Baseball is America's Pastime, and on Memorial Day, we cannot forget the patriotism and ultimate sacrifices of the soldiers who've doubled as ballplayers when they weren't fighting for America on the battlefields.
Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Pee Wee Reese and Warren Spahn famously interrupted their careers to serve. Yogi Berra took part in the D-Day invasion before his Major League debut, while Christy Mathewson and Ty Cobb served in the Army's Chemical Service after their baseball careers were over. Major League Baseball's time-honored connection to the military continues this summer, as the Braves and Marlins honor the nation's servicemen and women by playing a regular-season game at Fort Bragg in North Carolina on July 3. It is the first professional sports contest to be played on an active military base.
According to Gary Bedingfield, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and the operator of baseballinwartime.com, 535 baseball players have lost their lives in military service -- whether they were killed in action or died from wounds, illness or accidents -- since the Civil War. Twelve of those men were Major Leaguers, and these are their stories.
Robert O. "Bob" Neighbors, Nov. 9, 1917 - Aug. 8, 1952
Neighbors made his big league debut at shortstop for the St. Louis Browns on Sept. 16, 1939. He would appear in seven games, with two hits in 11 at-bats. Neighbors joined the Army Air Force on May 8, 1942, and he served with the 22nd Air Transport Training Detachment at Sheppard Field in Wichita Falls, Kan. He also played baseball for the Sheppard Field Mechanics. After WWII, Neighbors chose to stay in the military, and he saw combat duty during the Korean War as a B-26B Invader pilot with the 13th Bomb Squadron of the 3rd Bomb Group. During a night mission on Aug. 8, 1952, Neighbors' plane was shot down. He was reported missing in action and later confirmed dead. He was 34 years old and the only Major Leaguer killed in Korea.
Harry M. O'Neill, May 8, 1917 - March 6, 1945
O'Neill was a three-sport athlete at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. Upon graduation in June 1939, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound catcher signed with Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics and spent the rest of the season as the club's third-string catcher. He would see action in just one game, on July 23, as a late-inning defensive replacement in a 16-3 loss to the Tigers. O'Neill played two seasons of semi-pro baseball before enlisting in the Marine Corps after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941. He attended Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Va. As a first lieutenant in the 4th Marine Division, O'Neill took part in the amphibious assaults of Kwajalein, Saipan and Tinian. On March 6, 1945, during the assault of Iwo Jima, O'Neill was killed by sniper fire. He was 27 years old, and he was one of only two Major Leaguers to die in World War II.
Elmer Gedeon, April 15, 1917 - April 20, 1944
Gedeon, a three-sport star from Cleveland, Ohio, excelled in baseball, football and track at the University of Michigan. As a junior, he ran an American-record tying 8.6 seconds in the 70-meter hurdles. In 1938, he was the first to match Jesse Owens' 7.2 seconds in the low hurdles. But baseball was his true love, and he signed with the Washington Senators on June 3, 1939, where he played just five games. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941 and was later transferred to the Army Air Force, where he earned his pilot's wings. Gedeon survived a fiery plane crash when his B-25 clipped trees during a training flight in North Carolina. But on April 20, 1944, Gedeon's B-26B Marauder was shot down on a flight from Boreham Field in the U.K. to bomb a German target at Bois d'Esquerdes, France. Five of the six crew members, including Gedeon, were killed. He was 22 years old and the first Major Leaguer killed in World War II.
Robert G. "Bun" Troy, Aug. 27, 1888 - Oct. 7, 1918
The German-born Troy grew up in Western Pennsylvania. In 1909, he had a tryout with the Phillies, but he spent much of his time in the Minor Leagues. "He had the speed and the curves, but lacked control," said the Sporting Life. On Sept.15, 1912, Troy made his only Major League appearance, starting for the Tigers against Walter Johnson and the Washington Senators. Troy shut out the Senators for six innings before allowing six runs in the seventh. The Tigers lost, 6-3, and Troy went back to the Minors. In 1917, Troy joined the Army as a sergeant with the 80th Division. He was fatally shot in the chest during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and died on Oct. 7, 1918, at Evacuation Hospital Eight near Verdun, France.
Ralph E. Sharman, April 11, 1895 - May 24, 1918
Sharman, of Cleveland, Ohio, made his big league debut on Sept. 10, 1917, with the Philadelphia Athletics. In 13 games for Mack's club, the outfielder hit .297. Following the 1917 season, Sharman joined the U.S. Army as a corporal with Battery F of the 136th Field Artillery. On May 24, 1918, he drowned in a training exercise in the Alabama River at Camp Sheridan in Montgomery. Sharman was 23 years old.
Newton S. "Newt" Halliday, June 18, 1896 - April 6, 1918
The Chicago-born Halliday struck out in his only Major League at-bat, with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the second game of a doubleheader on Aug. 19, 1916. He joined the United States Navy as the US entered WWI. In September 1917, while stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois, Halliday contracted tuberculosis. He fought the disease valiantly for over six months but passed away on April 6, 1918. He was just 21 years old.
Edward L. "Eddie" Grant, May 21, 1883 - Oct. 5, 1918
"Harvard Eddie," from Franklin, Mass., played baseball and basketball at Harvard University before going on to play 990 games in the big leagues. Over 10 seasons, he posted a lifetime average of .249 with the Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds and New York Giants. He appeared in two games of the 1913 World Series for the Giants. Grant retired after the 1915 season and began practicing law in Boston. When the U.S. entered WWI in April 1917, Grant enlisted and served as a captain in the 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Division. He entered France in April 1918, and he was killed by an exploding shell during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive on Oct. 5, 1918, becoming the first former Major League player to be killed in action in WWI.
Harry M. Glenn, June 9, 1890 - Oct. 12, 1918
Glenn, a left-handed-hitting catcher from Shelburn, Ind., played six games for the St. Louis Cardinals at the beginning of the 1915 season, going 5-for-16 for a .313 average. He finished the year with the St. Paul Saints, where he hit .296 over 63 games. He remained with St. Paul through August 1918, when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Glenn served as an aviation mechanic at the Signal Corps' Aviation Mechanics Training School in St. Paul, Minn. In October 1918, he developed a bad cold which developed into pneumonia. He passed away on October 12, at the age of 28.
LaVerne A. "Larry" Chappell, Feb.19, 1890 - Nov. 8, 1918
Chappell, a lefty-hitting outfielder from McClusky, Ill., was hitting .349 for the Milwaukee Brewers of the Class AA American Association when the Chicago White Sox purchased his contract for $18,000. He made his Major League debut on July 18, 1913, and he hit .231 in 60 games. He returned to Milwaukee, where his average soared back to .309. He later played for the Cleveland Indians, Boston Braves, Columbus Senators and Salt Lake City Bees. In July 1918, while leading the Class AA Pacific Coast League with a .325 average, Chappell left the Bees to join the U.S. Army Medical Corps at Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco. Chappell contracted influenza and died there, at the age of 28.
Harry E. Chapman, Oct. 26, 1885 - Oct. 21, 1918
Chapman, a catcher from Severance, Kan., made his big league debut with the Cubs against the Cardinals at Chicago's West Side Grounds on the last day of the 1911 season. He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, then the Atlanta Crackers, where he was a fan favorite for his timely hitting and ease with the pitching staff. Chapman later played for the St. Louis Terriers, the St. Louis Browns and the Little Rock Travelers. After the 1917 season, Chapman joined the U.S. Army. He died at the age of 32, from influenza-induced pneumonia, at State Hospital No. 3 in Nevada, Mo., on Oct. 21, 1918.
Alexander Thomson "Tom" Burr, Nov. 1, 1893 - Oct. 12, 1918
Burr was a shortstop and pitcher at the Choate School in Connecticut and attended Williams College in Massachusetts. He signed with the New York Yankees in January 1914. Burr made just one appearance as a Yankee, on April 21 against the Senators. In 1917, Burr served with the 31st Aero Squadron, U.S. Air Service. He was killed on Oct. 12, 1918, during drills at the gunnery school in Cazaux, France, when his plane collided with another at 4,500 feet and crashed into Cazaux Lake.
William E. "Bill" Stearns, March 20, 1853 - Dec. 30, 1898
Stearns was just 12 years old at the end of the American Civil War, but children were enlisted as drummers, messengers and even soldiers, and Stearns' involvement is confirmed by his membership in the Grand Army of the Republic (a fraternal organization for veterans of the Civil War). Later, he was a pitcher in the National Association for the Washington Olympics, Washington Nationals, Washington Blue Legs and Hartford Dark Blues. At the age of 45, Stearns volunteered to serve in the Spanish-American War. During the first landing of the U.S. Army in Puerto Rico in September 1898, Stearns became ill and died several months later at home in Washington, D.C. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Lindsay Berra is a columnist for MLB.com.