Billy Reed: I wish everyone a memorial day full of fun, laughter, celebration – and reflection and prayer
I wish everyone a Memorial Day weekend full of fun, laughter and celebration. But I also hope that each of us will take a few private moments of reflection and prayer on all of the men and women who gave their lives to defend the freedoms of our great nation.
This holiday comes less than six months after a bunch of American insurgents attacked the building of our nation’s capital with chaos in their hearts. It will forever be remembered as one of the deepest points in our history.
Americans attack Americans. Our fellow citizens intend to hang the Vice President and assassinate the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Who were these native traitors and how did they ever turn into such ruthless animals?
Billy Reed is a member of the US Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He was named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and won the Eclipse Award three times. Reed has been writing about a variety of sporting events for over four decades and is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable writers of the Kentucky Derby. His book “Last of a BReed” is available on Amazon.
I’m glad Bob Feller, the strikeout pitcher of the great Cleveland Indians, wasn’t there.
Feller, an Iowa farm boy, suspended his career in the Hall of Fame to join the Army during World War II. As much as he loved baseball, he loved his country even more.
I interviewed Feller once about patriotism. At the time my hair was quite long and he may have made some guesswork about me. I dont know. But he delivered an emotional charge against the “hippies” and “draft dodgers” who dropped out of the Vietnam War.
For the record, and I think Feller would have approved, I served in the Army Reserve from 1966 to ’71. I was far from a hero, so I usually stay in my seat when duty veterans stand up and are applauded at ball games.
In Feller’s day, baseball was indeed the nation’s pastime. There wasn’t even a second.
The NFL and NBA didn’t become known until the late 1950s. So saying goodbye to a big league career to defend the nation was a very big deal.
Feller was hardly the only major league to swap his baseball uniform for a military uniform. Big players like Hank Greenburg, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra and many more made the move, resulting in a talent drain that led to the argument that baseball should be canceled for the long term.
But Commissioner Ford Frick, realizing how much the game added to the nation’s morale, insisted that the big league seasons be played, even though the teams consisted mostly of former players, lower league players, and immature children like Joe Nuxhall Hamilton, Ohio, who was 16 when he set up a game for the Cincinnati Reds.
It’s still the record for the youngest player to ever appear in a big league game. But Nuxhall turned out to be much more than the answer to a quiz question. In the 1950s, he was the left-hand pillar of the Reds pitching team.
In a gruesome twist of fate, Nuxxie was sold to Kansas City before the 1961 season when the Reds won their first National League since 1940, but the team brought him back for the last four or five years of his career.
After his retirement he naturally became a folk hero as a member of the Reds radio team, especially when he worked alongside Marty Brennaman, the “voice of the Reds” from 1973 until his retirement in 2019.
Of all the ball players who left the game to serve in the armed forces during World War II, the most famous was the Boston Red Sox immortal Ted Williams, who flew fighter jets for the U.S. Marines.
Amazingly, Williams left the game to fly fighter jets during the Korean War. It was a double game of valor that made Williams popular with fans everywhere, even those who weren’t interested in his team.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the coveted Heisman Trophy of college football was won by Service Academy stars Pete Dawkins of the Army (1958), Joe Bellino of the Navy (1960), and Roger Staubach of the Navy (1963) . Everyone had to do six years of active service before embarking on a civilian career. Bellino and Staubach played in the professionals when their service obligation was fulfilled. But while Bellino was just your average player in the AFL, Staubach became the star quarterback for Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys dynasty.
Dawkins chose a more interesting route. After graduating from West Point in 1959, he accepted a Rhodes Scholarship in England. He then began his service, won two bronze medals for bravery in Vietnam and rose to the rank of brigadier general until his retirement in 1983. He also dabbled in politics and was even mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 1988.But when that didn’t work out, he got into the business world and spent the rest of his career as a senior civil servant at various Wall Street companies.
Unfortunately, the legacy of these athletes and role models was lost to the thugs that invaded the Capitol on January 6 of this year. Such was the example of the war heroes from their own families. Some of the insurgents were even ex-soldiers, for God’s sake. They seem to have forgotten the oaths they took while serving in the military.
Yet we honor the flag that flies over the land of the free and the home of the brave.
That’s because the vast majority of us are grateful to be Americans. Our nation was far from perfect, but at least the best of us are still striving to build a more perfect union.
So when we light our barbecues, swallow our favorite drinks, or watch or participate in our favorite games, we don’t forget the reason we have Memorial Day. Let us consider the tableau of American troops hoisting our flag on Iwo Jima and let us be grateful to all who have given their last measure of dedication so that their generation and future may enjoy our freedoms.