17 December 2010

RIP Chief Bob Feller

The posts below are a tribute to Chief Bob Feller - A Navy veteran who understood what it was all about.
All the best, JCHjr

RIP Chief Bob Feller
The Naval History & Heritage Command joins a greatful nation in mourning the passing of our shipmate Chief Bob Feller, the Ace of the Greatest Generation. When asked once what was his most important victory, he replied, “World War II.”
Dr. Ed Furgol of the National Museum of the U.S. Navy has prepared a short vignette about Chief Feller’s naval service which originally appeared on Naval History Blog on 9 December 2010 – the 69th anniversary of his enlistment in the U.S. Navy. It is reprinted below:
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 December 1941, Major League Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt, asking him, “What do you want [baseball] to do? . . .We await your order.” The President replied, “I honestly feel it would be best for the country to keep baseball going.” With this recommendation, the league began a massive effort to support the war. However, some players chose a more patriotic path. Waiving his draft deferment as the sole provider for his family, pitcher Robert Feller enlisted in the Navy on 9 December 1941, becoming the first Major League player to join the service.
Already a national star, Feller was first assigned as a physical training instructor. However, his desire to go into combat led him to volunteer for gunners’ school in 1942. Chief Petty Officer Feller was placed in command of a 40mm antiaircraft mount aboard USS Alabama (BB 60) , and served through the campaigns in the North Atlantic and throughout the Pacific theater. In March 1945 he reported to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Illinois, where he managed the baseball team. In August he returned to the Cleveland Indians and resumed his Major League career.
Feller got his nickname, “The Heater from Van Meter,” due to his lightning fastball and his hometown, Van Meter, Iowa. Some baseball experts have credited him as being the hardest throwing pitcher in history. An 8-time All-Star and a World Series champion, Feller’s number 19 was retired by the Cleveland Indians, for whom he played his entire 18-year career. He retired from baseball in 1956, and in 1962 he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Bob Feller also holds two other great distinctions: he never played a game in the minors after being signed by the Cleveland Indians, and he is the only pitcher in Major League history to throw a no-hitter on opening day.
Chief, you stand relieved. We have the watch.
Posted by NHHC

Answering the Call
"I'm Still a Navy Man at Heart"
By Bob Feller

Ace of the Greatest Generation
From the days of the Minutemen, America has always had its citizen-soldiers. Over the years, their contribution to the nation's armed forces has been enormous. Invariably, their time in uniform also has had a lasting impact on their lives.
With this issue, we inaugurate a new feature, Answering the Call, in which men and women who served a few years in the military, then went back home to notable civilian careers, talk about their days in uniform and how their experiences affected their lives.
Our first guest columnist is Bob Feller, the legendary pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, who interrupted a stunning career in the Major Leagues to enlist in the Navy at the start of World War II. As Navy Chief Petty Officer Robert Feller, he participated in some of the best-known sea battles in the Pacific. When the war was over, he returned to the mound and resumed a straight shot to station—the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Here's his account of his military service and what it has meant to him.

I never have to strain my memory to recall the day I decided to join the Navy. It was 7 December 1941. I was driving from my home in Van Meter, Iowa, to Chicago to discuss my next contract with the Cleveland Indians, and I heard over the car radio that the Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor. I was angry as hell.
I'd spent almost six full seasons in the major leagues by then, with a record of 107 victories and 54 losses, and I had a family-related draft exemption, but I knew right then that I had to answer the call. I arrived in Chicago late that afternoon to meet Cy Slapnicka, the Indians' general manager, who had come there to talk about my contract for 1942, and told him about my decision. I then phoned Gene Tunney, the former world heavyweight boxing champion and an old friend. A commander, Gene was in charge of the Navy's physical training program. He flew out from Washington and swore me in on Tuesday, 9 December.
After my basic training, the Navy made me a chief petty officer and assigned me as a physical training instructor. It was valuable in its way, but I wanted to go into combat. I'd had a lot of experience with guns as a kid, so I applied for gunnery school and sea duty. After four months of naval gunnery school in Newport, Rhode Island, I was assigned to a battleship, the USS Alabama (BB-60), as a gun-captain on a 40-mm antiaircraft mount that had a crew of 24.
Action in the North Atlantic—and the Pacific
I got what I wanted. The Alabama spent six months escorting convoys in the North Atlantic, and then—in August 1943—went through the Panama Canal and headed for the central Pacific. Over the next two years, we saw action off Tarawa, and in the Marshalls, the Carolines, and the Philippines. We bombarded beaches to support amphibious assaults, served as escorts for aircraft carriers, and fended off kamikaze attacks. Two enemy bombs hit the ship during the Marianas Turkey Shoot, and we survived a typhoon that pummeled us with 80-knot gusts off the Philippine coast. The Alabama never lost a man to enemy action. The people we had on the gun crews were very good shots.
In March 1945, I was sent to Great Lakes Naval Training Center and managed the baseball team there. In the third week of August, just 15 days after the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, I went on inactive duty. It was back to baseball after that. I rejoined the Indians on 23 August and pitched eight games. I won five and lost three.
Serving in the military is almost always a defining moment for any young man or woman. You're young and impressionable. You meet a lot of new people, and you travel to new places. You learn to be on time, how to follow and, eventually, how to lead.

You Never Forget Combat
But it makes a difference when you go through a war, no matter which branch of the service you're in. Combat is an experience that you never forget. A war teaches you that baseball is only a game, after all—a minor thing, compared to the sovereignty and security of the United States. I once told a newspaper reporter that the bombing attack we lived through on the Alabama had been the most exciting 13 hours of my life. After that, I said, the pinstriped perils of Yankee Stadium seemed trivial. That's still true today.
You and your comrades never lose touch. I've gone to my share of Alabama reunions, and all of us treat each other as shipmates no matter what else we've done or accomplished—or haven't—over the years. I still remember with pain the sailor who stopped by my compartment to talk baseball during one of our North Atlantic convoy runs. A few minutes later, he was missing. Apparently he'd fallen overboard into rough seas—an accident of war.
Like anyone who has been under fire, I'm certainly not a war-booster. But I still believe, as I did that grim Sunday afternoon in December 1941, in a strong and well-equipped military and in the values that being in the service instills in the young men and women who don the uniform. I'm well aware of the hardships that our servicemembers are enduring right now.

Serving Your Country
For myself, I wouldn't be unhappy if they re-imposed a draft—not just because we need more troops to meet our needs, but because going through military training is such a character-builder for young people. Everyone ought to serve his or her country for a couple of years or more, even in times of peace.
I was at Great Lakes Naval Training Center a few months ago, where I'd been invited to speak to the graduates of the Navy's basic school, and someone asked whether I'd urge my grandson to sign up, as I had done. My answer was a resounding yes.
I'm still a Navy man at heart. And I'm proud to have served.

Posts and photos courtesy of the Naval Heritage and History Command and U.S. Naval Institute

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