by Bob Feller, Baseball Hall of Famer and Veteran of the U.S. Navy

Bob Feller was a star pitcher for the Cleveland Indians during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Feller immediately enlisted in the United States Navy and was assigned to the USS Alabama. He was discharged in 1945, after almost four years of service. Feller then returned to baseball, and resumed a career that led to his induction in the Hall of Fame.

I want to say that I am honored to be with all of you World War II veterans today, and to congratulate you for your service. Also, I am happy to see so many young people here. If you asked a lot of schoolteachers and parents today what is the most important event in the last century for this or any other country, few will mention World War II. That is what you call the dumbing-down of America. The Allied victory in World War II is what has allowed us to enjoy the freedoms we know today.

On December 7, 1941, I was driving from my home in Iowa to Chicago where I was to sign a new contract with the Cleveland Indians. I was crossing the Mississippi River at Davenport when I heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor over the radio. At that moment, I made up my mind what I was going to do.

I had known Gene Tunney pretty well before. Gene had previously been the world heavyweight boxing champion, and was now the head of the Navy’s physical fitness program. When it was becoming obvious that we would eventually enter into the war, I told him that I would enlist in the Navy and enter into his program. So the first thing I did after arriving in Chicago was to call Gene Tunney, who said he would fly out right away to swear me into the Navy. I entered into the service at 8:00 on the morning of December 9, 1941, in the Navy recruiting office in Chicago.

I didn’t have to go. My father was dying of cancer and I was my family’s sole means of support. But I thought that any red-blooded American would do what needed to be done. We were losing big; we were getting the hell kicked out of us in Europe, and were hurt pretty bad over in Pearl Harbor. We needed to step up.

After a short time of working for Tunney in his physical fitness program, I realized that I wanted more action. It may seem hard to imagine, but that’s the way young people thought in those days. There was a world war, and most able-bodied men wanted to be in the fighting so they could feel they were doing their part. I attended War College in Newport, Rhode Island, volunteered for gunnery school, and was made chief of an anti-aircraft gun crew of 24 men aboard the battleship Alabama. Yes, we were in the Pacific, but our first missions were in the Atlantic to help bring supplies to Murmansk and Archangel in Russia. We also ran diversions along the Norwegian coast, with Liberty Ships full of water, in order to make the Germans believe we were going to land troops there. This kept the German troops from being of any use in other places around Europe.