When War Starts Do Sports End?
During World War II, major league sports were still being played but would soon start to vanish since most athletes would go to war. “It’s not so important who starts the game, but who finishes it.”1 The best soldiers were athletes, since they were physically fit for intense training. Even women during the war played a part between playing sports and taking men’s jobs in the factory. Also, women would get to make a softball league and show that even girls could play sports. While in war, soldiers had to feel safe from any outsiders so they would ask the GIs questions about baseball that any American would know. Even though, many men were enlisting for war some would stay back to keep playing sports and work in factories that supported the war. But other men enlisted right away even if it meant they might have to give up their dreams of going to the major leagues. With war bringing changes like integration in major league sports, it would show that if African Americans and whites could fight together, they then should be able to play together. However baseball was not the only important sport; there was football, boxing, and tennis that would suffer because of the war. Some collegiate schools would end their athletic departments because a lot of the players that were worth watching went to war. But some soldiers were able to play sports during their tour. Duty, Honor, Victory Gary Bloomfield explains this history very well and comprehensively.
In the late 1930’s many people in Germany were resenting the world for taking everything they had, until a new political group called the Nazis promised them prosperity. Adolf Hitler, dictator of Germany, promised to rebuild the German empire and cleanse it with the Aryan race as the superior race. In the 1936 Olympic Games Hitler wanted to show off his new army and their superiority. But the United States had a group of African Americans athletes that would defeat the Germans who were favored to win the games. Nevertheless, it wasn’t just the Germans that wanted to show how powerful they were. Japan wanted to win so they took athletes from their annexed territories. Sohn Kee Chung was an Olympic gold medalist in the marathon for Korea who had. He later said, “It was humiliating torture. I hadn’t run for Japan. I ran for myself and for my oppressed Korean people.”2 Sohn Kee Chung wouldn’t be the last man to feel this kind of humiliation. When the war started, the Olympics would be put off for another 14 years. However, sports would still be played through World War II. Many major league all-stars would travel around the world playing baseball, and people from different countries would think of American baseball players as celebrities. Players like Moe Berg was an all-star player that toured and in 1934 in Tokyo, and he would take pictures all around acting like a tourist, but really being a “spy” which would help generals when looking for the weapon factories that had to destroy to give them the upper hand in battle. When America declared war men started enlisting and the draft would begin again.
On December 7, 1941 Japan surprise attacked Americans early in the morning at Pearl Harbor, and that day the soldiers were supposed to have a baseball championship. The battleship Arizona and carrier Enterprise were supposed to play against each other, but because the Arizona was destroyed they would never be able to play the game. Many athletes like Joe Fisher, a boxing champion would lose his leg during the attack, were caught in the shower of torpedoes. Also, Joe George heavy weight boxer that went down with the Arizona during the attack. Because of this, 2,403 people were killed and 1,100 went down with the Arizona. After this attack, the New Year’s Rose Bowl game was moved to play in Durham, North Carolina instead of Pasadena because they were afraid that a huge gathering along the coast might cause another attack. When the war started, Jackie Robinson went to war and ended up being the first black baseball player to play in the major leagues. Even though most would enlist some athletes would work in factories because they didn’t want to stop playing sports. For example, Sal Maglie would stay at home in America, getting the name the Barber for his fast ball. Even with soldiers gone they still had games, but would be played earlier in the day because they didn’t want huge gatherings at night, because of the Pearl Harbor attack. Back at home everyday necessities were becoming hard to get because they were being sent to the troops in war. While everything was being taken away, President Roosevelt felt it was important for sports to still be played, especially baseball. So they made sure to keep the game going by starting spring training, but the players would train in the Midwest or on base with the military, whereas them going to tropical places to train. The Brooklyn Dodgers practiced at the U.S. Military Academy while the St. Louis Cardinals trained at Cotter Field. And Admiral Ernest King spoke for the military leaders when he added, “Baseball has a rightful place in America at war. All work and no play seven days a week would soon take its toll on national morale.”3 King felt sports were the only thing pushing his men to fight on harder and keeping them sane. To raise money for the war, the baseball league had the retired baseball players come back and play for charity, giving the people at home something to do rather than work 24/7. Babe Ruth would come back from retirement and play a couple of these games, which brought so much buzz around the US which brought more money to the war effort. To raise more money they would put tags on the baseballs giving the people certain amount of money in war bonds. Keeping the game going was an important thing for the USA even with the war still going on.
During the war the military would play against each other or even with the locals depending on the location. Some soldiers were stationed in Australia and most of them loved to play football while there, but most Australians thought of it as a “sissy” sport compared to rugby until they played. While back at home, women learned how to play baseball with Philip Wrigley, the manager of the Red Sox, supporting All American Girls Softball League. Mr. Wrigley would hold tryouts all around Chicago and would keep games very close to home. But with this new sport many women had to make a decision between whether to stay in factories and not make that much money, or make a lot more money and be able to play. Some women were recognized by the men in baseball, “…New York Yankee first baseman Wally Pipp proclaimed that Dottie Kamenshek was the fanciest-fielding first baseman I’ve ever seen, man or woman”4. Wally Pipp giving Dottie this compliment would help other men believe that women were capable of playing physical sports. Aside from that, being in sports would help soldiers improve in different aspect of combat, such as aiming or grenade throwing. For instance, Ted Williams, which played for the Red Sox, joined the Marines and had great vision so would help future pilots, as well as Lou Thesz, heavy weight wrestler, would join the army teaching hand-to-hand combat through 1937-1940s. During the war, basketball wasn’t affected that much because the men were very tall and wouldn’t be able to hide in the trenches or hide in general. The Harlem Globetrotters, a basketball team, was a big team that had most of their players work like Dick Evans and Mike Novak for the armed forces in the Stubebakers Plant. On the other hand, a less contact sport like tennis, like Jack Kramer played tennis and won the national interscholastic title at the age of 17, and joined the Coast Guard. Regardless of war, many soldiers made some time to work out and get in of shape for their sports. Bob Feller, a “fireball pitcher”5, would practice throwing with the crew members. Also, when the Americans weren’t fighting they played in the dusty desert or wherever they were stationed they improvised sports equipment using canteens as footballs and bundled up shirts as basketballs. As soon as the Battle of Coral began it put a pause on sports; Americans took down the battle ships Shoho and Shokaku, damaging the Japanese. With this win over the Japanese, it would damage their army, but some American soldiers were captured and beaten to death in the POW camps ,prison camp, for as long as 4 years. Major Greg “Pappy” Boyington, a swimmer and wrestler, would endure endless beating until the end of the war and receive the Medal of Honor. The war was starting to slowly calm down, although it would take a few more important battles and brave soldiers to end World War II.
To take control of Europe, Americans would have to take Italy and move closer to Germany and take down Adolf Hitler. The Allies would take Sicily and keep pushing the Nazis back to Germany but when they pulled back they left traps along the way. When taking Italy, the Allies would use the Mussolini Stadium in Rome to hold their track meets when things calmed down. January 1, 1945 the 12th Air Force and the 5th Army would play football at the Spaghetti Bowl; the coaches would be Louis Bush and George Miller, and this would help soldiers to relax. The same year on April 21, 1945 would be the end of air warfare in Europe; and the Black Cat crew was held responsible for it, pilot team, played football at Western Kentucky. Although air warfare was over land warfare was still being fought so sports kept soldiers pushing. “Sports was one way to burn off some of the pent-up energy,” said Stephen E. Ambrose during D-Day.”6 Soldiers couldn’t just stay cooped up in camp so they ended an outlet and that was sports. Some soldiers were sent to Central America and when they weren’t training or at battle, they would swim and enjoy the tropical weather. But not everyone was stationed in warm weather; in Europe the winters were cold which made the battles harder. For instance, Cecil Travis, shortstop for the Senators, would get frostbite on his toes at the Battle of Bulge which would leave him with a limp that would make him slower and would make going back to the baseball hard. Everything would come to an end when Hitler committed suicide April 30th and Benito Mussolini’s body burned, but it wouldn’t end the war with Japan. With the war over in Europe, more men like Marine Harry Beult Liversedge, Olympic shot putter and footballer for the Marine Corps. The Japanese kamikazes would destroy air crafts and damage battleships on the beaches of Iowa Jima. World War II would end with the nuclear bomb being dropped on Hiroshima. After the war, many athletes like Cecil Travis and George Poschner would return to their sports but wouldn’t be able to play the way they did before the war. Some athletes, like Phil Marchildon, who suffered in Nazis POW camps, would be wanted by his fans even when he was very weak from the beating of the Nazis. But not everyone would take the soldiers that returned a job even though there was a Veterans Act that said they had to get their jobs back. Not everything was fair, and one was not getting their job back even though it was the law, but with everything they had to work hard to be accomplished.
Gary Bloomfield wants to get across that many soldiers were either pro-athletes or had just played sports before they went to war. The author explains how the best soldiers who were athletes were able to lead their group into war: “They had survived some of the toughest battles of this century, and yet they were ready to do battle again, on baseball diamonds and football fields, tennis courts and golf courses throughout the country.”7 Gary was a veteran in the Korean War and his father was a veteran, so Gary saw many different soldiers, which probably influenced his position on soldiers in war. Mr. Bloomfield’s view was that sports helped everyone get through the war and it distracted people from all the horrors going on in the world. Being a managing editor of the VFW magazine, a veteran magazine, he got a lot of information about veterans in the war and how they played sports while they were stationed outside the USA. Gary Bloomfield wrote Duty, Honor, Victory while America was at war with Iraq and after the terrorist attack he probably wanted to emphasize the battles America won with strong athletes.
James A. Barber Jr. wrote about the Battle of Coral and how the strong men in the battle fought to end the war with the communists. Mr. Barber talks about how being sports helps them plan for battle “as Michener correctly notes, a tactical standoff but it was a strategic victory for the United States,”8 he was an athlete and used strategy to win the war like trying to win a game. He writes about how the battles were all important and that each one would bring them closer to the end of the war.
Duty, Honor, Victory really captures the war and sports on the battlefield and at home. Gary Bloomfield writes about how life changed with everyone working together to support the war. He includes women and their breakthrough in society in sports and working force. Mr. Bloomfield really was able to tie everything together with each battle and the people that fought, and how each person in sports made an impact on life with Jackie Robinson breaking the barrier in baseball playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Dottie Kamenshek earning respect from her amazing performance as first basemen in softball. Gary Bloomfield wrote this book quite well and provided a lot of information about everything happening during World War II.
Gary Bloomfield agrees that the 1940s was a watershed in American history since we lost many potential athletes to the war. With men losing their lives because of frostbite in the war and in the POW camps. As a result of the war men saw how the simplest activities of playing sports would become harder. But with everything learned it takes time for things to get back to normal. Unless they found something to speed the processes up like golfing and tennis that was very therapeutic. However, other men would go back to school because they either didn’t finish or just wanted to continue on. “Youth must be served, but not at the expense of men who have worn the uniform.”9. With the end war more respect should’ve been showed by Americans for the men in uniform.
During the war, sports would suffer when they started losing valuable players to the draft, which would open the eyes of many Americans that working together was the only way to end the war. Gary Bloomfield explains life for both women and men at war, the home front, and in sports and how it has caused changes for the United States.
1. Bloomfield, Gary. Duty, Honor, Victory: America’s Athletes in World War II. Guilfiord, Connecticut: The Lyons Press, 2003.pg.1
2. Bloomfield, Gary pg.7
3. Bloomfield, Gary pg. 71
4. Bloomfield, Gary pg. 358
5. Bloomfield, Gary pg.56-57
6. Bloomfield, Gary pg.259
7. Bloomfield, Gary pg. 365
8. Barber, James A. Jr. pg.2
9. Bloomfield, Gary pg. 364