One of my favorite personal accounts of World War II is found in Ensign George Gay’s autobiography, Sole Survivor: Torpedo Squadron Eight – Battle of Midway written by the only person of 30 naval aviators and crew of USS Hornet’s (CV-8) Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) that launched from the carrier to survive the first attack on the Japanese carries during the initial assault. Ensign George Gay would watch the entirety of the battle floating in the water after having ditched his Douglas TBD Devastator after being damaged by enemy fire. The story was harrowing as U.S. Naval air forces from the three carriers, which included the Enterprise (CV-6) and Yorktown (CV-5), executed the initial attack on the Imperial Japanese Navy forces and were devastated in the process.
While the Battle of Midway was a victory for the United States and the turning point of the war in the Pacific (placing the Japanese on the defensive until their unconditional surrender in 1945), it was a massive gamble and if things had gone differently, the entire West Coast and what remained of the United States Pacific territories would have been left wholly unprotected from the advancing Japanese navy. Nimitz’ battle paid off as did those of the men who actually carried the battle to the Japanese.
The story of VT-8 would otherwise be one of failure as Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron carried the battle to the Japanese and in doing so, had disobeyed the orders of his commanding officer and that of Hornet’s skipper, Marc Mitscher regarding which heading he was to proceed upon takeoff. Once airborne, LCDR Waldron changed direction (but failed to get the entire attacking force to follow), following his best assessment of where the enemy would be. Once his VT-8 squadron arrived, they were without American fighter protection and were cut to pieced by both Japanese fighters and shipboard anti-air gunnery. However, once the other squadrons of American torpedo and dive-bomber planes arrived, the Japanese fighters were out of position (having dropped down to engage VT-8. As a result of the lack of cover, the Japanese carriers were exposed for the American dive bombers (from squadrons VB-6, VS-6 and VB-3) to attack with success, destroying three Japanese carriers within six minutes of the commencement of their attack.
There were several men who played key roles in the success of the attack on the Japanese naval forces and there were decisions made with extremely high risk of failure that could have ended up in disaster but the gambles paid off. Many valor decorations were awarded for the actions spanning the dates of June 4-7, 1942 including the Navy Cross LCDR Waldron received (along with the 14 other VT-8 pilots). His citation reads:
The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Lieutenant Commander John Charles Waldron (NSN: 0-58825), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Torpedo Plane and Commanding Officer of Torpedo Squadron EIGHT (VT-8), attached to the U.S.S. HORNET (CV-8), during the “Air Battle of Midway,” against enemy Japanese forces on 4 June 1942. Grimly aware of the hazardous consequences of flying without fighter protection, and with insufficient fuel to return to his carrier, Lieutenant Commander Waldron resolutely, and with no thought of his own life, led his squadron in an effective torpedo attack against violent assaults of enemy Japanese aircraft fire. His courageous action, carried out with a gallant spirit of self-sacrifice and a conscientious devotion to the fulfillment of his mission, was a determining factor in the defeat of the enemy forces and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
Waldron’s leadership in trying moments (his pre-flight orders and his decision to attack without fighter cover) was heroic and he was so honored with the Navy’s highest, decoration (short of the Medal of Honor). As a naval aviator, his name was further esteemed when the Navy bestowed the aviator’s name upon a Naval Auxiliary Air Field (NAAF) near Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. NAAF Waldron was commissioned on April 1, 1943, ten months after the decorated aviator was shot down during the Midway battle. NAAF Waldron was established as a training base to develop, (appropriately) torpedo bomber pilots, continuing the education for naval aviation cadets. In addition to the naval training facilities constructed on the base, the need for these men to enjoy recreational downtime during their intense and rigorous training necessitated the construction of athletic areas and resources. As baseball was (and still is) our national pastime, fields and diamonds were built and leagues teams were established for active duty personnel as had been established at other naval training facilities (Norfolk, Chapel Hill, Fort Belvoir, Camp Pendleton and in Hawaii).
As with many other bases during WWII, NAAF (sometimes referred to as Naval Air Station – NAS) Waldron fielded a team of aviation cadets. At least two filling the roster of the Waldron team were veterans of the major leagues (Sam Chapman, a rising star outfielder of the Philadelphia Athletics and the Boston Braves’ pitcher, Johnny Sain). As of this publication date, there are no available records to research regarding games, game logs, wins or losses or complete rosters for the duration of the war.
My pursuit of military baseball uniforms (especially jerseys) is well-documented on this site. When a jersey bearing the Waldron name was listed at auction last fall, my interest was piqued, prompting me to begin researching the uniform in an attempt to validate the seller’s claims.
“RARE Waldron Field Baseball Jersey World War II NAS M-41 M-43 President Bush??Do you like World War II-era items? Do you like baseball?Then here’s your chance at acquiring the best of both worlds!Bid on or buy this EXTREMELY RARE Corpus Christi Waldron Field Naval Air Station Baseball Jersey from the days of World War II
Old heavy flannel made in Louisiana for the Texas team.This really belongs in a military or sports museum. Give it a good home.MORE RARE than a combat-worn M-41 or M-43 jacketHOW RARE??? There are 20-25 players to a team, plus a handful of coaches = NOT MANY JERSEYS!GOOD LUCK FINDING ANOTHER!”
The listing and the photos were captivating and soon I was performing due diligence in determining of the seller’s claims were valid. Prior to seeing the auction, I had no idea if a “Corpus Christi Waldron Naval Air Station” base in existence or if there ever was one. I seldom get buoyed by the attempts to fuel emotional responses so I immediately disregarded all of the other information that the seller provided. I also took note that there was no mention of any provenance or if it was associated with any estates. One off-putting aspect of the listing was that the asking price was well above what these jerseys typically sell for. Often times, sellers will initially list them at a high buy-it-now and initial bid amount as they are hopeful that there would be a knee-jerk, trigger-pull response to bidding. The lack of interest at such a high price will prompt the seller to enter into a cycle of re-listing, reducing the price each time. In this case, I watched this happen twice and then decided to contact the seller at the end of the second listing.
My researching of the jersey led me to the information about the Waldron Naval Auxiliary Air Field and subsequently, the photo (shown above) of the ball club in uniform. While my research wasn’t conclusive in terms of confirming that the seller’s Waldron jersey was, in fact from this team, I was able to rule out every high school named “Waldron.” Also, the lettering of the auction jersey, made of road gray wool flannel and a two-color (blue and red) soutache trimmed around the placard and the sleeve cuffs. Also, the jersey’s design was representative of the early-to-mid 1940s and the “W A L D R O N” lettering was applied to this jersey exactly as it is in the NAAF team photo (seen above).
Armed with my information and not wanting to tip my cards to the seller that I was really interested, I did pass along to him the sale-price history of similar military jerseys for the last few months and years. After some back-and-forth dialogue, we were able to negotiate a fair price for the jersey but I needed to wait a week to be able to pay the price (this was getting close to the Christmas holidays and my budget was very restricted). When I was ready and the appointed day arrived to execute the deal we struck…nothing. The seller re-listed the jersey for a significantly higher (than the initial listing price). After further correspondence in attempting to ascertain what went wrong, I realized that I was best to simply let go of the transaction and see what would happen with the auction.
As I predicted to my wife, the jersey did not sell and the auction ended. Weeks rolled by into nearly two months since that latest listing when he made another attempt. This time, the seller included a “best offer” functionality to the listing and I submitted the same price as what was negotiated more than two months prior. The seller countered my offer (it was reasonable, if unethical…but who am I to argue? I really wanted to have the jersey) and I accepted and quickly paid the seller. What happened next perplexed me. The seller sent a message to inform me of the anticipated date of shipment, ” This will ship by Saturday. Enjoy,” he wrote. “And please let me know what you get for this when you re-sell it. I’m curious what you’ve got here,” his closing sentence left me perplexed. Did he honestly think that I spent more than three months of effort and energy just to turn around and flip it for profit – considering he was wholly unable to do this? After follow-up discussion, I informed him of my efforts and he satisfactorily explained himself further but I was still scratching my head. It was the first time that a seller made such a comment to me in more than 500 transactions spanning 17 years.
The jersey arrived as promised and it was fantastic to place this artifact among my (now) eight vintage military baseball jerseys and uniforms.
Author’s Note: World War II was especially difficult for the Waldron Family. Not only did LCDR Waldron’s (ten years-older) sister lose her brother during the Battle of Midway in 1942, but she also lost her youngest son, Major Robert Phillip, USMC, a naval aviator when his aircraft was lost at sea slightly more than a year after her brother was killed. Major Phillip’s aircraft was lost on June 24, 1943 in the waters near Manono Island (Samoa). As devastating as these two losses were, the cost of the war to the Waldron family wasn’t yet finished. Alice Island “Isle” (Waldron) Phillips oldest son, Commander George Phillip Jr. paid with his life during the Battle of Okinawa on 16 June 1945 when the destroyer that he commanded, USS Twiggs (DD_591) was sunk after a Japanese torpedo plane struck the ship with a torpedo then circled back in a kamikaze attack, igniting a mass-conflagration of explosions and flames. The Twiggs sank within an hour and Commander Phillip went down with his ship and 151 other men.
Not long ago, my wife asked me what my goal was in terms of militaria and baseball collecting. I know that she asked this question with the utmost sincerity and respect for this interest that I have in these areas of history. The question is not something that I haven’t already asked myself in some manner or fashion as I try to understand what, within myself, causes me to look at different artifacts that become available. I often ask myself, “Is this piece in line with what you have been acquiring and researching?” I spend time analyzing what it is driving my interest in a piece before I start to consider the expense, space to preserve and house it or if the item is authentic.
Space is at a premium in our home. We live in a modest (not small, but not large) and we have kids who also require space for their various activities which translates to not having an area for displaying artifacts. I have seen some incredible mini-museums that other collectors (both in the militaria and baseball collection areas of focus) that rival some of the best museums around the country. These collectors are so incredibly diligent, resourceful, patient and meticulous in acquiring the right balance of artifacts to create complete displays that convey the story while not overwhelming the viewer with sensory overload. Even if we had the space within our home, I am not certain that I would take this tack with my collection.
In attempting to collect my thoughts to respond to my wife’s question, I wanted to convey to her (an myself) that what I focus my interest in is very specialized and that while the mailbox and front porch (at times) is barraged with a stream of packages (“is that ANOTHER piece for your collect?”), I don’t really have much coming to the house. This thinking could be construed as justification which is not what I want to convey to her. As I analyzed my thoughts, I wanted to mention that in terms of my highly selective focus leaves me wanting to preserve those artifacts that fit the narratives of my collection but also, if I didn’t purchase them, could be relegated to sitting in a plastic bin, long forgotten for decades. That too, sounds like an excuse.
This past summer as I prepared to display a selection of my U.S. Navy uniform artifacts, I selected specific pieces to demonstrate the overall theme of the display. I chose to be limited in what would be shown, taking the less-is-more mindset. I could have filled the display case from top to bottom but instead, I wanted viewers to see each piece and enjoy them individually and as a whole. As I continue with my interests, this is the approach that I have been and will continue to take. That each piece that is added to my collection will be thoughtfully considered, individually as well as how it fits into what I already have.
A few weeks ago, a patch was listed for sale (shown above) by a fellow militaria collector that received it from the son of a WWII veteran. Another collector suggested that the patch was worn on a baseball uniform as it resembled one that was common on major and minor league baseball uniforms, starting in 1942.
With the War in full swing and after suffering some substantial challenges (Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, Wake Island, Guam, the USS Houston, etc.) the United States was still ramping up to get onto the offensive against the Axis powers. Following the Pearl Harbor sneak attack, young men flocked to the armed forces recruitment offices, including in their numbers, several stars from the ranks of professional baseball. Leaders within all spheres of our nation (political, business, entertainment, churches, etc.) were almost unanimously patriotic and working together to hold our citizens and service men and women together for the common goal of defeating the fascist enemies. Aside from the rationing (food, textiles, gasoline, electricity) and recycling (predominantly metals) campaigns that commenced, recognizing the need for Americans to be physically fit and health-conscious in order to fight, build and farm – in other words, produce – for the War effort. Professional Baseball, in response to the call, embraced the physical fitness message and began to share it on their uniforms with the Hale – America Initiative Health patch.
While I have found a handful of photographs depicting variations of the Health patch (a shield shape with stars and stripes) on wartime uniforms, I have only found one image with a variation of the patriot patch in place. In my growing archive of vintage military baseball photographs (numbering over a hundred) contains only a single image with players wearing a shield patch. The baseball uniform of the Naval Air Station, Jacksonville ball club, in addition to the beautiful chenille logo on the left breast, has one of the patches affixed to the left sleeve. Due to the high contrast exposure of the photograph, it is impossible to distinguish the variation – there is an unrecognizable inset shield-shaped (white) field that is centered, superimposed over the vertical stripes.
While it is certainly possible that the patch that was being sold was worn on a military baseball uniform during WWII, I didn’t want to commit the financial or storage space resources to something that I would have a hard time authenticating. Without photographic evidence to back up the assertion of usage on service team uniforms, this patch is nothing more than a (seemingly) vintage patriotic, multi-layered wool-flannel constructed emblem (which I actually find visually appealing). Without practicing a measure of restraint, caution and requiring (of myself) provenance, I would have committed to purchasing the patch and adding it t
o my short list of to-be-researched militaria. However, I needed to be more discerning with my interests and, in answering the question in regards to my collecting goals, I passed on the opportunity to add the patch to my collection.
I am still attempting to answer my wife’s question regarding my collecting goals with a well-thought out response however, I would assert that my actions just might speak more clearly than any words could offer.