Seventy-five years ago the Second World War was raging and America’s favorite Jewish soldier was Hank Greenberg. On January 31, 1942, the 31-year-old Tigers slugger returned to active duty at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
Greenberg had spent most of the previous year in military service, but in August 1941 Congress passed a law releasing men over 28. Greenberg, however, didn’t return to civilian life until a few days before the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Hank immediately reenlisted.
After processing and training at Fort Dix, Greenberg was assigned to the Air Corps at MacDill Field in Tampa, Florida, where he was responsible for the cadet physical training program. On a short leave during spring training, he jeeped to Lakeland, changed uniforms. and worked out with the Tigers.
Two months later, Greenberg was transferred to the Air Corps Technical Training Command in Miami Beach to be commissioned as an officer after a 12-week course. By August he wore the bars of a second lieutenant.
The 1942 season would mark the end of Harry Eisenstat’s baseball career. Over an eight-year span with Brooklyn, Detroit, and Cleveland, Eisenstat won 25 games, lost 27 and had an ERA of 3.84. He at joined the army and would rise to the rank of lieutenant while serving in the Pacific theater.
Al Schacht, who pitched for the Washington Senators (1919-1921) before going back to the minor leagues, became a coach from 1925 through 1936. Schacht stayed in baseball but went into business for himself as an entertainer.
Schacht, who always loved to clown around, wore an abused top hat and frock coat over a baseball uniform. He pantomimed and did imitations of players, and his shtick was booked in major and minor league ballparks all over the country. Schacht would spend a lot of time overseas during the war years, entertaining the troops in Europe, North Africa, and the South Pacific.
Andy Cohen, who’d been a player-manager in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor league system the previous four years, joined the army and served in North Africa and Italy. Cohen would become squad sergeant of a platoon in the Engineering Corps.
Patriotism was in the air during baseball season. Fans were urged to return foul balls hit into the stands, as the balls were shipped overseas for soldiers’ recreation. Fans were compensated with a 25-cent war stamp for each returned ball. Play-by-play broadcasters were not permitted to mention weather conditions for fear of aiding potential enemy air attacks.
With the country at war and fans in a patriotic mood, “The Star Spangled Banner” was played prior to every game. (Hard to believe, but that’s when that tradition started.)
Sid Gordon was with the New York Giants for the first six games of the season but was sent back to the minor leagues for more seasoning. Harry Danning and Harry Feldman played the entire season for the Giants. Both would get draft notices the following year.
Chicagoan Murray Asher (Moe) Franklin compiled a .261 batting average with two home runs over parts of the 1941 and 1942 seasons for the Detroit Tigers. The backup infielder joined the navy after the season and would serve for the next three years and never play in the majors again.
While American Jews were leaving the baseball field for military bases, Jews on the other side of the ocean were being targeted by the Nazis. In a New York Times page 10 article on November 25, 1942, Dr. Stephen S. Wise, chairman of the World Jewish Congress said, “The State Department finally made available the document which confirmed the stories and rumors of Jewish extermination in all Hitler-ruled Europe.”
Wise stated that sources confirmed about half the estimated number of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe had already been slain.
Two popular national celebrities died in 1942. Actor, composer, dancer, entertainer, lyricist, and producer George M. Cohan (widely thought to be Jewish because of his name, Cohan was actually Irish Catholic) died at 64. Seventy-five years later we still hear some of his more than 300 published songs including “Give My Regards to Broadway,” “Over There,” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
In 1942 Clark Gable and Carol Lombard were considered Hollywood’s super couple. They also had a super marriage and were madly in love. They had fame and fortune and both wanted a child for their happy home.
The popular actress used her charm and star power to sell two million dollars in defense bonds in her hometown of Indianapolis. Gable’s best friend, Otto Winkler, traveled with Lombard, as did her mother. Both wanted to take the train back to Hollywood rather than fly in winter weather.
But Carol Lombard couldn’t wait to be reunited with the King of Hollywood and the threesome managed to get a flight with 15 army pilots and three other passengers. By the time Gable went to the airport to meet them, the plane had crashed in Nevada, killing all on board.
The most popular female personality in the movie industry was just 33.