Veterans, ballplayers to be remembered this week through Bob Feller Act of Valor Award
By MARC BONA | Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland | Published: June 4, 2019
CLEVELAND (Tribune News Service) — Simultaneous ceremonies in three cities will mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day through the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award Foundation.
A series of speakers and events is scheduled for Thursday, June 6, at the Baseball Heritage Museum at League Park.
At the same time, programs are being held at Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair, New Jersey, and at the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.
"When we started this thing it was Bob Feller all the time," said Peter Fertig, creator and president of the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award Foundation. "Then we dug a little deeper and realized no one is recognizing these guys."
The day will hold two purposes: To honor those who served but also to further the foundation's educational goals.
"Our mission," Fertig said, "is to educate the younger generation about the greatest generation."
A traveling educational exhibit will be relaunched and stationed at the Baseball Heritage Museum. Under Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly — who graduated from Shaker Heights High School — will be the keynote speaker.
More than 90 World War II veterans are expected to be in attendance at Thursday's ceremony, the Indians’ senior vice president of public affairs and one of the foundation's 13 board members, will make introductions. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson also is scheduled to speak.
The foundation has compiled a book on the 37 Hall of Famers who served, Fertig said.
"What's nice is it gives you a unique flavor of their baseball as well as their military career," he said.
Hundreds of players served during World War II. Those military careers encompass a range of heroism.
They served, on Navy ships and Army ground forces, in Europe and the Pacific theater. Some — like the colorful Yogi Berra in the Navy and the unassuming Leon Day in the Army — were part of the Allies' liberation movement that landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944. Warren Spahn served at the Battle of the Bulge. And then there was former Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck.
"You take the story of Bill Veeck - an owner of a club - and he says 'Look, I want to serve on the front lines.' Goes to Guadalcanal and loses his leg. Who does that?" Fertig said about an owner who could have shielded himself from front-line service.
Veeck, a Marine, would lose his right leg after suffering injuries in battle. He endured dozens of surgeries, and his off hours from running a ballclub would be spent soaking his leg while he read books. About three dozen players in the Indians organization alone served during the war.
"Not enough people know about it," Fertig said about the players' military service.
The Bob Feller Act of Valor Foundation established the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award in 2013. It annually recognizes eight recipients — one Baseball Hall of Famer, one current player, one Navy Chief Petty Officer, two Mentoring Awards, a member of the Marine Corps and two military children whose parents serve and are winners of an essay contest.
All of the foundation's research shapes an important perspective for Fertig.
"I'm real happy Bob Feller was a great baseball player," he said. "You know what made me happier? He stepped away from the game to serve his country."
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