Babe Ruth and Baseball an American Sport’s Past time. Photo owned by your blogger.
There is irony in knowing that half across the world July 4th, 1944 was celebrated by a number of American POW soldiers at Stalag 17B by playing baseball. In America on that very same day, those soldiers’ loved ones were not so celebratory. There were no fireworks going off in the small towns that many of these soldiers grew up in.
Roy and his wife Hilde McGinnis enjoying a summer day in 2014. Quite different from his POW days 70 years ago.
As a matter of opinion, the understanding of individual experiences as related to collective memory of the past have always interested me. There is no other way to describe a day in the life of a POW soldier unless you have asked him. As a way of remembering what July 4th should mean to all of us, I spoke with my dad POW Roy McGinnis. Here is his take on what he was doing on July 4, 1944:
Roy was 22 years old and had just been woke up by the usual prison guards making their rounds and yelling at the soldiers. The treatment at Stalag 17B was never good and at times brutal. It was a beautiful summer day and besides being July 4th, it was a great day to play a competitive game of softball. The Wehrmacht (German soldiers) had much friction with the Americans, but they did let them play their games.
The GIs’ loved playing ball. It passed the time by and it was one of the only real morale boosters the soldiers did have. The International YMCA almost always fulfilled requisitions for sports equipment for the American soldiers in prison. It is also noteworthy that the Wehrmacht let the Americans have their things to play and enjoyed watching the fierce competition of the American GI with his brother in captivity!
“We formed our teams. You know the North Versus South. I was of course on the southern side since I grew up in Alabama.”
I laughed with Roy and said, “Yes. Alabama would certainly make you a southerner. No doubt.”
“Well, the game was very competitive. We bet our rations from the Red Cross. This was serious business and you better believe I wanted the south to win!” Roy stated as if he could still hear the crack of the ball being hit by the old wooden bat.
Chuckling I said, “Seriously, you did not take the other soldier’s food over a game.”
Roy said sternly,”You damn straight we did.”
I guess that answered that.
In fact, the rations were like betting your life’s savings. The normal ration included:
Bread, Potatoes, Cottage cheese, Sugar, Jelly, Coffee, and Raisins. The International American Red Cross would try their best to supply what the soldiers needed at that time.
There was a large recreation area in the camp that sports did take place. Pride was taken in teams formed and thus the first POW baseball league was born.
On the playing field that July 4, 1944, the south and north began their game.
“Who won?” I asked
“Well of course, we did. You know the south.” Roy stated.
“Did you really take the Northerners’ rations?” Half seriously I wondered.
“Yes we did. They lost.” Sternly Roy stated as if the war could still be going on.
In fact, as he and I talked of a time that was over 70 years ago, I could see in Roy’s eyes that he was taken back to that ball game and that ball field. It was still war-time to him at that very moment when we spoke. There was nothing else going on at all.
Happy July 4, 2014 to all my readers. May you know how free we are because of many who fought and gave their lives for us. America-what would you have been if not for the brave soldiers of times gone by? Would you have been at all?