by West Coast Craig

LOS ANGELES, CA – Tell me why, I do like Mondays…it’s the day that most of these national holidays fall on; it’s a fresh start on the week; a time to put behind you the sour taste of losing two of three over the weekend. Despite some late inning heroics on Saturday for both NY squads, neither did the other any favors and now both are an extra game back behind the Phils and Sox respectfully. I haven’t watched much of these NBA Playoffs, but for the first time I feel like I must be missing out, for they seem like the most exciting in decades. Stern and his fixers must be doing something right this year…from what I’ve seen, the refereeing has been its usual horrid self. The Indy 500 was won by…well, I assume by somebody who drove real fast counterclockwise in an oval.

Once again, if you’re reading this it’s not because you’re stealing moments from work, you’re doing it on your own precious time…so, thanks! It’s Memorial Day, where we take time to remember how to use a charcoal chimney, to drink some cold beers on a Monday without feeling guilt, fight traffic on the way to the beach, or take in the first crappy blockbusters of the summer at the Cineplex. Oh yeah, we should also take a moment to think about our fallen soldiers. Some people can get all up in arms that the meaning of the season is lost on most Americans today, but personally I can think of no better way to be memorialized than by people cooking up some delicious ribs and quaffing some cold brews. Hey, I take my hat off during the National Anthem just like everybody else. So in honor of the holiday, I eschewed some of my notes and ideas for this week’s column (I considered writing about the Toronto Blue Jays as this year’s Devil Rays, but then they went and lost every game this week and besides, why should I write about a Canadian team on Memorial Day?)…and instead, I started researching baseball players who served their country and paid the ultimate price.

Everybody knows about the main stars during WWII, Ted Williams and Jerry Coleman kicking so much ass in the skies that they were both recalled during the Korean War; Warren Spahn surviving a bridge over the Rhine being destroyed by German artillery while he was working with the Army Corps of Engineers to repair it; Yogi Berra a Gunner’s Mate off a Navy boat launching rockets at the German pillboxes during the D-Day invasion at Normandy; Hank Bauer serving in the fierce fighting in the Pacific and getting wounded both in Okinawa and Guam. Moe Berg’s efforts to find intelligence on Germany’s nuclear capabilities in WWII are recounted in slightly fuzzy but entertaining detail in the book The Catcher Was a Spy. This is but scratching the surface, of course.

“I’m no hero. Heroes don’t come back. Survivors return home. Heroes never come home. If anyone thinks I’m a hero, I’m not.” — Bob Feller


The list of those ballplayers who paid the ultimate sacrifice is surprisingly short, however. Researching the Internets, I could only find three.

“Harvard” Eddie Grant was a steady third baseman who played for Connie Mack’s A’s and John McGraw’s Giants before retiring in 1915. He was a Captain in WWI, and when all of his superior officers were killed in fierce action, he found himself in charge. During a four day search for the “Lost Battalion” (554 men separated in the Argonne Forest), he was killed by an exploding shell, and later memorialized by a plaque in center field of the Polo Grounds.

Elmer Gideon played for the Senators before signing up in 1941. In a flight training exercise, he was in a crash and, despite three broken ribs, crawled back into the burning wreckage to pull a trapped crewmate to safety. For his efforts he spent twelve weeks in a hospital and required skin grafts, and was promoted to First Lieutenant. He was a beloved crewmate while flying bombing missions, and shot down over England in 1944.

Harry O’Neal was a back-up catcher on Mack’s A’s team in 1939, and only saw action in one game. He became a Lieutenant in the Marines during WWII, and saw much heavier action in key battles in the Pacific. In March of 1945, he was among the first wave of Marines to fight their way inland on the heavily fortified island of Iwo Jima, and was cut down.

The list of minor league, semi-pro, and amateur players is way longer, numbering in the hundreds. It can also be mentioned that Japanese ballplayers who lost their lives in the horrifically futile and short-sighted Kamikaze attacks number in the hundreds as well, and put the sport back years in the land of the rising sun. Only one big leaguer, Roy Gleason, was wounded in Vietnam, and apart from much heralded Pat Tillman, I don’t think any professional athletes have been killed in battle in any of the conflicts of the modern era.

So, today as you scarf down your barbeque and take in the gorgeous first day of Summer while rooting for your teams like a matter of life and death, raise a frosty cold one to these guys and feel good about being American. Yeah, I said it, have a happy Memorial Day, for how better can you respect their memories?

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About West Coast Craig 226 Articles
West Coast Craig reports from Hollywood with an endearingly laid back style. A happily married father of two little boys, WCC has an avocado tree in his yard, plays the hot corner in a "Valley" hardball league and always manages to take cool sports-related mini road-trips, often with his immediate clan. He hails from Oneonta, NY but has been "So very L.A." for twenty years, so his sports teams are the Yankees AND the Dodgers, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the L.A. Lakers and the Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques. WCC loves bacon-wrapped hotdogs and can touch his heel and his ear... with his hand.