That discussion led to interviews with men like Bob Feller, the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame pitcher, who told me, "I was driving into Chicago, from the farm in Iowa to sign my 1942 contract," adding, "and I heard about Pearl Harbor." Though he was in the midst of a remarkable major league career, he signed up two days after the Japanese attack. "Everybody in this country knew it was time to fight," he said. Feller could have taken a cushy stateside job as a fitness instructor. Instead, he volunteered for combat duty on the battleship USS Arizona.
America's first counter-attack on Japan, the April 18 1942 raid by Jimmy Doolittle's B-25s, succeeded in part because of former professional baseball player Moe Berg. In 1934 Berg, while playing for the American All-Stars, went to Japan. While there he took pictures of military installations and harbors -- photos later used by Doolittle in selecting targets for the raid. Berg quit baseball and continued his exploits as a spy for the Office of Strategic Services, predecessor of the CIA.
Joe DiMaggio's younger brother, Dom, then a member of the Boston Red Sox, described how he was initially rejected by the Navy because of his poor vision. An optometrist told him, "I'm sorry, Dom, the Navy won't not take you because of your eyesight." DiMaggio recounted how he wrote a letter to the War Department asking for an exception and, "Sixty days later, I was in the Navy."
Yogi Berra also wanted to fight. "They asked for volunteers for rocket boats," said Berra, who joined the Navy in 1943. "And I said, 'I am going to join it.'" He did -- and on June 6, 1944, the New York Yankees' All-Star catcher was just off Utah Beach when the allies stormed ashore at Normandy.
Hall of Famer Monte Irvin and 10-year Major League veteran Morrie Martin both served in Europe during the Battle of the Bulge. Player-announcers Ernie Harwell and Jerry Coleman both volunteered for the Marines and fought in the Pacific. Coleman also flew in Korea -- making him the only Major League player to see combat in two wars.
Players like these -- and the sacrifices made by our military today -- inspired Barry Zito, a pitcher for the Oakland Athletics, to found "Strikeouts For Troops" -- a project to provide financial support for members of our Armed Forces wounded in battle. To date, the organization has raised more than $190,000 to help America's WIAs and their families.
On Tuesday, when the "Boys of summer" take to the field in Pittsburgh's new PNC Park, they will have an audience that spans the globe. In Iraq, Afghanistan, and all over the world, thanks to Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, members of the U.S. military will tune in for the mid-summer classic. For those who are serving far from home, the game -- and all the hype that surrounds it -- offers a great respite from difficult and sometimes downright dangerous duty. It's all part of a great legacy that we should celebrate. Play ball!
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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