On , December 9 1941 — Although having a 3-C draft deferment due to being the sole support of his family, Bob Feller, last year’s American League-leading pitcher with 27 victories for the Indians, becomes the first major leaguer to enlist after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The 23-year-old navy recruit has already won 107 major league games.
In Feller’s own words: “It was Dec. 7, 1941. I was driving to my meeting with my Cleveland Indians bosses to hash out my 1942 contract, and out it came on the radio: the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.
“The last thing on my mind right then was playing baseball. I immediately decided to enlist in the United States Navy. I didn’t have to — I was 23 and strong-bodied, you bet, but with my father terminally ill back in Van Meter, Iowa, I was exempt from military service.
“It didn’t matter to me — I wanted to join the fight against Hitler and the Japanese. We were losing that war and most young men of my generation wanted to help push them back. People today don’t understand, but that’s the way we felt in those days. We wanted to join the fighting. So on Dec. 9, I gave up the chance to earn $100,000 with the Indians and became the first professional athlete to join the Navy after Pearl Harbor.”
More of Feller’s own words: “A lot of folks say that had I not missed those almost four seasons to World War II — during what was probably my physical prime — I might have had 370 or even 400 wins. But I have no regrets. None at all. I did what any American could and should do: serve his country in its time of need. The world’s time of need.
“I knew then, and I know today, that winning World War II was the most important thing to happen to this country in the last 100 years. I’m just glad I was a part of it. I was only a gun captain on the battleship Alabama for 34 months. People have called me a hero for that, but I’ll tell you this — heroes don’t come home. Survivors come home.”
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