Playing for Their Nation: Baseball and the American Military during World War II

By Steven R. Bullock | Go to book overview

Chapter 5 Qualified to Serve

Major League Stars' Militar y Experiences during World War II

By the conclusion of World War II, millions of Americans had served the Allied cause of halting fascism on the battlefields, in the skies, and on the seas. Among these multitudes of gallant servicemen were carpenters, mechanics, farmers, and engineers — as well as the vast majority of the nation's professional baseball players. Before the war was yet a year old, the armed forces had claimed such diamond legends as Bob Feller and Hank Greenberg in addition to dozens of lesser-known players. Early in the war, The Sporting News adorned the front page of a May 1942 issue with a huge V (for victory) formed out of caricatures of the players then in the service. Feller, Greenberg, Hugh Mulcahy, and Cecil Travis were all depicted, a clear reflection that baseball was contributing mightily to the struggle for freedom. By the end of the war, the ranks of America's fighting men had expanded to include Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, and Warren Spahn along with virtually ever other talented Major Leaguer, not to mention most minor leaguers. By the time the last shots were fired, approximately fiftyfour hundred to fifty-eight hundred professional baseball players in the United Sates had served in the armed forces in some capacity. 1

These players, though a small fraction of the men who served, received a disproportionate amount of publicity and, at times, criticism during their military lives. It seemed to be an unwritten rule during World War II that Major League stars and other celebrities were to be exempted from exposure to dangerous situations. Although the death rate for American military personnel approximated 3 percent, no ac

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