May 27 – A Memorial Day Yankee Tribute
No Yankee past or present celebrates a birthday on May 27th and since its Memorial Day, I thought it would be fitting to recognize two well-known Yankees who made significant contributions to the US War effort during WWII.
The first is the great outfielder from the great Yankee teams of the late forties and fifties, Hank Bauer. While still a minor leaguer in the White Sox organization, Hank enlisted in the Marines in 1942 and he spent the next three years of his life battling malaria, storming the beaches of islands in the Pacific and leading a battalion of men in fierce jungle fighting with a merciless enemy. During the deadly Battle of Okinawa, Lieutenant Bauer lost 58 of the 64 marines in his platoon during the Japanese counterattack. He was awarded two bronze stars and a pair of purple hearts. He also lost a brother, Herman, who was killed in action in France in November of 1944. When Bauer returned home, he figured his chance at playing baseball had passed him by and he became a pipe-fitter. A scout for the Yankees remembered Bauer and signed him to contract. It took Bauer three years to make it to the Bronx and by the time he did, in 1948, he was already 26 years old. But when he finally did put on those pinstripes, he played the game like he lived his life, hard at it all the time.
After signing with New York as a minor league catcher in 1939, former Yankee manager, Ralph Houk joined the Army a few weeks after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. He attended officers’ candidate school and didn’t get sent overseas until July of 1944. That October, Houk and his reconnaissance unit got their first taste of combat during the Battle of the Bulge. He was wounded in the leg but refused to leave the battle front. His commanding officer sent Houk out alone in a jeep to go behind the enemy’s lines and scout German troop positions. He returned three days later with bullet holes in both sides of his helmet. One of the first American soldiers to step foot in Germany, Houk led several dangerous missions against key enemy positions in the 9th Armored Division’s march through the Rhineland. He won both a silver and bronze star plus a purple heart. He left the Army a Major and that rank then became his well-known and respected baseball nickname until he passed away in July of 2010.