- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 25, 2014


Before Memorial Day became a celebration of barbecues, discount sales and ball games like the one scheduled between the Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins at Nationals Park, it was a day when the men and women who died while serving in the United States armed forces would be remembered.

It would be a day when America would stop and remember the sacrifice of men like Elmer Gedeon, a former Washington Senator ballplayer who was one of two major leaguers who lost their lives in World War II, and others who had the promise of a bright future on the field of athletics who died in the fields of war.

While there were just two who died in World War II with major league baseball experience, Gedeon and Harry O’Neill, there were many more in organized ball who gave their lives for their countries and who should be remembered on this day — 137 minor leaguers, according to baseball author and historian Gary Bedingfield.

Perhaps there should be a place at Nationals Park to commemorate these ballplayers who died in World War II. Washington — the nation’s capital — is the city of memorials, particularly to remember the sacrifices of war.

There was no place in America that was not deeply affected by World War II — big cities and small towns across the country. But Washington was the place where the decisions were made about the future of not just this country, but of the free world fighting the Axis threat to our way of life.

It was played out during a Redskins-Eagles football game at Griffith Stadium on Dec. 7, 1941, when about halfway through the first quarter, the public address announcer began paging military and government officials, one after the other, to report to their respective units and agencies.

Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich documented the solemnity of the day, while a football game was taking place, recounting the public announcements that were, in their own ways, a declaration that America was at war: “Admiral W.H.P. Bland is asked to report to his office at once…..Captain R.X. Fenn of the United States Army is asked to report to his office at once.”

Washington’s notice of a world at war happened at a football game.

A little more than a month later, Senators owner Clark Griffith, a close friend of President Franklyn D Roosevelt, is believed to have urged Roosevelt to write what has historically become known as the “Green Light Letter,” in which the president urged baseball commissioner Judge Kenesaw M. Landis to keep baseball on the field during World War II:

“As you will, of course, realize the final decision about the baseball season must rest with you and the Baseball club owners — so what I am going to say is solely a personal and not an official point of view,” Roosevelt wrote.

“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before.

“And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.

“Baseball provides a recreation which does not last over two hours or two hours and a half, and which can be got for very little cost. And, incidentally, I hope that night games can be extended because it gives an opportunity to the day shift to see a game occasionally.”

Baseball did continue during the war, even with more than 500 major league baseball players — including Ted Williams and Stan Musial — serving in the military. But Gedeon and O’Neill and many others, like the 137 minor leaguers who lost their lives, made the ultimate sacrifice to serve their country in battle. Baseball was part of the story of World War II.

The connection between baseball and those who are remembered on Memorial Day is one that should be memorialized permanently at Nationals Park.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com

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