Yogi Berra’s War: ‘Deja Vu All Over Again’
On Monday, the 78th anniversary of D-Day, the beloved Yankees catcher will be remembered for his role in the Normandy invasion.
New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra is beloved for his 10 World Series titles and many witticisms, but as we mark the 78th anniversary of D-Day on Monday, June 6, he’ll be remembered for a greater contribution: serving in the Normandy invasion.
The Bob Feller Act of Valor Award Foundation will pay tribute to the Bronx Bomber — no pun intended — and to all who served that day in a ceremony that is free to the public at the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University at Little Falls, New Jersey.
I’ll be moderating the event, “Sacrifice & Courage, A Tribute to D-Day,” with baseball authors as well as a former secretary of the Navy, Raymond Mabus Jr., Rear Admiral (Ret.) Edward “Sonny” Masso, and the Bambino’s son, Larry Berra Jr.
Yogi Berra had played only a few games when, in 1943, he put his career on hold to join the United States Navy, into which he was drafted and then volunteered as a gunner’s mate on United States Ship Bayfield.
Berra provided covering fire for Omaha Beach and — with his trademark innocence — stood to watch the Nazi counter-assault, describing incoming attacks from their batteries as fireworks.
“It looked like Fourth of July,” he said, “it really did, to an 18-year-old kid going in in an invasion. I never saw so many planes in my life as we had going in over there.” The resistance was just as stiff. More than 2,000 Americans died in the opening hours alone.
When Berra managed to shoot down a plane, it turned out to be one of ours, and his boat raced over to pick up the American pilot and British crew. They were all safe, and, as Berra said, “[T]hose guys taught me some new curse words.”
Bob Feller, a pitcher for Cleveland, also interrupted his career to answer the call in the world’s darkest hour. Enlisting after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, he participated in some of the Pacific’s pivotal battles.
Berra was shot in the hand, earning a Purple Heart and coming within inches of being another name on a headstone. One can only imagine what America lost because so many of his comrades didn’t live to fulfill their destinies.
As President Lincoln said on Independence Day 1861, “There are many single regiments whose members, one and another, possess full practical knowledge of all the arts, sciences, professions, and whatever else — whether useful or elegant — is known in the world.
“And there is scarcely one from which there could not be selected a president, a cabinet, a Congress — and perhaps a court — abundantly competent to administer the government itself.”
“I didn’t do anything special,” Berra said of those 12 days he spent in his boat providing cover for the landings and of his service through the war’s end. “We love America and had to beat those Nazis. I went in with everyone else. Some never came back. I was lucky.”
Such modesty is common in the Greatest Generation, but those of us who enjoy the freedoms they ensured remain in awe of their sacrifice and are charged with ensuring their contributions as the war fades from living memory.
Thirty-nine members of the Baseball Hall of Fame served in World War II. Each is recognized at the Berra museum for his “citizenship, sacrifice and service.”
With the Defense Media Activity’s help, the D-Day event will be livestreamed to the public and active-duty military personnel, to remind everyone of the contribution of men who laid down their bats and picked up rifles, just as so many put their lives on hold to serve today.
These citizen-soldiers embody the best of America and exemplify the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award Foundation’s “core pillars of citizenship, service above self, and commitment to country in times of great national need.”
A new generation has taken on the mantle of safeguarding America’s liberty against all enemies, as we remain a great nation at risk in a dangerous world, and a people in awe of the sacrifice made by generations of the American military.
Because when it comes to the fight against tyranny, as Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”