web analytics
November 29, 2014 / 7 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
IDC Herzliya Campus A Day on Campus

To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.



A True American Hero

Those of us who grew up when television was considered kosher in its black and white days remember “The Stratton Story,” a 1949 movie that aired often on TV in the ’50s starring Jimmy Stewart as Chicago White Sox pitcher Monty Stratton, who lost a leg in an off-season hunting accident in 1938 near his Greenville, Texas home.


Stratton’s right leg was amputated eight inches above the knee and he tried a comeback equipped with an artificial limb. June Allyson played Stratton’s wife, urging and helping him get back on the baseball field.


Stratton eventually pitched and won 18 games in the low minors in Texas, and even though it wasn’t the big leagues, it was good enough for a happy ending. (Stratton went on to operate a 52-acre Greenville, Texas, ranch until his passing in 1982.)


A much more interesting movie would have been “The Shepard Story.” Unlike Stratton, who accidentally shot himself, Bert Shepard was shot by Nazi pilots, lost a leg, and pitched in a big league game.


Here’s the story.


In 1941, Robert Earl “Bert” Shepard was a 20-year-old pitcher who also played first base and the outfield in the minor leagues. After Pear Harbor, he volunteered for military service with the Army Air Force. By 1944 he was piloting air strikes against Nazi positions.


Shepard was scheduled for his 34th bombing mission on May 22, 1944. But he was scheduled to pitch and manage his air force base team on May 21. Shepard volunteered for another mission that day, figuring he could strafe an enemy airfield 70 miles northwest of Berlin and return in time for the game.


Mission accomplished, Shepard began his return. The plan was to quickly exit the plane and change from his army uniform to his baseball togs. While flying at 380 miles per hour, Shepard was warned of enemy fire in the area. He nosed downward and leveled off above a clump of trees when the first shot tore through both the plane and his leg. Despite losing consciousness and control of the plane, he somehow managed to land.


He woke up three days later in a German hospital with a serious head wound and his right leg amputated several inches below the knee.


The details of the previous 72 hours were soon made clear to Lt. Shepard. After he crash-landed in a German field, local farmers ran to the scene and were about to beat the downed American pilot to death with pitchforks and other farm tools. But an Austrian doctor serving with the Luftwaffe happened to be driving by with two soldiers and stopped the farmers.


The doctor quickly determined that the unconscious airman’s mangled leg was almost severed and would have to be amputated and that his other injuries would also have to be quickly addressed. The doctor and soldiers carefully placed Shepard in their vehicle and rushed him to the local hospital.


A colonel in charge of the hospital refused to admit an enemy combatant. The Austrian doctor called a general in charge of the German Air Ministry in Berlin to overrule the colonel. Permission was granted and Shepard was operated on. A two-inch square of the frontal sinus bone over the right eye was also removed.


Shepard spent the next few months recovering in the German hospital before being sent to a prisoner of war camp in central Germany. A Canadian prisoner who happened to be a medic familiar with amputees fashioned an artificial limb made of scrap metal.


Shepard was able to navigate without a crutch and began to play catch and participate in makeshift ballgames at the camp.


An international prisoner-of-war trade of brought Lt. Shepard back to the U.S., where he received a new prosthesis while hospitalized at Washington’s Walter Reed Hospital. Missing leg or not, Shepard had the same goal before he was shot down –  to pitch in the major leagues.


Assistant Secretary of War Robert Patterson paid Shepard a visit and learned of his desire to return to the baseball field. Patterson felt Shepard could inspire other injured servicemen.  He called Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith, urging him to offer Shepard a tryout.


The patriotic Griffith bought the idea and called Senators manager Ossie Bluege. A tryout was arranged for March 14, 1945.


The team’s top brass, along with players, reporters and photographers, were on hand and watched in awe as Shepard pitched, hit, worked out at first base, fielded bunts and even slid into a base.


The amazed Griffith signed Shepard as a coach and batting practice pitcher. Shepard pitched a bit in spring training games and kept his control sharp by throwing batting practice as the season wore on. He started a war-relief exhibition game on July 10 against the Brooklyn Dodgers, giving up only five hits while winning 4-3. His performance made him an even bigger celebrity.


Rainouts forced a couple of doubleheaders, resulting in a tired pitching staff. On August 4, the Senators were on the wrong end of a 14-2 score against the Boston Red Sox. With two outs in the fourth inning and the bases loaded, Shepard was brought in to face Red Sox slugger George Metkovich. Shepard struck him out and pitched the rest of the game, allowing one run and four hits.


That’s where I would have ended the movie — with a great big league debut and congrats from teammates. Goal reached, happy ending.


But there was more to the story. The stars serving in the military began returning to their teams for the 1946 season and Shepard resumed his coaching and batting practice duties. He went on to be a popular player-manager in the minor leagues; in 1949 for Waterbury (Connecticut) he hit four home runs and even stole four bases. He stayed in the minors until 1954, married and moved to California where he began a long career with IBM selling typewriters and as a safety engineer with Hughes Aircraft. He raised a family and lived a suburban, small town quiet life.


In 1992, a British businessman met an Austrian physician while on a trip to Hungary. When the topic of conversation turned to World War II, the doctor told of having saved a downed American pilot named Bert Shepard. He remembered the name from the pilot’s dog tags had often wondered what had happened to this Bert Shepard.


The British businessman contacted the U.S. military inquiring about a “Bert Shepard.” He finally located him in Hesperia, California.


On December 24, 1992, Shepard received a surprise overseas phone call from the doctor who’d rescued him. Major League Baseball heard about it, found the doctor and arranged a 1993 reunion for the weekly television highlight program “This Week in Baseball.”


Shepard died this past summer, twelve days shy of his 88th birthday. America and baseball lost a real hero.


Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. His “Baseball Insider” column appears the second week of each month in The Jewish Press. Cohen, who is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

About the Author: The author of 10 books, Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years and interviewed the legendary Hank Greenberg. He went on to work for a major league team and became the first Orthodox Jew to earn a World Series ring. He can be reached in his Detroit area dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “A True American Hero”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry .
NYT Ignores US Condemnation of PA Incitement, Prints Info on Ferguson Cop
Latest Sections Stories
West-Coast-logo

Lester Crown, a perennial member of the Forbes 400 list since 1982 and founder of the prestigious Covenant Foundation, took the stage in Washington, D.C. before a room of high-powered dignitaries, philanthropists, and innovators.

Collecting-History-logo

Not as well known, however, is Keller’s involvement with Jewish and Israeli communities.

Creativity without clarity is not sufficient for writing. I am eternally thankful to Hashem for his gift to me.

This core idea of memory is very difficult to fully comprehend; however, it is essential.

Sometimes the most powerful countermove one can make when a person is screaming is to calmly say that her behavior is not helpful and then continue interacting with the rest of the family while ignoring the enraged person.

“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall divide within you.”

Divorce from a vindictive, cruel spouse can be a lifelong nightmare when there are offspring.

There were many French Jews who jumped at the chance to shed their ancient identity and assimilate.

As Rabbi Shemtov stood on the stage and looked out at the attendees, he told them that “Rather than take photos with your cellphones, take a mental photo and keep this Shabbat in your mind and take it with you throughout your life.”

Yeshiva v’Kollel Bais Moshe Chaim will be holding a grand celebration on the occasion of the institution’s 40th anniversary on Sunday evening, December 7. Alumni, students, friends and faculty of the yeshiva, also known as Talmudic University of Florida, will celebrate the achievement and vision of its founders and the spiritual guidance of its educational […]

The yeshiva night accommodates all levels of Jewish education.

More Articles from Irwin Cohen
J.D. Martinez

The two World Series combatants, the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants, were Wild Card teams (meaning they didn’t win their respective divisions) that got hot at the right time.

War hero Lou Brissi’s card was a much-sought-after one in Topps’s inaugural 1952 collection.

Many former baseball players who left us with happy memories also passed away in the past year.

“No kid is worth a million dollars to sign,” Newhouser said, “but if one kid is, it’s this kid.”

Zimmer was popular with veteran teammates like Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider – and with a rookie lefthander named Sandy Koufax.

I’m sure readers noticed those full-page advertisements that ran prior to last month’s meeting about the situation at the Brooklyn home of Rabbi Moshe Tuvia Lieff, rav of Agudas Yisroel Bais Binyomin. Avrohom chaired the even along with his brother Menachem, a prominent askan and the president of Lubicom.

I spoke twice during Pesach. The first topic was the Holocaust and Jewish ballplayers and the second was how I, a frum-from-birth Jew, ended up in major league baseball.

Even if a player reaches the big league level, there’s still no guarantee he’ll remain with one team for long. Former Jewish outfielder Richie Scheinblum comes to mind.

The snow has melted in most parts of the country and here in Florida, where I have my winter dugout in the Orthodox enclave of Century Village in West Palm Beach, I had the opportunity to take in several spring training games.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/sports/a-true-american-hero/2008/10/08/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: