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A Hidden Military Baseball Tragedy

Not all of the stories surrounding wartime baseball are happy or pleasant ones. I can imagine that many people have negative reactions to the notion that the game was played among active duty service men and women while folks on the front lines were advancing or defending the cause of freedom and the push against tyrants and their ilk. The very thought of a family member was engaged in a battle in either the European or Pacific Theaters while in another part of the world, service members, rather than supporting or backing up their loved one in the fight, were playing a game. A baseball game.

Many colleagues (in militaria collecting) pursue the painful reminders of the prices paid by service members and their surviving families by gathering such items as posthumous medals (including Purple Heart medals) and documentation. The very real suffering and the finality surrounding the death or disfigurement of a man who was struck down by enemy fire can persist for generations. I can image that a family member might have looked upon the games being played in these two combat theaters and domestically as being frivolous and wasteful. Even for Americans who were compelled to ration everything from food to electricity might have questioned the sensibility surrounding the armed forces’ expenditures in support of the game being played by military personnel, especially where team travel might have been involved during extremely restrictive gasoline rationing.

Ask any veteran – who attended a game and saw the service teams (with former professionals on the rosters) playing games for the purpose of providing an escape from the doldrums and tedium of combat –  their personal perspective. Ask a veteran who was combat wounded – and recovering and attended a game during their healing – how these games impacted their emotional state of mind at that time. Ask the veteran who was afforded a break from combat and invited to participate in a game what it meant to be there, if only for nine innings or escape. Ask those who played ball during their training and benefited from the physical exercise, coordination and accuracy that the game required during their transformation from civilians to soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors.

The game of baseball meant a great deal to those in the armed forces before the war and even more during their time in service. The game has been married to the armed forces since both were in their infancy with townball being played by Continental soldiers. Union troops played ball in the Civil War as both soldiers and captives and the game was taken with American fighting men to far off lands such as the Philippines, China, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, Central and South America and the Caribbean before World War I.

As someone who loves history and strives to preserve both the artifacts and the history of the individuals that are connected to them, digging into the stories is an automatic activity that I have when I receive an addition to my collection. One of my additions – a photo of a nondescript US Army Air Forces baseball player posing on the diamond – has such a personal and sad story that brings together a few different perspectives of wartime experiences: active duty service, baseball and personal and family loss.

Though there is nothing within the image to give away the first baseman’s identity, team or location, I bought the type-1 photograph hoping to uncover hidden details.

Perhaps it is worth pursuing Mrs. Loiffler and the sergeant who sent her this photo of Bill Thomas at some point. I am satisfied in identifying Thomas and the details surrounding his life and the sad circumstances of his death.

It is no secret that I try to add wartime baseball photographs to my image archive and often times I will pursue something that merely catches my eye, not knowing that if there are any details or a story behind the subject. Often, the images lack anything that can help to shed light on the subject or provide facts to make solid determinations as to what is shown. Several photographs in my collection are merely preserved as unknown military baseball players or games and this image was purchased with that mindset. However when the image arrived, the story quickly changed.

On the back of the photo is a hand-written note from an airman to a woman regarding the ball player. The note indicates that the the subject of the image was deceased as the author made mention of the image being “in memory of a good buddy.”

“Dear Mrs. Maud Loiffler, Here is a picture of Bill I am sure you would like to have.

In memory of a good Buddy
Sgt. Jasper H. Shane”

In addition to the handwritten note is a stamp indicating that the photograph, a type-1 silver gelatin, was taken by a US Army Air Corps staff photographer at the airfield located in Victorville, California. A quick bit of research showed that the base located in this area was George Field (later renamed George Air Force Base) which was home to the Advanced Flying School for training for multi-engine pilots on trainers such as the Curtiss AT-9, T-6 Texan and AT-17 aircraft. The flight training would prepare aviators for service in C-47 Skytrain transports, B-25 Michell or B-26 Marauder medium bombers. In addition to training pilots, George Field was also home to one of the USAAF’s bombardier schools.  Besides the note and the official stamp, affixed to the back is a typed notation that reads:

WILLIAM EDWARD THOMAS

BORN DECEMBER 26, 1916
DECEASED MAY 23, 1943
U.S. AIRFORCE
VICTORVILLE, CA

Attached to the back of the photo, this plate provided great clues that ultimately helped to identify the player and to discover what took his life.

Searching for anyone with such a common name as William Thomas can be exhausting but when there are multiple details such as birth and death dates, narrowing the results is exceedingly simplified. One of the top results that surfaced was a link to a player profile page from, perhaps one of the two most helpful military baseball research sites (baseballinwartime.com and baseballsgreatestsacrifice.com) on the intranet. Aside from the confirmation of the dates of birth and death, the fact that the airman listed on the page was stationed at Victorville and played for the base’s team, the Victorville Bombers. Where this story took a bit of a turn was in the account(s) of his tragic end.

Victorville Bombers – 1943 (source: Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice)

  • 2/Lt. Harold B. Dobson (P)
  • Sgt. John A. Lowry
  • Sgt. William E. Thomas (1B)
  • Dougherty (P)
  • Stock (C)
  • Porter (P)
  • S/Sgt. Anson Gaston (C)
  • Charles Crum
  • Sgt. Gary Carbone (P)
  • Capt. Clifford Papik
  • Sgt. Edward Stelmach
  • Corp. Milton Ruyle

Sergeant William “Bill” E. Thomas’ profile provided two separate stories of the tragic event surrounding the former semi-pro ballplayer’s death and perhaps the reason for the official (read: cover-up) story may have been to soften the blow to his family (he was a newlywed) and to keep wartime baseball from being publicly scrutinized.  The official account detailed that the aircraft, a Beechcraft AT-11 Kansan on which Thomas was embarked, collided with another AT-11 that was on a practice bombing run (training pilots and bombardiers) and inflicted heavy damage to his aircraft sending it plummeting to the ground near Silver Lake, California (in Los Angeles), approximately 90 miles southwest of George Field in Victorville. Losing a husband or a son is unfathomable but certainly a possibility during such a crisis as World War II was. Training losses were certainly not uncommon and were, perhaps even more difficult for surviving family members to stomach than a combat-related death. One can imagine that the actual events of May 23, 1943 would have been considerably more upsetting once the details were made public.

This WWII-era and restored Beechcraft AT-11 Kansan looks very much like the aircraft that crashed taking the lives of three Victorville Bombers players image source: YouTube/sniperjdp).

According to Gary Bedingfield‘s research, rather than a mid-air collision occurring during training, the two AT-11 aircraft hade departed George Field en route to  Las Vegas with the Victorville Bombers team embarked (which also included former semi-pro ball player Sgt. John A. Lowry and former minor leaguer 2nd LT. Hal Dobson) to play a baseball game. During the flight, the pilots of each plane were engaged in unsafe, playful close-in maneuvers that resulted in one of the planes crossing paths with the other leaving Thomas’ Kansan without a tail and utterly uncontrollable. Along with the three ballplayers, their pilot 2nd Lt. William S. Barnes perished when the aircraft crashed (the other plane landed safely). My inquisitiveness leaves me wondering why the aircraft were over Silver Lake when Las Vegas was 275 miles in the opposite direction (190 miles northeast of Victorville)?

Sergeant Thomas’ life was over at 26 years of age. He had only been married six months and had only served in the Army Air Force for just over a year. If he had dreams of playing professional baseball and having a family after the war, they ended in the horrible crash. Thomas’s remains were sent home to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he was laid to rest at Saint Peter’s Cemetery.

Perhaps it is good for Military Baseball that the actual details about the collision of the George Field AT-11s didn’t reach the public as it could have been the cause for curtailing or cancelling what had been up to that point in the war a great boost to the morale of the armed forces. By the time of this crash, there had been 33 deaths suffered by former professional and semi-pro ball players 18 were accidents or non-combat-related) and yet the game continued in the service. Perhaps I am only guessing at the reason for the omission but the question remains unanswered.

Establishing an Online Military Baseball Scorecard Archive

This well-weathered scorecard from the USASTAF (United States Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific) game played by Major League Baseball Stars has seen better days. On the cover is written in pencil, “Names of players Inside. Games played on Guam during August and Sept. 1945.”

Keeping up with an authoring and publishing schedule for two historical artifacts sites (which includes researching) as a husband, father, home-owner and while working full-time (in an unrelated career-field) is, at a minimum, a challenge for me. I will be the first to admit that I am not exactly writing material that is of value to a broad audience (quite to the contrary, there are so few people actually interested in this area of history) and one cannot characterize this material at the same spectrum of “literature” as dime-store novels. However, I trudge along, if only for myself with the knowledge that I have created a body of work from which to build and draw upon to further my interest and passion as well as to maintain an easily-accessible resource to share with colleagues.

I recently published my fiftieth article on this site (yesterday, I published my 125th article on The Veteran’s Collection) which, for me is odd to ponder as I do not consider myself to be a writer.  I digress. In reviewing the various articles that I have written, I start to realize that there is some imbalance regarding the topics that I have covered. I also have taken note of how difficult it can be to find certain articles (especially as I try to cross-reference or simply recall details about an artifact to be used to analyze another).

Most of my collection of baseball and military artifacts are carefully stored away from light (and sight) in order to protect them from decay and degradation as they age. The downside of their inaccessibility becomes readily apparent when the need arises to revisit an artifact for research leading or that I discover that I failed to properly photo-document for an article that I also failed to write. This article is the culmination of these points in that within the process of researching a recent acquisition for an upcoming Chevrons and Diamonds.org article, I realized that I was lacking some coverage pertaining to my growing collection of scorecards and programs from military baseball games.

Lacking coverage, photography or any sort of research notes, this rough-cndition, two-color score card is from the USAAF General Depot #5 All Star Classic game played on Memorial Day, May 30, 1945.

A few months ago, I arrived at a realization that I had a need for comparative analysis of military jerseys (or uniforms in general) and trying to conduct such research across a sporadic span of articles was entirely ineffective. Not having a vehicle to create a study of details and features of each garment left me in struggling (nearly guessing) in the absence of documentation (both written and photographic) for each item that I own or have discovered but not acquired. I was prompted to create a section on this site to serve as place to capture all of the jerseys that I have encountered to provide myself and others with a reference library and so the Archive of Military Baseball Uniforms was born. My present circumstances in seeking details regarding my growing archive of scorecards and programs have led me to repeat these steps once again.

In the coming weeks, I will be creating another archive to showcase military baseball game programs, scorecards, roster sheets and scorebooks. In this area, I will provide images and scans of the documents and shining light onto the various details surrounding each in order to provide a source of research for folks seeking information on games and players. Tying together published articles to specific paper document will also provide context (photographs, details, game narrative or other artifacts from specific games) serving to tell a more complete story.

While searching for (and finding) the only European Theater (ETO) scorecard that I own, my recollection of another scorecard that might be useful in cross-referencing (I mistakenly thought it too was from the ETO) but quickly learned that I never researched, documented or photographed it (once I retrieved the actual piece from storage). The three that I had written about included only two that were from World War II (one is from a WWI-era Army versus Navy game) and the other three were of scorecards that I do not own (denoted below with an asterisk (*):

In revisiting the above articles, it is very apparent that the creation of the scorecard archive will be invaluable for future reference and can serve to meet research needs. It may also help to prevent me from purchasing duplicate scorecards should subsequent versions surface as in my pursuit to establishing a substantial library of these scarce documents.

View the Library of Military Baseball Scorecards, Score-books and Game Programs now.

My Accidental Discovery: A Photographic Military Baseball Holy Grail of Sorts

The hits just keep coming. I don’t know how to properly assess the current state of the baseball militaria “market,” but I have been seeing quite a spate of historically significant artifacts being listed for sale over the last several months. In previous months (years, actually), the well has been fairly dry in terms of the sorts of pieces that have been turning up but I am in awe the currently emerging trend. In terms of determining some measurement or rate of success, I am taking a bit of a retrospective look into what I have landed as compared to what has been listed (in concert with those items where I was outbid by more aggressive buyers). As with baseball statistics, the rate of success (such as in batting average) is only part of the picture. Yes, I have landed a fair percentage of the artifacts listed at auction, however it is the quality of the items that I brought home that lies at the heart of my success.

Two of the most recent Chevrons and Diamonds articles touched upon baseball in the Pacific Theater with both the All-Stars games in the Central Pacific and the late-war All-Stars Western Pacific tour. While both of these articles spotlighted auctions that I did not win, all four listings (that were covered in the articles) provided me with invaluable insight and research for upcoming efforts. As hard as it was to not have success with securing any of those pieces, what did come home was comparable, if not invaluable for my collection.

While I have several forthcoming articles currently in varying states of research and drafting, I am finding that, for the majority, their focus lies within the realm of baseball within the Pacific theater. Today’s piece lies directly at that epicenter: World War II baseball in the Hawaiian Islands.

In researching so many of the professional players who enlisted during WWII, I have read or listened to many interviews with players discussing their time in the service of their country. Each one of these men with the opportunity to discuss their war service unhesitatingly reflects upon how the nation was unified in the struggle against the tyrannical Axis forces. These men talk of setting aside their ball-playing careers to join millions of Americans who left their jobs and homes to carry the fight to the enemy. I have had the opportunity to speak with a few legends (Bob Feller and Duke Snider, on separate occasions) in the early 1990s to discuss our time serving in the Navy and to exchange our experiences – having them ask ME about what I did and where I went during my naval career was gratifying. However, not all of the players who set aside their professional flannels, spikes, bats and gloves did so without reservations and self-concern.

Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams at the All-Star Game during their incredible, record-setting 1941 Season (image source: National Baseball Hall of Fame).

Without a doubt, one of the most recognizable baseball players of all time is Yankees’ long-time center-fielder, Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio, simply known as “Joltin'” Joe DiMaggio, the “Yankee Clipper.” When the United States was drawn into World War II following the December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor attacks, Joe DiMaggio had only months earlier, concluded one of the greatest offensive seasons by a ball player. That year saw two accomplishments which, after 76 years, each seemingly remains insurmountable. Aside from Ted Williams’season in which he finished with a .406 batting average (which ranks 18th among single-season records) his .400+ average performance is the last of the 20th Century and the only one since Bill Terry’s .401 average 11 years earlier. Considering those two .400+ batting averages, at the beginning of each successive decade (as compared to the seven time it happened during the 1920s and three times in the teens), the difficulties in hitting were obviously on the rise.

William’s accomplishment aside, a ostensibly impossible (to break) record was breached and a new, significantly higher mark was set by the Yankee’s DiMaggio in 1941. The game of baseball is difficult and using the small wooden bat to make contact with a small leather ball (traveling at speeds ranging from 80-105 mph) is so challenging that missing failing to do so, seven out of 10 attempts is considered an impressive achievement (obviously, Ted Williams’1941 season reflected a failure rate of only six times in ten). Failing to put the ball into play and get on base during a game (or even a brief string of games) is a normal occurrence. It is so normal that when players begin to hit safely in a succession of ball games, players, managers, the press, etc. take notice and talk about it when that streak begins to approach 20 games. By 1941, 26 batters had hit successfully in 30 or more consecutive games with the Baltimore Orioles’ (of the National League) “Wee” Willie Keeler holding the record at 45 games (set over the course of the 1896-97 seasons). By today’s standards, 45 games seems to be insurmountable yet Philadelphia’s Jimmy Rollins reached 38 in 2006 (not to overlook Pete Rose’s 44-game streak in 1978 or Paul Molitor’s 39 in 1987).

More impressive than Keeler’s 45 game-streak was the one accomplished by the Yankee Clipper during the 1941 season. Not only did he surpass Keeler’s mark, he blew past it with 11 additional games, setting the record at 56. Keeler’s record stood for more than four decades and though there were some players who drew close to Willie’s record (Ty Cobb -40- in 1911 and George Sisler -41- in 1922), by 1941, it seemed unreachable. During the streak, both Williams and DiMaggio were slugging it out offensively for both average and power. During DiMaggio’s streak, he would hit .408, clout 15 home runs and drive in 55 runs. He would finish the year in third place behind Williams and Cecil Travis (.357) for batting average and fifth for home-runs (behind Ted Williams-37, Dolph Camilli-34, Charlie Keller-33 and Tommy Henrich-31) with 30. “The Streak” and the .406 seasons are so well-documented and how they happened is known by even the most nominal baseball fan. So impressive was the 56-game streak that mathematical analysis has been brought to bear in order to determine a measurement of probability (or perhaps, impossibility?) of its occurrence.

Joe DiMaggio and his Yankees’ would place a period on the 1941 season by winning the World Series, beating their opponent four games to one on their way to four titles during the decade (after having closed out the 1930s with five titles; four consecutive from 1936-1939). I would be remiss in mentioning that the 1941 National League pennant-winner was my beloved Dodgers having overcome decades of futility on their way to becoming perennial contenders for the next five decades.

It is well-publicized that two days after the Japanese sneak-attack on Pearl Harbor, Bob Feller enlisted into the United States Navy, motivated to serve as so many other American young men (my maternal grandfather, included) in those first few days and weeks. Many from baseball’s major and minor league ranks set their careers aside and joined the fight in the first few weeks. However, several of the games biggest stars did not immediately sign up to serve, Joe DiMaggio included.

Despite the countless images, documents and accounts of Joltin’ Joe’s time during World War II, DiMaggio did not set his career on hold to join the armed forces until February of 1943 after playing the entire 1942 season, despite the early-January, prevailing question (by Commissioner Landis) as to whether the game would continue (and President Roosevelt’s decision and response). Joe was not alone in his avoidance of serving. DiMaggio’s rival batting leader from the Red Sox, Ted Williams hired an attorney to have himself reclassified as 3-A (“Registrant deferred because of hardship to dependents”) being the sole-provider for his mother following receipt of his draft notice in January of 1942. William’s received a torrent of negative publicity and finally enlisted into the Naval Reserve in May but played the entire season (the last game of the year, September 27th, his Red Sox faced DiMaggio’s Yankees where Williams mustered a single, going 1-3 with an intentional walk while Joe was 2-4 scoring two and knocking in three runs, including a 2-run homer) before heading into the Navy’s V-5, aviation cadet training program in early 1943. Joe DiMaggio (apparently begrudgingly) enlisted into the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) on February 17, having previously been granted (like Williams) a 3A deferment status. It should be noted that with the exception of a handful of notable professional ballplayers enlisting in the opening several weeks of the War, most players didn’t join the ranks until the waning months of 1942.

In Joe DiMaggio: A Biography (Baseball’s All-Time Greatest Hitters), according to author David Jones, “DiMaggio resented the war with an intensity equal to the most battle-scarred private. It had robbed him of the best years of his career. When he went into the Army, DiMaggio had been a 28-year-old superstar, still at the height of his athletic powers. By the time he was discharged from the service, he was nearly 31, divorced, underweight, malnourished, and bitter. Those three years, 1943 to 1945, would carve a gaping hole in DiMaggio’s career totals, creating an absence that would be felt like a missing limb.” Though he may have desired to serve as a combat soldier, the Yankee Clipper would find himself serving in a morale-boosting capacity, as a team-member on various Army Air Force service teams, much to enjoyment of thousands of GIs serving both domestically and throughout bases within the Pacific Theater.

By the time that Joe DiMaggio arrived in the Pacific to play baseball with the 7th Army Air Force team (based at Hickam Field), he had already spent the previous 16 months playing for his Santa Ana Army Air Base team as well as an All-Star team managed by Babe Ruth that squared off against the Boston Braves on July 12, 1943.  Nearly a year and half spent away from his $40k+ annual salary as he was earning $50 per month along with his GI-counterparts. Aside from performing for the troops, Joe was away from his wife an their shaky-marriage and their small son.

He suffered, according to William Cole in his September 2010 Honolulu Star Advertiser article, Misery filled baseball star’s days in isles during WWII, considerable gastrointestinal problems due to stress leading to being “admitted to the station hospital at Hickam for eight days” on July 9, 1944. The slugger’s time away from duty continued, as on “July 27 DiMaggio was again hospitalized and returned to duty a month later,” which seemed to develop into a cycle. Cole wrote, “He was rehospitalized Sept. 4 for two weeks. Another hospital trip on Oct. 12 led to a stay at Tripler General Hospital for four days.”  Cole references a 1945 psychiatric report conducted following Joe’s continued hospital visits throughout the remainder of his time in the service, citing” Although he denies nervous or mental disability, he admits that he has always been moody, and it would appear that he has always been high-strung, irritable, easily aroused and quick-tempered.”  According to Cole, “DiMaggio definitely didn’t like the public relations role he was fulfilling.”

The physician noted in his report (as conveyed in Cole’s article), “When he (DiMaggio) was in Honolulu, for instance, he felt he was exploited by being put on exhibition, and, what is more, he feels not to the profit of the Army but rather to increase the income of civilians by gate receipts. He feels that he should have been utilized at all times as a physical instructor, and shows a definite aversion to playing baseball while in the Army.”

Honolulu Stadium (circa 1960s): Drier Manor was located across Isenberg Street (which runs along the bottom edge of this photo) on the right, inside of the left field foul line (image source: scottymoore.net).

Despite the emotional and health issues that were apparently plaguing DiMaggio, he still managed to continue playing baseball for the troops in Hawaii. Days after arriving via an arduous transit (aboard a ship) Joe would participate in a pair of exhibition games played over a five-day period, DiMaggio would crush two memorable home runs, one in each game. The first one would land outside the stadium’s right field on Isenberg Street, traveling 435 feet, in the first game. The second would be a 450-foot mammoth blast, striking the St. Louis College alumni clubhouse, Drier Manor, across Isenberg Street, to the cheers of more than 20,000 fans in attendance.

I have never been interested in collecting Joe DiMaggio. Perhaps my lack of desire for his memorabilia was due to multiple factors ranging from near-loathing of the Yankees due to my allegiance to Brooklyn and the Los Angeles Dodgers to being priced out of the market as a result of the Yankee Clipper’s immense and enduring popularity among baseball collectors. Being interested in DiMaggio’s military service and is playing time during his time on active duty transcends my anti-Yankees stance though still precludes me from affording anything pertaining to his career; especially his stint with the USAAF…until a few weeks ago (more on this ahead).

Sgt. DiMaggio and Petty Officer Reese sign baseballs for Vice Admiral Ghormley and Brigadier General Flood ahead of one of the 1944 Central Pacific Area Championship Series games (image source: Honolulu Star Adviser).

Sgt. DiMaggio poses before batting in a 1944 game at Seattle’s Fort Lawton base. Joltin’ Joe was in Seattle awaiting transport to Hawaii on his way to his 7th AAF assignment (image source: Seattle Times).

A simple internet search for Joe DiMaggio photos from his wartime service yields plenty of images in uniform ranging from his Santa Ana team to one in a Fort Lawton (located in fort Seattle) uniform, however, it is the home uniform of DiMaggio’s 7th Army Air Force team that dominates the (internet search) results. The 7th AAF uniform is very distinctive with its dark shell and white sleeves which makes it one of the most recognizable of all World War II known and photographed baseball uniforms. The jersey is a dark shell with white sleeves with distinctive lettering across the chest spelling out 7th AAF in white. The soutache that encircles the collar and frames the placket is a thin white line of trim while each sleeve has a thin dark line of trim located approximately one-inch in from the edge.

The trousers that accompany this uniform appear to be color-matched to the dark shell of the jersey but the trim on the pants-legs appears to consist of two 1/2-inch vertical stripes extending from the waistband to the cuffs. The cap is also color-matched but with thin, white trim sewn over each seam of the crown’s six panels.

Due to DiMaggio’s enduring popularity among collectors and fans, this (7th AAF) home jersey was one of the first military baseball uniform reproductions to be made (if not the first) by Ebbets Field Flannels (which they mistakenly identified as a road uniform). It is highly-likely that this jersey is the most-popular repro military baseball garment sold (by any maker) which is why, it should be updated to be historically-accurate, though it was originally made based a photographic study as no known examples survived through the decades.

DiMaggio (front row, 2nd from right) with his 1943 Santa Ana Air Force team (image source: Baseballinwartime.com).

One of the most difficult challenges faced by companies in reproducing from black and white images (when an original uniform is unavailable) is color-accuracy. To even the most experienced photography analysts, discerning unknown colors is a near-impossibility. In a conversation (regarding my recent find) with WWII military baseball expert, Gary Bedingfield, while discussing the 7th AAF uniforms, he shared with me a conversation (via an exchange in correspondence in multiple letters traded between Bedingfield and the baseball veteran) that he had with Yankees’ back-up catcher and DiMaggio’s 7th AAF team, Charlie Silvera.

Showing the 7th AAF team at Hickam’s Furlong Field stadium, their home venue (image source: Baseballinwartime.com).

“Their (the 7th AAF) home uniforms were dark green and white,” Bedingfield relayed to me, “although I’ve never seen a color photo of them, the always look black and white.” Bedingfield continued, “they were softball uniforms (that had been) donated to the team.”

In addition to what can be found on internet searches of the dark/white home variant, there are a few photos of the 7th AAF team (including DiMaggio) wearing the road version of the uniform. Not quite as distinctive, this uniform is entirely gray with a thin, dark line of soutache on the placket, around the collar and on the sleeves. The dark lettering across the chest is aligned in an arc (rather than straight across as is on the home uniform).

Now that I have your attention (or perhaps I lost you, dear reader, after taking you through 2,600 words in such a lengthy 3,400+  word-story), I can delve into the incredible (to me, at least) find while searching through online auction listings.

While seeking something completely unrelated, I stumbled upon a scantly-described (no details regarding size, age, etc.) auction listing that was rife with misspellings but displayed an incredible, type-1 photograph of the “Yankee Clipper” wearing the road gray uniform of the 7th AAF. The listing had one person watching and no bids with less than 24 hour remaining and the price was extremely low for what this was. I hurriedly did some research of the photo in trying to determine when and where it was taken and I zeroed in on the stadium in the background and the photographer’s marking in the lower left corner.

The Prize Photo: Joe DiMaggio, taken in June of 1944 as he poses during a break in the action at Honolulu Stadium for Hawaiian Photographer, Tai Sing Loo (author’s collection).

It was obvious to me that the photo was snapped at Honolulu Stadium, the capital city’s all-wooden ballpark (affectionately dubbed, the “Termite Palace” for reasons that require no explanation) with its unusual grandstand design and the facade on the face of both the upper and lower stands. The photographer, Tai Sing Loo, a well-known Hawaiian photog who snapped some of the most iconic imagery of the Pearl Harbor attack as well as of legendary surfer and renowned athlete, Duke Kahanamoku, snapped and printed the photograph during the game action during one of the two exhibition games soon after DiMaggio arrived on the Island.

I had no reservations in setting up my bid, hoping for the best and that no one else found the image as I had. When the auction closed the next day, I was elated to see that mine was the winning bid and I quickly paid the seller for the the photo. After a few days, I received a notice of shipment without a tracking number (it was shipped very economically, without insurance and tracking!!) I prayed and hoped that it would arrive safely and nervously anticipated its arrival. After a few days, I breathed a massive sigh of relief when I pulled the envelope from my mailbox. I quickly opened the parcel to see that the photo was indeed a Type-1 and in excellent condition.

One of the most interesting and mysterious aspects of this photo surrounds a uniform element that is visible on DiMaggio’s left sleeve. In the three examples of DiMaggio in the uniform, none show the 7th AAF shoulder sleeve insignia (SSI) on the jersey as is clearly visible in the image that I acquired. In viewing the images of the pages of the program from the fourth game of the Central Pacific Championship Series played between the All-Stars of the Navy and Army, there are hints of what appears to be SSIs on the sleeves of both Ferris Fain and Dario Lodigiani in their player photos. Without the insights from the players themselves, there is seemingly no way to know when or why the SSI was used.

As incredible as it was to add such a fantastic photograph of a baseball legend to my collection, it wasn’t the end of my magical run of success with these significant military baseball-related artifacts from the Pacific Theater.

References:

 

 

A Propeller, Wings and a Baseball: A Diamond from Bolling Field

Brick walls. Dead ends. Regardless of the term one employs to describe fruitless research, the end result will always be disappointment.

A while ago, I located a fantastic jersey for a very reasonable price and despite the cursory research and due diligence not yielding specific results, I moved ahead with making a bid to purchase the artifact. What initially drew my attention to this jersey was that it was a departure from my norm in terms of the armed forces branches that were already represented within my collection (which, at the time, consisted of one Navy, two Army and three Marines baseball uniforms or jerseys).  In nearly ten years of actively searching for military baseball items, I hadn’t yet seen anything from the Army Air Forces (or Air Corps).

World War II or earlier) Bolling Field, US Army Air Force jersey. This uniform jersey is made of gray road) wool flannel with athletic felt lettering. The soutache is black rayon.

The online listing showed a rather simple, road gray wool flannel jersey with thin black soutache on the placket, around the collar and located about one inch from the edge of each sleeve. What sets this jersey apart from others is the the application of the lettering. Spelling out “BOLLING FIELD” are athletic felt, two color (gold over navy blue), large block characters. Each letter consists of a gold piece of felt centered over a larger one of blue felt with color-matched stitching that give a illusion of three-dimensional appearance. The careful placement of the “E” (in FIELD) ensured that the button hole alignment wouldn’t interfere with a tasteful alignment of the team name.

Though it is difficult to discern in this image, the base material has become brittle and is separating at the top of the propeller, leaving a break in the gray flannel.

On the left sleeve, a two-piece athletic felt (similar to the lettering) winged-propeller emblem, complete with accenting embroidery (adding feathers to the wing and a baseball at the center of the prop) denoting the Air Forces mission of the base. The back of the jersey is plain and without numerals. The style of the jersey and the overall design is representative of those from the early 1940s which coincides with the what the seller described as being a World War II baseball jersey.

Attempting to determine the age of the jersey or when it was made isn’t necessarily an easy task however there isn’t really anything substantive that can be used to pinpoint the age. The team name provides an era (1918-1948) when the base existed as an airfield (rather than an Air Force Base following the establishment of the U.S. Air Force). Bolling Field was established after the Defense Department’s property was divided between the army and the navy for each branch’s aviation operations in the Washington D.C. area. Named for Ranar C. Bolling, a colonel who, having been recently appointed (by General Pershing) as the chief of air service for II Corps when he was killed (on  March 26, 1918), during Operation Michael while he was scouting in the early days of the offensive. A thirty-year window of age possibilities hardly provided me with specificity so I had to look at the jersey’s other elements.

A commonality among the majority of the military jerseys that I have seen and certainly within my collection is the absence of manufacturer’s tags. Most of the uniforms and jerseys worn by service-member ball players have just a lone size tag. the Bolling jersey has a tag that until I acquired this jersey, I had not seen before.

This jersey was most-likely made by Wilson but sold through their wholesaler and retailer, Lowe and Campbell, as indicated by the tag. Also present in the collar are hand-written digits that could be the a portion of the airman’s laundry number.

If the jersey was made by Spalding or Goldsmith, the tag would be very useful in determining the age (see: Early Baseball Uniforms Manufacturer Tags Database: 1890 – 1942). These two manufacturers employed a measure of consistency (even as the logo changed, it did so in specific periods) over the course of manufacturing an immeasurable volume of baseball uniforms for professional and amateur teams. However, the manufacturer of the Bolling jersey, Lowe & Campbell, has a more murky history in terms of label usage and available, pinpoint-dated examples to draw comparisons. I was able to find a handful of L & C label examples but when attempting to use them as a basis for dating, there is considerable challenge, especially considering the company’s history.

Lowe and Campbell (L&C) was founded in Kansas City, Missouri in 1912 by George C. Lowe and Keedy Campbell during a period of massive growth in the sporting goods industry that was already being dominated by companies (Spalding, Rawlings and Wilson) that, today remain the leading manufacturers and suppliers of sports equipment. L&C’s early years in the industry found their principle customers in schools, colleges and universities and within the the realm of athletic teams sponsored by private industry. Throughout their first decade, the company experience growth, opening up offices throughout the Midwest but by the early 1930s, had become a target of one of the larger sporting goods giants who were seeking to rapidly expand into markets via acquisitions, as was the common practice, rather than expending effort and resources to develop into these areas. Wilson Sporting Goods entered into a merger agreement with L & C in 1931, but rather than to absorb the smaller company, Wilson positioned themselves as the wholesale supplier and retained their acquisition, L&C became a division of the giant as retailers of their products.

Maintaining this corporate alignment well into the next few decades, Wilson expanded the L&C offices into new markets and continued to produce products that carried the company’s logos. The catalogs throughout this era reveal that Lowe and Campbell expanded their product lines to include a greater variety of sport. As with the practices of many sporting goods retailers, their product offerings were predominantly manufactured by different sporting good companies with L&C adding their own tags and company markings. Even prior to the merger, Lowe and Campbell sold re-branded products supplied by manufacturers such as Hillerich and Bradsby, the makers of Louisville Slugger bats.

“After the merger the Lowe & Campbell brand of baseball bats disappear from the catalogs. Wilson baseball bats are added to the catalog by 1940, but they continue to sell Louisville Slugger bats, which dominate the catalogs. Wilson continued to manufacture baseball gloves under the private Branded Lowe & Campbell name. Because of the lack of catalog information it is not clear when Louisville Slugger began to make the Lowe & Campbell brand of baseball bats They do appear in the 1922 Lowe & Campbell catalog along side Louisville Slugger.” – KeyMan Collectibles

Following World War II, Wilson’s growth had continued as they acquired additional small sporting goods companies. Lowe and Campbell’s retail operation was eliminated as they were transformed into a wholesale operation their parent, Wilson functioning as both the manufacturer and wholesaler. The shift away from retail diminished the L&C brand and by 1960, Wilson eliminated it all together, shuttering the division and even closing down the Kansas City facility where Lowe and Campbell began.

Today, the remnants of the sporting goods brand exist via collectors who preserve the artifacts that produced and sold by Lowe and Campbell. However, a re-birth of the L&C brand is in process and the owner, Thomas Martin, whom acquired the brand, shared with me (via the company’s Facebook page) that Lowe and Campbell‘s 2018 fall launch will be headlined with American manufactured sports apparel.

Attempting to chronologically trace the progression of the company’s label history seems to be a futile attempt, especially in determining the of date the Bolling Field jersey. I found various (dates known) L&C branded garments and checked the labels in an effort to piece together a timeline and was unsuccessful at narrowing down transitional patterns.

 

Desiring to tap into the expertise of the new owner of the Lowe and Campbell brand, I asked Thomas Martin about the logos and tags, sharing some of the samples (shown above) in an effort to gain some insight. “No one,” Martin stated, “kept historical dated records of the brand,” but, in his experience with the vintage garments themselves, is able to determine the age, having seen countless products that were made and sold by Lowe and Campbell during the company’s first incarnation. Mr. Martin’s assessment of the label in the Bolling jersey was that it dated from the 1930s, “L&C only used  two logos,” Martin wrote, “the one you have was used in the 30’s.” Martin discussed the logo change as a result of being acquired (in 1931 by Wilson). Garments made by the company in the 1940s began to receive a new logo (see the two bottom-right examples, above) on their tags.

My next research step will be to search through newspaper archives from WWII in the Washington D.C. area seeking any box scores or news articles regarding the Bolling Field team’s game-play. My hope is that the Army Air Force public relations personnel was as open in terms of publicizing the competitiveness of their base team. In my estimation, this team had to have competed against other service teams within the region including the Norfolk Naval Training Station and Norfolk Naval Air Station teams. The only baseball-specific lead (with a possible connection) that I have discovered regarding Bolling centers on Hank Greenberg.

In Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes, author John Rosengren states, “A friend of Hank’s, Sam Edelman, wrote on his behalf to have Hank promoted to the rank of captain and assigned as an athletic director in the Air Corps (sic) at Bolling Field. Two brigadier generals carried the request to the War Department, lobbying for the educational qualifications (for an officer’s commission) to be waived for Greenberg. The Adjutant General denied the request on the grounds that it was ‘contrary to the policies of the Secretary of War.'” No mention is made (within the book) regarding Sergeant Greenberg’s ball-playing at Bolling Field. However, according to Rosengren, Greenberg would eventually be assigned as a director of the physical training program at MacDill Field in Tampa, Florida and would subsequently be assigned to the Orlando Air Base baseball team for an exhibition game against the Washington Senators at Tinker Field. I would love to discover anything that would connect such a legend to the Bolling team.

A recurring statement often read on Chevrons and Diamonds is that further research and time are required to break through the mystery, pushing beyond the dead-ends and brick walls that I have reached with my efforts up to this point.

Resources:

Lowe and Campbell vintage sports uniform examples:

 

Theresa Dischler and her WAAC baseball team at Bolling Field in Washington, D.C. Dischler is in the back row, second from the left image source: Wisconsin Veterans Museum).

(Postscript: Sometimes, my research uncovers fascinating facts that while contextual with my interests, further energy would take me into a different direction. What I discovered appears to be the only piece of Bolling Field baseball history that is available online. This fantastic snippet regarding a Women’s Army Auxilliary Corps veteran, Sergeant Theresa M. Dischler, who also played for the WAAC baseball team at the air field during her time in the service of her country.

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