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Posted in Baseball Military History

Moe Berg: catcher, lawyer, spy

Moe Berg with the Red Sox. During his second season, Hall of Famer Ted Williams asked Berg what made hitters like Ruth and Gehrig great. Berg told him, “Gehrig would wait and wait and wait until he hit the pitch almost out of the catcher’s glove. As to Ruth he had no weaknesses, he had a good eye and laid off pitches out of the strike zone. Ted, you most resemble a hitter like Shoeless Joe Jackson. But you are better than all of them. When it comes to wrists you have the best.”

On this day in 1934, Washington Senator’s backup catcher Morris “Moe” Berg’s streak of 117 games in a row without committing an error comes to an end, setting an American League record.

Berg wasn’t your typical athlete: before signing with the Brooklyn Robins (they wouldn’t become the Dodgers until 1932), he graduated from Princeton University with a B.A. magna cum laude in modern languages. Ted Lyons, Berg’s teammate with the White Sox, would say that “he can speak seven languages but can’t hit in any of them.”

Berg didn’t have a great bat, but when every one of manager Ray Shalk’s White Sox that could catch were out with injuries in 1927, Shalk – a player/manager who himself was one of the injured catchers – asked the right fielder to suit up, and it turned out he had a great arm and was a fantastic defensive catcher. He stayed behind the plate for the rest of his career. He worked around his baseball schedule to complete a law degree from Columbia University and passed the New York State bar exam. He would work for a Wall Street law firm during the off season.

In 1934, a group of future Hall of Famers traveled to Japan for a series of exhibition games against a Japanese all-star team. Somehow the inconspicuous Berg made the roster along with Babe Ruth (whom Berg became friends with on the trip), Lou Gehrig, Earl Averill, Charlie Gehringer, Jimmie Foxx, and Lefty Gomez. While the team was in Toyko, Berg tricked the Japanese into thinking he was going to visit the American ambassador and instead made his way to the rooftop of one of the tallest buildings, taking photos and video of the city and port. The footage Berg shot was reportedly used for bombing missions during World War II.

His playing career ended in 1939, and he began a brief coaching career with the Boston Red Sox. When the United States entered World War II, William “Wild Bill” Donovan recruited Berg to join the Office of Strategic Services. He parachuted behind enemy lines on a mission to evaluate which Yugoslavian resistance movement the United States should back. After meeting and evaluating Draza Mihajlovic and Tito (Josip Broz)’s forces, Berg determined that Tito’s Communist partisans were the best bet.

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Posted in Baseball Military History

Ted Williams’ debut and the first baseball player KIA in World War II

On this day in 1939 at Yankee Stadium, a young rookie named Ted Williams makes his big league debut. He faces New York ace Red Ruffing, striking out twice but slapping a double as Ruffing shuts out the visiting Boston Red Sox 2-0.

Ted Williams being sworn into the Naval Reserve on May 24, 1942.

Williams will spend three baseball seasons serving his country during World War II, earning his Naval aviators wings and then as an instructor pilot at Pensacola Naval Air Station (Fla.) for the Vought F4U Corsair fighter plane. While he awaited assignment for combat duty, the war in the Pacific ended before Williams had to fight.

When war breaks out in Korea, the Marines recall Capt. Williams in 1952. He trains on the Grumman F9F Panther jet fighter and ships out with Marine Attack Squadron 311 (VMF-311) to Pohang, South Korea. Williams will often fly as wingman for fellow Marine and future astronaut John Glenn.

On one of his 39 combat missions, damage from enemy flak forces Williams crash-lands his crippled jet at Suwon’s K-13 airstrip. During a massive 200-plane raid on a troop encampment, Williams was hit by enemy ground fire which knocked out his instrument panel, landing gear, and hydraulic system; damaged his control surfaces; and set the plane on fire.

Rather than eject (and risk damaging his knees) Williams brings the plane down on its belly and skids down the runway for over a mile before the mortally wounded plane comes to a stop. A bout with pneumonia will disqualify Williams from flight duty and he is able to return for the final stretch of the 1953 season and resume the rest of his Hall of Fame baseball career.

Elmer Gedeon played five games for the Washington Senators in 1939.

Also on this date in 1944, a B-26 Marauder flown by Capt. Elmer Gedeon of the 586th Bombardment Squadron is shot down while attacking a V-1 flying bomb site in France. The former Washington Senators outfielder becomes the first of two professional baseball players to be killed during World War II.

In 1942, while Gedeon served as navigator aboard a B-25 Mitchell during training in the United States, his bomber crashed in North Carolina shortly after takeoff, killing two of his fellow crew. After managing to escape the burning aircraft, Gedeon ignored severe burns and broken ribs and crawled back into the fuselage to rescue another comrade. For his actions, Gedeon was awarded the Soldier’s Medal.

While not related to military history, it is interesting to note that the April 20, 1939 Red Sox-Yankee game marks the only time Williams will face Yankee Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig. The “Iron Horse” goes 0-for-4 and grounds into two double plays.

In just ten days (April 30) Gehrig will take the field for the last game, setting a remarkable streak of 2,130 consecutive games played. After the team enjoys a day off, Gehrig informs Yankee manager Joe McCarthy that he is benching himself.

He will never play again.

Posted in Military History

April 20 in military history

1861: Col. Robert E. Lee, considered for a top command by Gen. Winfield Scott (whom Lee served as a chief aide during the Mexican-American War), and having just rejected an offer of command in the Confederate Army, reluctantly resigns his commission in the U.S. Army following the secession of his home state of Virginia.

However, in three days Lee will take command of Virginia state forces – one of the first five generals appointed to the Confederate Army.

Meanwhile, Norfolk Navy Yard is abandoned and burned by Union forces to prevent the facility from falling into enemy hands after Virginia’s secession. The Confederates would do the same when they abandon the shipyard in May 1862.

1914: Following the arrest of U.S. sailors in Veracruz and the discovery of an illegal arms shipment from Germany to Gen. Victoriano Huerta’s regime, Pres. Woodrow Wilson obtains Congress’ approval to occupy the Mexican port. The following day, Marines and Naval “Bluejacket” infantry seize the port and, supported by Naval gunfire, take the town. Marines will remain in Veracruz until November.

Marine officers of the 1st Marine Brigade at Veracruz, Mexico in 1914. Second from the left (front row) is the “Marine’s Marine,” Col. John A. Lejeune; second from the right is two-time Medal of Honor recipient, Maj. Smedley D. Butler.

This date also marks the first-ever combat deployment of a Naval aviation unit: Lt. John H. Towers, 1st Lt. Bernard L. Smith (USMC), and Ens. Godfrey deC. Chevalier, 12 enlisted support personnel, and three planes board the cruiser USS Birmingham and sail for Tampico.

1918: In the skies over France, German pilot Manfred von Richtofen – the infamous “Red Baron” – guns down two Sopwith Camels of the Royal Air Force’s No. 3 Squadron within three minutes, scoring what will be his final two kills.

The next day, Richtofen (who began the war as a cavalry officer) is shot down and killed. The Australian fighter squadron credited with shooting the German ace down gives Richtofen a full military funeral. Over the course of the war, the Red Baron shoots down an incredible 80 planes – the most victories by any pilot in World War I.

1945: After five days of perhaps the most fierce urban combat of the war, the 7th Army captures Nuremberg. The Stars and Stripes are raised over Adolf Hitler Platz, the site of Nazi party rallies, on the Führer’s 56th birthday.

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Posted in Military History

April 19 in military history

[This Day in Military History is published daily at]

1775: An expedition of 700 British regulars under the command of Lt. Col. Frances Smith departs Boston to seize and destroy military stores of the Massachusetts Militia in Concord. At dawn, 70 militia members led by Capt. John Parker meet the British at Lexington, and the two sides briefly skirmish. The Americans withdraw and regroup, attacking the redcoats again at North Bridge with a much larger force, forcing the British to turn back towards Boston.

The American Revolution has begun.

1861: 86 years to the day after the “shot heard round the world,” Massachusetts volunteers headed for Washington, D.C. are attacked by a secessionist mob in Baltimore. Four soldiers and eight rioters die in the opening shots of the American Civil War.

Meanwhile, Pres. Abraham Lincoln orders a Naval blockade of Confederate ports in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. The blockade is extended to North Carolina and Virginia the following week.

1917: The Army-chartered transport ship SS Mongolia becomes the first vessel to challenge Germany’s naval blockade of England. Fitted with three 6-in. guns manned by Naval crews, Mongolia drives off and damages – possibly sinking – a German U-boat in the United States’ first Naval engagement since entering World War I.

1945: Following the most massive artillery, Naval gunfire and air bombardment of the Pacific War, U.S. soldiers and Marines of Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr.’s combined Tenth Army launch a coordinated ground assault against the dug-in Japanese defenders of the infamous Shuri Line on Okinawa.

Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. (right) in the last photo taken of the Tenth Army’s commanding general before being killed by Japanese artillery on Okinawa.

In June, Buckner, the son of Confederate Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, becomes the highest-ranking U.S. officer killed in action during World War II. His replacement, Maj. Gen. Roy S. Geiger is the only Marine to ever command a field army.

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Posted in Baseball Military History

Opening day at the House that Private Ruth Built

On this day in 1923, a newly built Yankee Stadium – nicknamed “The House that Ruth Built” hosted its first game. Over 74,000 fans packed the stands to watch the New York Yankees defeat the Boston Red Sox 4-1. Taking the field were several military veterans of World War I.

Yankee Stadium on opening day, 1923. (Library of Congress photo)

Red Sox leftfielder Joe Harris fought in France with the 320th Infantry Regiment (alongside future Pittsburgh Pirates teammate Johnny “Big Serb” Miljus) and was gassed. Boston shortstop Chick Fewster, who went 0-3 but reached first after being hit by a pitch, served in the Merchant Marine during World War I.

On the mound for the Yankees was “Sailor Bob” Shawkey, who struck out five Red Sox during his nine innings. The hurler served aboard the battleship USS Arkansas and witnessed the surrender of the German fleet. His opponent was Red Sox’ 20-game winner Howard Ehmke, who missed the 1918 season while serving in the Navy on a West Coast submarine base.

Private George H. “Babe” Ruth salutes Gen. John J. Pershing after enlisting in the New York National Guard in 1924. (Library of Congress photo)

Although he didn’t serve during the Great War, Babe Ruth – who hit a homerun and drove in three of the Yankee’s four runs – would join the New York National Guard in 1924, serving in the 104th Field Artillery Division. Centerfielder “Whitey” Witt – 1 for 3 with a walk and a run scored – also served in the Army.

Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert – who enlisted in the New York National Guard’s 7th Regiment in 1886, ultimately reaching the rank of colonel and serving as aide-de-camp to the governor – paid for the ballpark himself. Prior to the 1923 season, the Yankees shared the Polo Grounds with the New York Giants, who defeated the Yankees in the last two straight World Series.

Ruppert and former co-owner Tillinghast L’Hommedieu “Cap” Huston bought the Yankees in 1915 for just $480,000. Huston served in the 16th Regiment of Engineers (Railway) as a captain during the Spanish- American War and later as a colonel when the outfit went to France for World War I. Prior to the 1923 season, Huston sold his share of the Yankees to Ruppert for $1.5 million.

Posted in Military History

April 18 in military history

[This Day in Military History is published daily at]

1775: Paul Revere and William Dawes begin their famous “midnight ride” from Boston to Lexington, Mass., where they link-up with Samuel Prescott, who rides on to Concord. All three are sounding the alarm – warning town leaders and alerting the militia – that nearly 1,000 British infantrymen, grenadiers, and Royal Marines are advancing from Boston.

1942: At 7:38 a.m. a Japanese patrol vessel spots the task force bearing Lt. Col. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle and his raiders 650 miles east of Japan. The ship is sunk, but not before her crew can report the position of the American aircraft carriers. Their cover blown, sixteen specially modified B-25 Mitchell bombers have to launch from USS Hornet ten hours earlier than planned.

Taken from the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet (CU-8) of a B-25 bomber on its way to take part in the first U.S. air raid on Japan.

The crews will not have enough fuel to return to the carrier after the first raid against the Japanese mainland of World War II, so they have been instructed to strike Tokyo and other targets on Honshu, then fly to China and pray they’ll find suitable landing sites or bail out.

The one-way mission will be successful, but all aircraft will be lost. Eleven airmen will be killed or captured. Doolittle will be awarded the Medal of Honor.

1943: Naval intelligence intercepts communications that give them the travel itinerary of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto – the Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy, who is touring bases in the South Pacific to boost morale after the United States handily defeats Japan at Guadalcanal.

A select group of pilots scramble from Guadalcanal on their secret mission – personally authorized by President Franklin Roosevelt. The P-38 Lightnings ambush Yamamoto’s “Betty” bomber and its fighter escorts over Bougainville, killing Japan’s top naval officer.

1945: As the Red Army smashes through Berlin’s defenses, 300,000 soldiers in the Ruhr Pocket – mostly old men and young boys – surrender, bringing the total of German prisoners of war to 2 million. Meanwhile, the U.S. Ninth Army captures Magdeburg, while 1,000 British bombers turn the island naval fortress of Heligoland into a cratered moonscape.

Nazi Germany is on the ropes.

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Posted in Military History

April 11 in military history

[This Day in Military History is published daily at]

1918: 1st Aero Squadron pilots, equipped with the French Spad biplanes, perform the first American reconnaissance flight over enemy lines during World War I.

1945: At 3:15 p.m. a detachment of soldiers from the 9th Armored Infantry Battalion reach the front gates of Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany. The emaciated prisoners give their American liberators a hero’s welcome. The Nazis incarcerated over a quarter million people in one of Germany’s first and largest camps, leading to some 56,000 deaths.

Buchenwald concentration camp shortly after its liberation. The painting reads “The German political prisoners welcome our American friends.”

The SS manages to evacuate many of Buchenwald’s prisoners before Patton’s Third Army can reach the site. The prisoners left behind are in such a horrible state that many dozens continue to die each day after regaining their freedom. Nearby residents of Weimar are ordered to tour the site to “see for themselves the horror, brutality and human indecency.”

1951: Pres. Harry Truman removes Gen. Douglas MacArthur from his position as Supreme Commander for the Allied Forces in South Korea for the esteemed general’s repeated – and very public – disrespect to the president. MacArthur’s replacement is Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway, who had been serving under MacArthur as Commanding Officer of the Eighth Army.

Ridgway will move on to replace Gen. Dwight Eisenhower as head of NATO in 1952, and becomes the Army’s top officer when he is named Chief of Staff the following year.

1966: The 1st Infantry Division clashes with the Viet Cong east of Saigon and rescue helicopters are dispatched to evacuate the casualties. Airman First Class William H. Pitsenbarger descends into the jungle to help hoist the wounded into the helicopter. When one of the choppers is hit by enemy ground fire and has to depart, the Pararescueman waves off his ride and remains with the soldiers.

Pararescueman William H. Pitsenbarger in front of an HH-43 Huskie helicopter.

Pitsenbarger helps treat the wounded and distributes ammunition from the dead, and when not dragging injured soldiers from withering fire that killed or wounded 80 percent of the unit, he returns fire. Pitsenbarger was killed during the assault and is found the next day holding a rifle in one hand and a medical kit in the other.

Pitsenbarger becomes the first enlisted airman to be awarded the Air Force Cross, and his medal is upgraded to the Medal of Honor in 2000.

1970: At 13:13 NASA Time (1:13 p.m. Central), a Saturn V rocket blasts Capt. Jim Lovell (US Navy), Jack Swigert (former U.S. Air Force captain), and Fred Haise, Jr. (former Marine Corps/Air Force captain) into space from the Kennedy Space Center.

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Posted in Military History

April 10 in military history

[This Day in Military History is published daily at]

1778: The sloop-of-war USS Ranger sets sail from the port of Brest, France for action along the British and Irish coasts. Under command of her legendary captain John Paul Jones, the crew of Ranger raid ports and capture several prizes before returning to France.

1865: A day after surrendering his Army of Northern Virginia, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee issues General Order No. 9 – his farewell address to his troops.

Robert E. Lee and his horse Traveler in 1866.

Lee writes, “You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection. With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your Country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”

As the Civil War comes to a close, Lee discourages his fellow officers from starting a guerilla war and becomes a symbol for reconciliation between northern and southern states. Four years after the two generals meet at Appomattox Courthouse, President Grant invites Lee to visit him at the White House.

1941: When Germany invades Denmark, Greenland – a Danish colony – asks for U.S. military protection. Over the course of World War II, the United States will operate numerous weather, navigation, air fields, and ports on the island.

1963: The submarine USS Thresher (SSN-593) sinks while performing deep-diving tests in the northern Atlantic, taking 129 sailors and shipyard personnel with her. Thresher is the first nuclear sub lost at sea and the event marks the largest loss of life in submarine history.

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Posted in Military History

April 9 in military history

[Today in Military History is originally published at]

1865: The war lost, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee concludes, “There is nothing left for me to do, but to go and see Gen. [Ulysses S.] Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.”

Lee formally surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant at the home of Wilmer McLean in the village of Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Still-operating Confederate forces will surrender within months.

94th Aero Squadron pilots (left to right) Eddie Rickenbacker, Douglas Campbell, and Kenneth Marr in front of a Nieuport fighter. (U.S. Army image)

1918: The famed 94th “Hat in the Ring” Aero Squadron moves up to the Croix de Metz Aerodrome in France, becoming the first American aviation outfit to enter combat. In May, Lt. Douglas Campbell becomes the first American-trained pilot to earn “ace” status, and fellow squadron mate Lt. Eddie Rickenbacker – who will ultimately become America’s top flying ace of World War I – scores his fifth victory in June.

1942: Having run out of food, ammunition, and supplies after months of fighting the Japanese, Maj. Gen. Edward P. King surrenders over 11,000 American and 60,000 Filipino forces under his command on Luzon Island to the Japanese. Immediately after the fall of Bataan, the Japanese begin bombarding Lt. Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright and some 10,000 troops now isolated on the island fortress of Corregidor, who will manage to hold out for a month before they must surrender as well.

A captured Japanese photo showing prisoners on the Bataan Death March having to carry their comrades in litters. (National Archives image)

This day also marks the beginning of the brutal Bataan Death March. The Japanese force the sick, starving, and wounded prisoners to march some 80-90 miles in extreme heat and humidity to a Japanese prison camp in the backcountry of Luzon.

Along the way, thousands of captives are beaten, raped, bayoneted, disemboweled, beheaded, or shot. Those too weak to keep up with the march – or who stop to relieve themselves – are summarily executed. All are deprived of food and water. Fewer than 55,000 survive. Thousands more will not survive the prison camps or the so-called “hell ships” delivering them to labor facilities in Japan.

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April 6 in Military History

[This Day in Military History is published daily at]

1862: As Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s 42,000-man force marches for the rail center of Corinth (Tenn.), they are intercepted and driven back by Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston’s Army of Mississippi near Shiloh Church.

The fighting is desperate on both sides – described as “a murderous fistfight” – and the bloodiest battle to date in American military history. Confederate and Union casualties combined will exceed well over 23,000 in two days. The Confederates carry the first day, but Johnston becomes the highest-ranking officer for either side to be killed during the Civil War.

A chromeolithograph of the Battle of Shiloh. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

In the end, Grant wins the Battle of Shiloh (also known as the the Battle of Pittsburg Landing): stiff Union resolve and reinforcements determining the outcome.

1906: An expedition led by Cmdr. Robert Peary reaches the geographic North Pole. Peary leaves behind a note in a bottle stating; “I have this day hoisted the national ensign of the United States of America at this place […] and have formally taken possession of the entire region, and adjacent, for and in the name of the President of the United States of America.”

1917: After Germany resumes unrestricted submarine warfare on Allied (including U.S.) shipping and discovery of the “Zimmerman Telegram”, proposing German alliance with Mexico if the U.S. enters World War I, Congress declares war on Germany.

1924: Four modified Douglas torpedo bombers known as the Douglas World Cruisers take off from Seattle on the first-ever circumnavigation of the globe by an airplane. 175 days later, two of the Army biplanes return to Seattle, having covered 26,345 miles in 363 hours of flying time.

1952: F-86 Sabre pilot Capt. Iven C. Kincheloe, Jr. of the 25th Fighter Interceptor Squadron kills his fifth enemy MiG, becoming the United States’ tenth ace of the Korean War. Following the war, Kincheloe becomes a test pilot and, in the seat of the Bell X-2 rocketplane, becomes the first human to fly above 100,000 feet – earning him the nickname “America’s No. 1 Spaceman.” Continue reading “April 6 in Military History”