Make Plans to Attend the 75th Commemoration of the D-Day Invasion

The last great reunion of veterans from the War Between the States took place at Gettysburg in 1938. It was the 75th anniversary of the epic battle, and some 1,845* veterans from both North and South assembled to remember and to be honored. Some of them lived to see World War II and, as did everyone else, anxiously followed the news bulletins and radio broadcasts on June 6, 1944 when the Allies embarked on D-Day. Now, the boys who landed in Normandy are about to arrive at the 75th anniversary of their great battle on June 6 of next year. Appropriately, the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia is planning to commemorate “the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice of those who fought to free the world of tyranny.”

Part of the parade during the 70th Commemoration.

I attended the 70th Commemoration and I expect to be present at this one as well. That event was a moving experience, and I urge everyone with an interest in history to attend the 75th as I suspect that 2019 will be the last great gathering of these veterans. You will want to tell your children and grandchildren that you saw these makers of history. Better yet, take your children and grandchildren and impress upon them the greatness of those old men who were young once, and who, in their youth, saved the world. Indeed, according to the Summer 2018 Memorial newsletter, “the largest gathering of D-Day veterans in the Nation is expected to attend the ceremony that day with every D-Day veteran in attendance being introduced in a special roll call.” That will take place on the morning of Thursday, June 6. Friday’s events include an evening concert and canteen, and “a 1940s themed parade featuring veterans, antique cars, bands, and living historians” on Saturday.

Bedford is still a small town and accommodations are few. If you plan to attend it is not too early to reserve a room.

I will go for the history and the pageantry, but mostly to fulfill the obligation and the desire to say “thank you.”

* According to The Last Reunion of the Blue and Gray, by Paul L. Roy, 1950.

[Read The Bedford Boys, by Alex Kershaw, for an explanation as to why the National D-Day Memorial is located in a little town between Lynchburg and Roanoke, Virginia. This is the very moving story of the very first boys to hit the beach.]

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The World Of Little League Museum

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What’s on Your Bucket List?

My buddy Al and I have just returned from another item on our baseball bucket list, namely attending a Little League World Series game. We saw Puerto Rico defeat Canada and Georgia (Southeast) defeat Michigan (Great Lakes). Well, we saw parts of both games as we moved back and forth between the two ballparks.

Lamade Stadium, the main diamond at the Little League World Series

Attending the Little League World Series, and the College World Series (CWS), which we did in 2016, appear on the bucket lists of many fans. Others compose rather elaborate lists, such as attending games in every major league city, but it is hard for me to believe that anyone has had more fun than have Al and I by visiting the lesser known baseball shrines. While some take a pilgrimage to the mecca of Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, we have journeyed to Bosse Field in Evansville, IN, the third oldest continuously used professional ballpark in the country behind those two major league shrines, where we saw the Evansville Otters of the independent Frontier League play; and where we met some folks with whom I still keep in touch. We also attended a collegiate summer league game in League Park in Huntingburg, IN where the movie A League of Their Own was filmed and which has maintained its 1940s look. And we met some folks there with whom I still keep in touch.

We each visited the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown as kids and before we knew each other, but together, we also visited the Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum at Perdue Stadium in Salisbury, MD. While on the Shore, we also visited Jimmie Foxx’s statue in Sudlersville, MD.

We make it a point to at least play catch in every new state through which we pass and so we have played baseball to some degree or another in every state from Pennsylvania/Delaware all the way down the coast to Florida. Naturally, we played in Nebraska while there for the CWS and in Iowa, driving across the Missouri River in order to lay claim to that state. We can also lay claim to Bermuda because, yes, we took our gloves on a cruise. The parks in which we’ve played include Home Run Baker Park in Trappe, MD and James Hoyt Wilhelm Park in Cornelius, NC.

Playing catch on Nassau Beach.

We’ve been to the Hillerich & Bradsby Factory and Museum in Louisville, KY; the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore; Spring Training in Florida, including the Braves and Orioles minor league complexes; and games at the University of Florida. I’m not sure what’s next on the bucket list, but I have no doubt that we have not reached the end of it.

So, dear readers: What are the top three items on the bucket list of your passion? You art fans what works must you see or have seen? Music fans, what performers must you hear or have heard?

If you don’t have a bucket list of something, make one, for despite the irony that the list encompasses the things you want to do before you die, the planning and the achieving insures that you are truly living.

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No Blues for the Browns in 1944

The St. Louis Browns, more than any other team in baseball, were affected both negatively and positively by World War II. The Browns are the least successful franchise in major league history, and so in The Boys We Knew, Mr. Morrison, the druggist, jokes with Veronica, in the chapter titled, “April 20, 1943,” that “‘with the war on, why the Browns might win it one year if the rest of the American League gets drafted.’” Baseball fans will recognize the irony of that statement because the very next year, that is essentially what happened.

By 1944, the powerhouse New York Yankees had already lost to military service Joe DiMaggio, Tommy Henrich, Phil Rizzuto, Joe Gordon, and Charlie Keller, a loss of talent not unusual for most teams. The Browns on the other hand, listed more players—13—on their roster who had been designated 4-F, that is unfit for military service, than any other team. In fact, their entire starting infield was classified 4-F. In addition, two key contributors, outfielder, Chet Laabs and pitcher, Denny Galehouse, worked in defense plants and so were exempt from the draft. Laabs worked during the day, allowing him to play night and on the weekend, while Galehouse pitched on Sundays. Towards the end of the season, their best hitter, Al Zarilla, was inducted into the service, but General Manager Bill DeWitt appealed to the commanding general of the camp to which Zarilla was to report, and the outfielder’s induction was delayed until after the World Series.

The Browns collection of cast-offs, older players (16 out of 38 players who appeared in a game for St. Louis that year were 30 or older), and drunks (yes, plural) may have been among the least talented major league ballplayers ever to play the game, but they were at least major league talent and that proved superior to the career minor leaguers, 40-somethings, and teenagers other teams were forced to employ.

Indeed, the Browns swept the depleted Yankees in the season’s final series thereby winning their only pennant in their 52 year history. (They finished second only twice.) The Browns faced their cross-town rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic, losing to the Redbirds in six games.

 

Despite capturing the American League pennant, the Browns finished fifth (out of 8 teams) in the American League in attendance that year. This was better than their streak of finishing last in the league in attendance from 1926-1943. And while the Browns/Cardinals World Series matchup on October 9th. drew 31,630 fans, the Junior World Series between the International League champion Baltimore Orioles and the American Association champion Louisville Colonels on that same date drew 52,833 customers in Baltimore. The American League took note of that and 10 years later, the St. Louis Browns moved east to become the Baltimore Orioles.

As unlikely as a St. Louis Browns pennant was, it would have been an impossibility had the plan of owner, Donald Barnes come to fruition. Barnes was all set to move the Browns to Los Angeles for the 1942 season, and apparently he had the blessing of his fellow owners. The vote on the move was scheduled for Monday, December 8, 1941. Pearl Harbor squelched such a dramatic move, of course, and eventually, it was the Brooklyn Dodgers who moved to Los Angeles in 1958.

World War II affected every aspect of American life, and for the St. Louis Browns, it marked both the pinnacle and the beginning of end.

Image result for 1944 st. louis browns

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We Have a Language Problem

When I was a boy a “mobile” phone was that one in the kitchen that had a 5 foot cord that allowed you to talk out in the garage where hopefully, your parents couldn’t hear you. There were certain words, however, that I never used whether they could hear me or not, particularly in mixed company. A young man named Josh Hader brought this memory to mind recently in a most unusual way. Hader, who just turned 23 in June, was representing the Milwaukee Brewers in his first All-Star Game, and even as he was pitching, people in the “Twitterverse,” as it’s called, began unearthing racist and sexist tweets, the latter expressed with the most explicit and vulgar words, that Hader had published when in high school. Hader immediately apologized after the game, appearing quite contrite and sincere. In fact, his two fellow Brewer All-Stars, Lorenzo Cain and Jeremy Jeffress, both of whom are African-American, accepted the apology immediately.

As of this morning (July 30, 2018) you can add Atlanta Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb and Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner to the list of major league baseball players who tweeted “stupid stuff,” to use Newcomb’s words, when they were teenagers.

The words that these three tweeted are indefensible, but I would offer this defense of all three individuals: They are products of a society that has lost all perspective on acceptable public discourse.

Not all thoughts should be expressed. Not all expressions should be used and if they are used, there should be a very specific context in which they become acceptable. This was once our standard, but now, of course, reality television, twitter, and Facebook offer an opportunity to pour out your heart, unfiltered and raw, so that you can let everyone know at this very moment that you are ANGRY! Or sad or bitter or jealous or plotting revenge or whatever the passion of the moment may be, and in any language you choose with no ramifications other than perhaps a reprimand in the comments, which you may then delete. Many of our celebrities, including actors, reality TV stars, sports figures, and politicians no longer adhere to any standard, which, of course, makes it easier for our neighbor to abandon a standard for civil discourse. Ultimately, that makes it easier for us to throw our former standard to the winds. I seriously wonder if most high school students even know what vulgar means.

You have the right to offend, but I have the right to not be offended. You may offend through your art—I don’t have to go to the art museum. You have the right to offend in your television show—I don’t have to watch. When we all share a public space, such as a busy street or a ballpark, however, then you don’t have the right to offend. It is in such public places that a standard of public discourse should be maintained for one very important reason: It is a sign that we respect each other, and that we are not going to chance offending others, especially when there is no need and there is no cause.

All of which brings us back, not to Hader, Newcomb, and Turner, but to ourselves. If you don’t approve of your ballplayers tweeting slurs and vulgarity, then don’t use that language when tweeting about the guy in the car in front of you or the team you hate the most or the President, however mad or disgusted you are with any of those people at the moment. The only way that we will restore civil public discourse is to be civil to one another. Standards come about through the example that we set for one another. Josh Hader, Sean Newcomb, and Trea Turner did not sin in a vacuum.

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Reveille With Beverly

In The Boys We Knew, Jimmy and Elizabeth take in a movie entitled, Reveille With Beverly in which the title character, played by Ann Miller, connives her way into becoming the morning disc jockey at a radio station near an army base. Heretofore, the regular disc jockey, Vernon Lewis, played by Franklin Pangborn (whom old movie fans will recognize in an instant) has played classical music, but when Beverly takes over the show, she plays the music the soldiers enjoy the most—swing. This causes great consternation, but of course is wildly successful and the movie features some outstanding performances including Count Basie playing “One O’clock Jump,” Duke Ellington performing “Take the A Train,” and Frank Sinatra singing “Night and Day,” classics all. What is most remarkable of all, however, is the true story behind the movie.

Jean Ruth Hay was 24 and a graduate of the University of Colorado when she got her start in radio. It was her idea to play “the stuff that makes you swing and sway” for soldiers at Fort Logan, a base near Denver. Reveille With Beverly—Jean adopted her radio name for obvious, rhyming reasons—debuted in October of 1941 and by 1942, with the war in Europe having exploded into a true world war, she took a job at a CBS station, KNX-AM, in Hollywood. The Armed Forces Radio Network broadcast her show, which ultimately reached 11 million people around the world.

Jean was popular for more than just her radio show. According to her obituary, “Ms. Hay posed for pinup shots, and troops voted her ‘The girl we’d most like to be trapped in the turret of a B-17 with.’”

She began each show with “Hi there, boys of the U.S.A.” and one can only imagine what a thrill those words must have been to men fighting in the North African desert or the jungles of Guadalcanal. Reveille With Beverly was released in February, 1943 about a month after Casablanca, and while we rightly honor the latter as a movie classic and one of the quintessential World War II movies, we should at least salute the former and the young lady who brought a little bit of home to servicemen and women all over the world.

The following trailer for the movie is quite special in that it features Jean Hay introducing the movie.

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5 Classic, But Largely Forgotten Songs of WWII

Music played a very important part in maintaining morale not only on the home front, but also at the front. In The Boys We Knew, Johnny writes a letter to Command Performance, a radio program created by the military for GIs based on their own requests. American troops all over the world listened to Ruth Hay and her Reveille with Beverly radio program, and  Glenn Miller joined the Army for the express purpose of forming a military band that would play “modern music” for the young men and women in the armed forces. Music was a way of connecting one front to the other.

Ironically, some songs that we now associate with World War II actually hit the charts before the war. “In the Mood” topped the charts for 13 weeks in 1940, while “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” debuted early in 1941. This got me to thinking about the many songs that came out during the war that were actually about the war and its effect on the home front. Perhaps because they were so in tune with the time, these songs are largely forgotten now, unless, of course, you listen to Sirius XM radio’s 40s Junction on channel 6073. To understand any time period, however, you have to see it from a contemporary perspective and not from a perspective that continues to develop 75 years later.

Therefore, I give you five songs that truly speak to the experience of the time. I have excluded songs such as “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “Sentimental Journey” because although they had a deep contextual meaning for those who experienced the war, their lyrics speak to other contexts as well. The songs on the following list, however, are firmly rooted in the war experience and I invite you to click on the links and listen:

  1. Many songs were written in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor including “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” The 1942 song was based on an actual event aboard the S. S. New Orleans during the attack. With inoperative hoists to take ammunition to the decks, the crew formed a “bucket brigade.” Chaplain Howell M. Forgy uttered the remark to encourage the men, a remark that he may have heard in the 1939 movie Guns Along the Mohawk.
  2. “This Is the Army Mr. Jones” humorously addresses the shock experienced by millions of men who suddenly found themselves in the service. Written by none other than Irving Berlin in 1942, the song was featured in a Broadway review entitled, This Is the Army, which was also written by Berlin with the express approval of General George C. Marshall, as a way to raise money for the Army. Wildly popular, it was turned into a movie of the same name in 1943. (Shenandoah Valley Dancers might recognize this song as part of Jump Alley’s repertoire.)
  3. “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old” was introduced in the 1943 movie musical/fundraiser Thank Your Lucky Stars and was sung by Bette Davis. The song laments the fact that the only men seemingly left at home represent slim pickings: Tomorrow I’ll go hiking with that Eagle Scout unless I get a call from grandpa for a snappy game of chess.
  4. There was actually a song entitled “Rosie the Riveter” that appeared early in 1943. In fact, the term appeared in the song before it appeared in any artwork. Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post cover appeared on May 29, 1943. The song featured here is the original by the Four Vagabonds.
  5. My personal favorite on this list is an Ella Mae Morse song entitled, “Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet.” The song appeared in the 1944 film, Broadway Rhythm and is sung by a night shift factory worker who is headed to bed when the rest of the world is rising:

Been knocking out a fast tank, all day
Working on a bomber okay
Boy you blast my wig with those clinks
And I got to catch my forty winks.

To truly understand what everyday life was like from Pearl Harbor through V-J Day it is important to listen to the everyday songs and watch the everyday movies that folks were consuming, and not just the ones that we remember as being representative of the time. (Which isn’t always accurate. See my post from May 11, 2018.)

Post script: History on the Net’s WWII In American Music page is an excellent and thorough source for songs that were popular from 1939-1945 and I would encourage you to explore the site.

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