Bay had only existed as a naval air station since the Navy acquired the 32- acre Fort Kuwa’aohe Military Reservation in 1940. In addition to the development of the large runways, taxiways and hangar facilities constructed, the Navy created substantial ramps on the base’s Kaneohe Bay shoreline to accommodate the massive sea plane facility that the naval air station became known for.  As the Japanese attacked their principal objectives at Pearl Harbor, secondary targets such as Kaneohe Bay were also in their sights. Spread around the ramps, moored in the water as well as in near the hangars were 33 Catalina PBY flying boats. Twenty-seven of the massive aircraft were destroyed with the remaining survivors sustaining damage.

Designated as the C-98, Pan Am’s fleet of Boeing 314 Clippers were purchased by the War Department and pressed into service as the airline’s experienced civilian crew continued to fly the aircraft. The Clippers continued to fly Pacific routes ferrying military personnel and cargo with Oahu serving as a routine destination from the mainland. The large protected harbor of Kaneohe Bay already serving as an ideal airport for the Navy’s Catalina flying boats, NAS Kaneohe would seem to be an ideal base of operations for the C-98 Clippers.

Some of the major leaguers on this team include Sherry Robertson (back row, far left) and catcher Marv Felderman (front row, far right) along with Joe Gonzalez, manager and pitcher; Russ Meers, pitcher; Bob Usher, outfielder; and Steve Tramback, outfielder (image source: Harrington E. Crissey, Jr.).

Early into our exploration into baseball militaria, NAS Kaneohe Bay frequently surfaced as we researched various service team ballplayers starting with the 1943 season. Before the arrival of former professional ballplayers (who joined the Navy in the months following the December 7, 1941 sneak-attack), sailors stationed at naval air station at Kaneohe routinely participated in sports such as basketball, football and baseball as the base teams competed in area leagues.

Consistent Chevrons and Diamonds readers will note previous articles that reference the Kaneohe baseball team that featured some well-known former professional players who made their way from the mainland to Oahu and were assigned to the Naval Air Station. With the likes of Johnny Mize (see: Johnny “Big Jawn” Mize, WWII Service and His Elusive Signature) and Marv Felderman (see: A Full Career Behind the Plate with Just Six Major League At-Bats) serving on the 1944 team, the Klippers of Kaneohe fielded a highly competitive team. The baseball team, named in honor of the swift and sleek nineteenth-century sailing ship and the luxurious and far-reaching Boeing 314 flying boat, adopted the altered (spelled with a “K” for an alliterative connection to the bay) name from the football squad. The Kaneohe Klippers name first appeared in print in the Honolulu Advertiser in the fall of 1942.

During the process of researching in support of our aforementioned Marvin Felderman article, a September 8, 1945 Honolulu Advertiser article (penned by W. Austin Joyce) surfaced that made reference to the Klippers’ final game of the season.

Klipper Day was held for 12,500 fans at Klipper Diamond to honor the Kaneohe Klippers on Sunday, September 16 for the last game of the season. Marv Felderman of the Chicago Cubs said during an interview on the field, “This reminds me of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.”  The game between the Honolulu Crossroaders and Klippers was a 7-3 victory by Kaneohe. John Berry drove a ball over the left field fence in the fourth followed by one by manager and pitcher, Joe Gonzales.”  – Honolulu Advertiser, September 18, 1945

The Honolulu advertiser article spotlighted the pre-game festivities  which included a skills competition dubbed a, “Sports-Go-Bang” contest of four separate skills events that pit three players from each team to compete and entertain the large crowd in attendance.

  • Fungo Hitting – Dale Jones (Philadelphia Phillies) beat out Ned Harris (Detroit Tigers), Dee Miles (Athletics), Sherry Robertson (Senators) and outslugged four other long distance hitters.
  • Distance Throwing – Steve Tramback (Cubs) – secured the win with a 400-foout toss
  • Base Running – Bob Usher (Reds) and Dale Jones (Phillies) tied for the win in the base-running event covering the bases in 15 seconds.
  • Accuracy Throwing – Dick West (Reds) and Gabe Sady threw the ball into a barrel at second base from the plate. Each winner secured a $25 war bond.

The Klippers’ last game of the season (and of the war) was a victory for the Kaneohe nine as the Honolulu Crossroaders, piloted by former University of California Bears pitcher, Mike Koll, were defeated, 7-3.  In the game within the game, the Kaneohe offense was bolstered by back-to-back fourth inning homeruns by
first-sacker John Berry and manager and pitcher, Joe Gonzales; each earned $25 war bonds for long-ball achievements.

Weeks after publishing the Marvin Felderman article, a fantastic piece of military baseball ephemera surfaced on the market that caught our attention due to the very specific mention of “Klipper Day” on the cover. The program booklet and scorecard that was listed was an over-sized, fourteen-page piece and beautifully adorned with photographs and details that mirrored the Honolulu Advertiser story. This Klipper Day scorecard was very obviously created and handed out to the fans in attendance at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay for the game.

Though most of the professional baseball players returned to their pre-war lives following their service in the Navy and on the Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay roster effectively ending the high level of play that the local fans were accustomed to, the Klippers nine returned to the diamond in the 1946 season fielding players from the ranks of ordinary sailors.  Unlike the professional ballplayers, the Boeing 314 Clippers did not return to their pre-war duties as Pan American moved on from the flying boats in favor of more efficient long-range aircraft. The Boeing 314s were parked in San Diego where they deteriorated for several years before being sold for scrap.

Klipper Day marked the end of an era for the Klippers of Kaneohe Bay but also coincided with the end of the season of the team’s namesake, the Boeing 314 Clippers, however without fanfare.

 

 

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