It is very important that as a nation we take time to remember and honor those Americans who have made major sacrifices so that millions of us can live free. Not only have brave American men and women secured and protected our freedom, they have helped extend liberty to others around the world. In our nation’s 237-year history, over 1.3 million men and more than 2,000 women have died, defending liberty. President John Kennedy said in his 1961 inaugural address—an address that reaffirmed America’s commitment to freedom worldwide—“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” No other nation in the history of mankind has ever given as much to the world as the United States of America. Each and every American can take pride in this fact, and take pride in being an American.
We owe our eternal gratitude to those Americans who have given their all for us and for our country. Our promise to them should be that we will never forget their sacrifice. Truly these people are America’s heroes. Unfortunately, we are too quickly losing these heroes, and I believe it’s important that we keep their stories alive. While there are many heroes and many stories, one such story concerns former baseball great Bob Feller.
Although an avid baseball fan, I wasn’t aware of the Bob Feller story until this spring when I watched a documentary on his life. I knew he was an outstanding major league pitcher, but what I didn’t know was that during the peak of his career he left baseball to enlist in the U.S. Navy. Feller had just turned 23 years old and already had won over 100 games. He pitched his first of three no-hitters on opening day of the 1940 season. In that season he earned a pitching triple crown, leading the American League in ERAs (2.61), wins (27), and strikeouts (261). In 1941 he led the majors with 25 victories. Two days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Bob Feller left baseball to serve his country.
Feller was the first major league player to volunteer for military service. He served in the Navy as Chief Petty Officer of an anti-aircraft gunnery crew on the battleship U.S.S. Alabama. What makes Feller’s service so outstanding is the fact that he was exempt from military service but chose, instead, to volunteer to serve his country in time of need. Some baseball experts believe that had he not left to do this, he could have won over 350 major league games and, perhaps, would have set an all-time strikeout record. However, quoting Feller: “You’ll never hear me complain about the time I spent in the service. Baseball is insignificant when it comes to war.” Feller understood the importance of service to his country, and when he was once asked about the most important game he had ever won, he responded with, “WWII.”
Missing all of the ‘42, ‘43, and ‘44 seasons, Feller returned to the game in late August of ‘45 and won five games before season’s end. He continued his outstanding baseball career and compiled 266 career wins with a career ERA of 3.5, while striking out 2,581 batters. He pitched two more no-hitters and pitched twelve one-hit games before retiring in 1956. In 1962, Feller was voted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Bob Feller died in 2010 at the age of 92.
Memorial Day was our opportunity to remember all those who served, and especially those who gave their lives on the battlefields of war. Though Bob Feller’s story is relatively well known, there were (and are) hundreds of thousands of others who have served our country. Their service and their stories are no less important, and neither must they be forgotten.