Monday, May 31, 2010

What A Man

Page 2: What is your most startling memory from your time aboard the USS Alabama?

Bob Feller: The biggest thing that I was involved in was known as the "Marianas Turkey Shoot" [June 19, 1944]. That was in the Philippine Sea off the island of Saipan with the Third Fleet and Task Force 58. We shot down over 470 Japanese airplanes in one day. And that was the end of the Japanese Naval Air Force.

Baseball Hall of Famer Bob Feller is 91. He broke into the majors at 17 in 1936. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he joined the Navy the next day-becoming the first big leaguer to join the military after the attack. To hear Feller talk about his combat experience is always enlightening-he is a national treasure whose life should be studied in American history classes.

Here are some excerpts from recent interviews that Feller has given. You will surely note that Feller did not limit high hard ones to the batter at home plate-he saved his best stuff for the enemy:

PD: When did you first hear of the attack on Pearl Harbor?

BF: While I was driving to Chicago. I made up my mind right then and there that I was going to enlist. When I got to Chicago, I called Gene Tunney, head of the Naval Physical Fitness Program. I told him I was ready to sign up to join the Navy. He told me what I needed to do.

PD: Did you ever think about what you were giving up to enlist, and that you might lose not only your career, but your life?

BF: As soon as the war broke out, I was in, no matter what I was doing at the time. I wasn't concerned about anything but trying to do whatever I could to help my country.

PD: You were a gun captain on the USS Alabama in the Pacific theater. What did that entail?

BF: I was in charge of 25 guys -- 24 on the guns, one guy standing beside me. I pulled the trigger.

PD: Were you ever afraid to die during combat?

BF: Never gave it a thought. You always knew that if a bullet had your name on it, you were going to get it. But when you're young, everybody thinks it's got somebody else's name on it. That's why we have wars.
There was always a little panic, sure. Everybody had different emotions. But you had a job to do, and you needed to have a clear head. What they teach you in war college is, when you're on the guns, kill the other guy before he kills you. We had a few gutless people aboard, yes, and we got rid of them.

PD: What do you mean by "got rid of them"?

BF: Shore duty or something else way from the ship.

PD: Did you shoot down kamikazes?

BF: Oh, hell yes. We had Variable Density goggles, which I have in my museum in Iowa. Kamikazes would come out of the sun at high noon, and you supposedly couldn't see them. We could use the goggles to block out the sun and see the plane and splash it with the barrel straight up. We fired eight rounds a second out of the 40-mm quad.

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