Often overlooked because of the trauma of the Edgewater Beach shooting was the psychological impact of the war years on Eddie Waitkus. World War II took three baseball seasons from Waitkus, but it affected his entire life. “He talked more about the war than he did about baseball, ” his wife, Carol, said.
Waitkus had just turned twenty-four when he left for the war and was engaged in some of the fiercest battles in the Pacific theater. He fought in the final, crucial stages of General Douglas MacArthur's island-hopping offensive, Operation Cartwheel. Its mission: cut off Tokyo from its southeast Asian empire and provide MacArthur with a triumphant return to the Philippines. Involved in the western prong of Cartwheel, Waitkus faced fanatical Japanese resistance, grueling jungle terrain, and horrid conditions. He experienced firsthand the horrors of war: he survived kamikaze attacks on Navy ships; nausea and artillery fire in crowded, rocking assault boats; bloody beachheads strewn with dead soldiers; machine, artillery, and mortar fire from maniacal Japanese defenders; oppressive heat, malaria, and maddening tropical flies; endless months of C rations; and the always present stench of death from nearby foxholes. Waitkus's innocence was lost forever in the twisted jungles of the Pacific, and he carried this trauma with him for the rest of his life.
By mid-September 1944, Waitkus was part of a task force of one hundred ships carrying forty thousand troops. This offensive drove up the north coast of New Guinea and crossed the equator into the northern hemisphere, headed for Morotai, a small, palm-fringed island between New Guinea and the Philippines. Morotai was used by General MacArthur as an advance base for